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A few days ago I wrote an diary explaining why "Reverse Racism" doesn't exist, and describing how the term is propagated by the right wing to advance its racist agenda.  Some folks argued hotly against my insistence that we should embrace the same definitions of racism that social scientists use, but I maintain that it's crucial to preserve the distinction between three very separate terms: racism, discrimination, and prejudice.  If progressives fail to maintain these boundaries, we simply hand the terms of the debate over to the right, who are dedicated to the erasure of those differences. Today's news brings an excellent example of the right's triumph.

This story on Huffington Post, about Shirley Sherrod, underlines the importance of keeping the definitions of racism clear.  Sherrod, who admitted in a speech to discriminating against a white farmer decades ago when she first heard his case, is now being pilloried by Fox News, where we hear the charge of "Reverse Racism" trumpeted daily.  Although Sherrod repented her act of discrimination, and actually went on to assist the white farmer to her fullest ability, an out-of-context snippet of her speech has gone viral through the media and the blogosphere.

The NAACP, instead of standing behind a woman who had clearly overcome her prejudice many years ago, was quick to repudiate her.  They're terrified of being ACORN-ed, as the tide of right wing white rage about "Reverse Racism" sweeps the nation.  Under the guise of fighting "Reverse Racism", we're likely to see most of the institutions that have advocated minority rights hamstrung or even dismantled.  It's part and parcel with the new Arizona law against teaching ethnic studies because they allegedly discriminate and devalue white people. So I repeat: progressives should stop using the term "Reverse Racism" and they should go back to fighting racism, proper.  

Finally, the Republicans have managed to reduce virtually all discussion of "racism" to an individual level -- coopting the original definition of the term, and the definition used by most social sciences.  (It's no accident -- the Republicans have gone after social science viciously, since the Reagan era, beginning with the de-funding of sociology.)  This means that a single incident of black against white discimination is considered equal in principle to the huge number of instances of white on black discrimination.  Redefining the term "racism" so that it applies to individuals, while ignoring the existence of institutional structures, is a right wing victory.  If you don't get that, then you're part of the problem.  Liberals are seduced into believing in "Reverse Racism" because they're vitally concerned with "fairness" and Republicans frame racism as if it's an issue with two equal sides.  But progressives should know better -- progressives are supposed to understand context, and understanding context requires that we understand the institutional structures that support, overwhelmingly, white against black discrimination at every level of society.

Originally posted to Hepshiba's Pad on Tue Jul 20, 2010 at 07:12 AM PDT.

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