Now before I get into the meat of this post, here's an illustration of the above first point:
If that didn't make you laugh, you have no hope. But since I'm bound to piss people off severely with this post, I figured I'd start off with a laugh.
First, let me get some (but not a comprehensive) history of my posts on the subject of race (skip ahead to get the meat). My first post, "Michelle Obama Hates America?" brushed on the subject by asking if our now-first lady was a racist (the answer is no, but it got me thinking about how you define racism). After the Obama inauguration, I dropped a gem entitled "Our Colorblind Society and the Ragin' Racists" which talked about the obsession that the civil rights leaders of the past (and the current crop of race whores) have with keeping the race debate alive. I also arrogantly (because I like to tweak the race-obsessed) declared that systemic racism was officially over with the election of Barack Obama. And with "A 'Black and White' AOTW" I tackled a non-racial situation where the charge of racism was implied by many, assumed by others, and stated by several. And I did it by focusing on the race of everyone involved (and nobody called me a racist for doing so, surprisingly). So with this post, we're going to examine what racism actually is.
As always, a conversation and a current event remind me of how people perceive things differently (and wrongly in some cases). In this case, it's the Joe Wilson situation. To save some time, people have indicated his outburst was racially motivated (and others have stated he's racist). This is a continuation of the line of bullshit that the overwhelming reasons for opposition to President Obama's policies and pronouncements is based on the color of his skin, and an inherent racism in America. I see only one appropriate and logical response to these charges.
Fuck you assholes. Die of screaming ass cancer, you shit-eating bastards.
Now if the above sentence is offensive (because you're one of those screaming racism), there's a point and a justification. The charge of racism is a blight on the soul of a person. It's at least half as bad as calling the president a "nigger" (and yes, I have heard at least one person I know well enough to know he's not a racist do so). It's a damned near indefensible charge that infers guilt unless proven otherwise, requires groveling to try to repudiate (and that doesn't even work for the most torqued off), and is an attempt at a blanket negation of a person's opinions as well as the person himself (something that racism itself does).
So this brings up the question: Is every bigoted attitude, every racially inflammatory statement, and every person who approached a situation looking at race in a negative way an example of this enduring and malignant racism?
(Self-confession: applying this kind of standard, I'd be classified a racist. I've laughed at racial jokes, used what could be considered racially insensitive language, and made snap judgments based on race. I'm not saying any of the preceding was right, but it has happened (and I'll provide an example or two below). Look through your past, I bet you wouldn't meet the standard either.)
The short answer to my above question is a resounding NO.
Long answer (starting on Wikipedia):
Racism is the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.Now there's a reason I begin with a relatively narrow definition of racism. Because there are lots of ignorant people that couldn't tell you why do what they do and say what they say. This does not excuse their behavior completely, but it's the difference between kids beating each other up and an adult assaulting another. So let's look at the gray area.
Prejudices - We all have them. White, black, and everybody in between. We make snap judgments on people based on their clothes, skin color, hair, accent, and every other minor cue of body language. Some of these are inculcated by the society we live in, others by the people who raised us. And most often, they are unconscious reactions. Example: When I was in retail, I've had a group of black teenagers walk in with the drooping pants. First reaction was ""What are they going to steal?" My next reaction, coming a second later, was my brain correcting my snap judgment. In this case, I quickly corrected the snap judgment (but, as it was a group, I did keep an eye for those telltale signs of shoplifting).
Bigotry - This is essentially an unthinking reaction to the color of someone's skin, mainly because of something that someone learned from early on. There is no thought. There is no idea as to why (including the racial superiority argument). It's more of a brainwashed attitude than a reasoned view. A bigot would be the type of person who would treat everyone equally (because he doesn't see any inherent difference) but would also be the one to refer to the current president with the n-word or have an issue with interracial marriage, but not toward any mixed-race child (except the president). I've got 'em in my family (to be fair, I do have racists as well (they're German, of course)).
Segregationism - For lack of a better term (and because it's not its own mindset) this is somewhere between bigotry and actual racism. It's a belief that while all people are equal, and should be treated as such, there's something not "right" with excessive intermingling of races. It goes from just ignorance and a desire to not subject people to perceived stigma, to actual racial purity, and therefore racism.
The Old South - This is a special case, as this is an area which had institutionalized racism until 1964. Now while racism will always exist, this is an area where prejudices and bigotry were reinforced by law, and almost everyone was raised with them. It does take a couple of generations to breed out the attitude (and that generation is busy being born right now). Again, I'm not saying anything is right here, but it means I'm going to give them a little more slack before I declare racism.
The reverse - Now, these attitudes and thought can be found in everyone, not just white people. Whether it's a belief that whitey is the devil, or a perception that they're looking down on you, or the belief in the superiority of the black man (racism), nothing here is exclusive. And institutionalized racism is too often used as a justification for prejudices and bigotry and the desire to be segregated.
So it comes down to this: While we still have much to do before we reach the point where our children don't understand why the election of Barack Obama was of such significance in terms of race (I hope to live to see it), branding every act that reflects ignorance, prejudice, and bigotry with the blanket term or racism both empowers the racists with numbers, and diminishes the individual in favor of the mindless collective. So what I'm asking is that we be accurate in branding racism for what it is.
[postscript (because the post is about the concept of racism, not Angry Joe Wilson)]
As for Joe Wilson, I can't say whether or not he is racist. There is some racial insensitivity in his past. There are hints at bigotry, and a segregationist mentality (his mentor was Strom Thurmond, after all). But is he working in the interest of racism, or is he a reflection of a culture (the Old South)? But I'm willing to give him the chance without expecting him to prove he's not a racist.