The comment that was left by a frequent commenter to Salon pieces by Ms.Walsh. The person signs his/her comments simply as "jcwtts1." And this person completely has it going on, in my opinion, when it comes to his/her understanding of race, racialized speech and racist speech and the distinctions thereof. The piece has given me a great deal to ponder this week. Here is the opening statements in the commenters lengthy, articulate and prudent comment:
"Let me begin in the simplest way. Race and racism are two different things. What happens in discourse, especially internet discourse, is that those two issues become conflated."
In essence, those opening statements will serve as the foundation for the commenter taking exception to what Ms.Walsh has asserted in her article. Though he/she never states it, it seems pretty clear that the accusation is that Ms. Walsh has engaged in racialized speech. Though she is likely to be accused of racism. The commenter very early in his/her comment chastises people for rushing too quickly to label someone a racist. The person goes on to explain that such actions are dangerous for multiple reasons one being that such a charge tends to be a conversation ender. Therefore such a charge should only be leveled in only the most obvious and egregious cases. I agree. When someone we are in a conversation or discourse with is, in the course of said conversation or discourse, charged with being a racist, the conversation usually takes on an immediate and drastic shift. What is the charged person left to say? Such a person can in reality say little more in their defense other than, "No I'm not."
For many years I facilitated all kinds of therapeutic support groups. In such settings a similar charge that is often made by people who feel painted into a corner or who view themselves as being challenged in what in reality are usually very appropriate though ways that are very uncomfortable for them is to level the charge of feeling "unsafe." Again, what can a person accused of making someone feel unsafe in a therapy group really say in response to a such fundamentally incendiary charge? Can such a person say, "No I know you you don't really feel unsafe!" I don't think so. Such a charge usually effectively ends all discourse in such a setting.
The most important contribution, from my standpoint, the commentor makes in his/her entire comment is this:
Presenting the distinction between racialized speech and racist speech.
The commentor identifies a number of meme's currently floating around in American culture about President Obama as examples of racialized speech. Among them are the ongoing meme's that President Obama is a Muslim, that he wasn't born in America, that he is a coward, juxtaposing Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's implied toughness to President Obama's implied (weak) lack of it, etc. Indeed, it is often these type meme's I believe, that are the source of the lions share of racialized speech that most often shows up in current discourse. Most of these meme's have their roots in America's more blatantly racist past. In the past they were not meme's. They were blatantly endorsed racist sentiments. Now, they show up as racialized meme's. For example, back in the day, cartoonish and grotesque depictions of black's as eating watermelon replete with greatly exaggerated lips and bugged out eyes were clearly meant as racist depictions. Today, when someone makes a comment about black's loving watermelon, it is more often than not an example of racialized meme's. Racialized because of its hearkening back to its more blatantly racist roots but softened somewhat by the intervening years where the more blatant variety has become more or less an artifact of the past and where there is something of a disconnect from the previous more blatant expression.
Racialized speech is often dehumanizing, condescending and often passive aggressive, as the commenter accurately asserts. Racism is the first two and often passive aggressive as well though it tends to be aggressive aggressive. The difference between the two is often found in the degree of overtness, what is really being said and who is doing the speaking. The who is speaking part lends a sometimes confusing and complex element to the mix. This is why so many people who are generally viewed, more or less, as being allies to the African American community and our causes can find themselves being accused of being racist. In reality, they are more likely engaging in unfortunate and poorly chosen racialized meme's. By contrast, when Rush Limbaugh says something similar, it is clear he means it as a racist statement.
I'm going to write more about this in the near future as I believe this discussion distinguishing between racialized speech and racist speech to be an important one.