Years ago, it was hard to be a racist. You had to be fitted for and spend money on a white gown and don a pointy hat. You celebrated racism by getting some burlap, wrapping it around a cross, setting it ablaze and dancing around it carrying torches. Sometimes, as did Lester Maddox, you had to buy axe handles for yourself and your supporters to wield to forcibly turn away black customers from your restaurant. Or, as in the case of Theophilus “Bull” Connor, you had to learn to direct fire hoses and vicious police attack dogs against civil rights demonstrators.
Younger racists, along with their parents, had to memorize poems for whenever a black student showed up for admission to their high school or college. For example, “Two, four, six, eight, we don’t want to integrate!” Of course, there were a host of racial slurs and epithets that could be hurled, with impunity, at any black person in your presence. In earlier times, you didn’t have to be sophisticated, but it took a bit of work, to be a racist.
Today, all that has changed. To be a racist today takes little effort. For example, one can sit back in his easy chair and declare that he’s for across-the-board tax cuts. That makes you a racist.
If you don’t believe me, think back to 1994 when the Republican-led Congress pushed for a tax-cut measure. Former U.S. House of Representatives member Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., denouncing the Republicans’ plan before a Manhattan audience as a form of modern-day racism said: “It’s not ‘spic’ or ‘n—–‘ anymore. (Instead,) they say, ‘Let’s cut taxes.'” A few months later, he compared the GOP’s “Contract with America” to measures in Nazi Germany saying, “Hitler wasn’t even talking about doing these things.”
One can be labeled a racist through a set of “microaggressions” listed in “Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development” from 2014.
Here are a few statements one should avoid: “You are a credit to your race.” “Wow! How did you become so good in math?” “There is only one race, the human race.” “I’m not racist. I have several Black friends.” “As a woman, I know what you go through as a racial minority.”
But most instances of microaggressions are less overt. There are college microaggressions such as a male student rolling his eyes when a female student speaks, or people not wanting to be in study groups with those of different races.
Perhaps the easiest way to be labeled a racist is to suggest that a wall be built on our border with Mexico in order to keep people from Mexico and points south from entering our nation illegally. Also, a slam-dunk charge of racism is to say that the standard practice of separating children from parents is Nazi-like. But imagine you are stopped with your child in the car and charged with a DUI in any of our 50 states. You’re going to be arrested and your child taken to protective child services. The identical practice on our southern border becomes racism.
As veteran journalist Brit Hume said about the uproar over President Donald Trump’s latest bomb-throwing: “Trump’s ‘go back’ comments were nativist, xenophobic, counterfactual and politically stupid. But they simply do not meet the standard definition of racist, a word so recklessly flung around these days that its actual meaning is being lost.” The president cleaned up his remarks a few days later saying: “These are people that hate our country. If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave.” By the way, leaving isn’t Trump’s idea. Many leftists pledged to flee America altogether if Trump were elected president.
The bottom line is that when leftists have no other winning argument, they falsely accuse others of racism. Republicans cower at the charge and often give the leftists what they want. Black Americans who are octogenarians, or nearly so, need to explain what true racism is, not to correct white liberals but to inform young black people.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.