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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024

Watching our language

Racist. There has been a bit of a stir on the Daily Cardinal opinion page recently regarding that word, as well as its relation to a column written by Andrew Carpenter. I won't address the merits of Carpenter's argument, I'm sure he can explain himself a lot better than I can. But there was one aspect of the criticism his article received that continued an all-too-common trend I've seen on campus. It seemed that the natural, gut response from most readers was to call Carpenter a racist.

Now, every time diversity comes up, word choice always seems to get a lot more press than it usually does. Whether it be which term for a certain ethnicity is more politically correct or if certain terms have outlived their usefulness, vocabulary is a serious topic when it comes to race relations. But of all the words involved in this discussion, people rarely take time to actually consider what they mean when they shout out ""racist"" in response to a comment or claim.

This knee-jerk response has led to a point where the word ""racist"" is losing its meaning. The comments posted on Andrew Carpenter's article and the numerous letters to the editor printed were filled with accusations of racism flying from post to post, and this is hardly a new phenomenon among the comments sections for both campus papers.

At this rate, Michael Godwin might have to rephrase his famous law of Internet commenting. True, it is still likely that as an online conversation goes on, the probability of someone being called a Nazi is bound to approach 1. But as a corollary to Godwin's Law, I propose that as an online conversation goes on, the probability of one person being called a racist approaches 1 considerably faster.

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But this is not limited to Internet commenters. This extends into the campus political sphere as a whole. ""Racist"" has often been a favorite rallying cry of the far left whenever they find a new irksome cause. Even Andrew Carpenter inappropriately invoked the ""R"" word when describing the criticism he received from his article. For a word that has such strong, vicious connotations, this is both needless and irresponsible. Not only does invective like this completely invalidate any usefulness that the prior debate had, it seriously hinders the chance of that same debate ever progressing in the future.

It is time to be a little bit more conservative in our use of this term. David Duke is a racist. Andrew Carpenter is not. He certainly could have explained his point better, and we surely could have done a better job of presenting it, but that does not make him a bigot, and calling him one does not help you prove him wrong. Crafting an articulate and well-thought-out response does, and I applaud all of Carpenter's critics who did just that. Considering I disagree with Carpenter's column myself, I am glad these opinions got out there. But their words were often drowned out by the reactionaries among us who decided ""racist"" can be an umbrella term for everybody who disagrees with them on any race-related issue, and this is one of the most unfortunate outcomes of the whole affair.

So let's call for a little civility here. Racism is about hatred of other races, the promotion of superiority of one race and promotion of discrimination. Keep that in mind the next time you consider dropping this accusation on another human being.

Todd Stevens is a junior majoring in history and psychology. Please send all responses to 

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