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Being too quick to label waters down meaning

Write to the Point


Last updated 2/14/2019 at 5:03pm

I have a friend who can cuss up a storm. Talk about making sailors blush — his blue language could peel paint on a battleship.

In fact, my friend drops f-bombs so much, it’s more like he’s adopted the word as an adverb or adjective (interchangeable based upon the situation) rather than an expression emphasis on his opinion.

My dad, on the other hand, was a sailor. Lieutenant junior grade, U.S. Navy, 1943-1946, South Pacific. He seldom swore, and never the “F” word.

So on those rare occasions when he did cuss, you knew he was not happy and whatever was going on was serious. Pay attention, straighten up and fly right.

I’m relating these little euphemisms to you to illustrate my point — there is too much use of the words “racist” and “racism” these days. So much so that I think we’re in danger of watering down the meaning and trivializing actual cases where these terms do exist.

That makes it harder to fight the practice of discrimination against our fellow human beings based on the color of their skin, whatever it may be.

Webster tabs racism in three ways: 1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; 2a: a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles, b: a political or social system founded on racism and 3: racial prejudice or discrimination.

Racism is organized, founded on a belief that leads to a process of enforcing that belief on others and ordering society and societal and economic functions according to those factors. It’s practiced and encouraged, utilized as a way to promote one's own clan or group of people, if you will, over another by denying the others things that are taken for granted by people who don’t have to battle each day for societal and economic survival.

I don’t mean to trivialize racism, nor condone racists. Far, far, far from it.

The color of one's skin is just that, color. It has no bearing on how an individual acts or believes, and should not be used to deny people basic rights that others enjoy because they have a different skin color.

Not “the right” skin color — a different skin color. Doesn’t matter what that is.

But too often lately, we have taken to labeling people as racists when we see them engaging in acts that don’t stem from a belief system, but rather originate in stupidity. We also have taken to labeling people as racist those who don’t operate on a belief system of superiority based upon skin color, but rather feel threatened socially and economically by those with different pigmentations.

Some of what people are labeling as racist is more xenophobia. According to Webster, xenophobia is “fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”

Certainly, there are elements of xenophobia in racism. But perhaps not always.

I like to think there is good in most people. That those who have some xenophobia, but don’t let their fears and hatred manifest into actions that harm people wouldn’t feel the way they do if they took the time, and were afforded the opportunity, to learn about the people they fear and think they hate.

February is Black History Month. Take the time to learn something.

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 this year. Do the same.

The book “Bitter Fruit” will explain why Guatemala is the way it is today, and why Guatemalans are among the many people of Central America risking their lives to come to this country for a better life. Take the time to read it.

And let’s be more careful with how we label people — people we haven’t been afforded the time and opportunity to get to know.

John McCallum can be reached at


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