Crazy Asians   Leave a comment

Hey look, Asians hating each other has made it to the Yahoo front page. A little incident at the Olympics concerning the South Korean and Chinese speed skating teams. In short, “South Korea’s short track coach loses his cool as a Chinese team official films their practice.” Apparently the Korean coach was shouting and throwing bottles at the Chinese camera man.

If it was bottles of this stuff, that could be considered a biological/chemical weapon.

So. What do we have?
A Korean guy loses his temper and starts throwing things while a Chinese person is bootlegging a video. Stereotypes, you say? Maybe some good old fashioned racism. Sounds like an excellent opportunity to preach about racism. As per usual, it will be a chiefly linguistic exercise.

You know how the DOC professors say “gay” wasn’t really a labeled and persecuted class until the 20th century? Similarly, racists didn’t really exist before, say (generously), the 1850s. That’s when a group of people who were smarter and better than the general population decided to define and label the attitude and behavior people tended to exhibit toward other races. Before that, “racism” was just how people treated different colors of people, as a postulate- that just how you were supposed to act. But we know better now, and anyone who treats other races poorly is a racist.

The label “racist” is an intriguing one. I’m prejudiced to intuitively think that a title ending in “ist” has to do with craft or profession. An artist, a scientist, a violinist. There’s a certain artistry or professionalism that the “-ist” suffix conveys on an intuitive level. It’s rather sophisticated and civilized to be an “-ist”.

Now, “rapist” is one of our exceptions to this rule. I personally believe “raper” would be a worse sounding and more appropriate title to give such a depraved criminal. Maybe it sounds too much like the sword “rapier” and that invited unwanted violent imagery. Maybe they didn’t want to besmirch the dignity of the weapon. Maybe it’s because “raper” is just too vivid of a word to be used comfortably in conversation or in a courtroom.

In any case, it seems to me that a rapist ironically gets the gentler of his possible titles, making his name not as harsh sounding. A guy who committed murder isn’t a murderist, he’s a murderer, and that has a much more chilling tone to it than “murderist”. It’s quite interesting when the “-ist” suffix  is attached to negative actions. An “-ist” is someone who creates works of art or someone you make an appointment to see in an office. “I have concert tickets to see my favorite cellist, a dentist appointment tomorrow at 3:30, and then I have another appointment with my rapist.”

A racist is another negative “-ist”, though not quite on point with rapist. However, “racist” is a relative neologism. Rape was known as rape for as long as it existed, but racism wasn’t identified as an unusual or even particularly villified behavior until long after its symptoms were ingrained in many cultures. Perhaps the intellectuals endowed with naming powers simply prefer “-ist” to “-er” these days. Certainly a “racist” isn’t expected to be a professional or to create art.

But the problem with “racist” isn’t just the “-ist”; the “rac(e)” breaks pattern as well. It’s abundantly clear why the powers that be would rather prefer to call an intolerant, prejudiced, person a “racist” than a “racer”. It would be hilarious to call Hitler and the KKK racers. That name is taken, and it was first come, first serve. But I doubt “racist” was a second choice.

“Racist” strikes me as a peculiar title that isn’t particularly well-crafted because of its choice of root word, even more than its suffix. If I prefer to label an appropriate villain”raper”, I still know what you mean when you say “rapist”. The sophisticated connotation of “-ist” can be overcome by the negative power of the root word. However, “Rape” is a verb, “race” is not. Well, it is, but not in this usage.

Now, “violin” isn’t a verb either, but we’re much more aware of how and to what a purpose a violin is used than we are the term “race”. In this sense, “race” isn’t a verb, it’s an abstract noun, a concept. In part because “racer” already has a meaning in our language and culture, the term “racist” is used. But what does this presuppose? It assumes that whenever race is taken into account, it will be in a prejudicial light. Wheels and cleats aside, if I’m going to “race” you, it will not be pleasant and it will not be positive.

By calling someone a “racist”, you have assumed that the verb most closely associated with “race” is prejudice. It’s the same as when you call someone a “violinist” and assume the verb most closely associated with “violin” is play. Respectively, “prejudice” and “play” are intuitively the most closely related actions to “race” and “violin”. How are we supposed to separate the “race” to which prejudice is most closely associated from the “race” that is delightful to celebrate and learn about? It can only be done so arbitrarily by the person calling others racist.

I said that rather artistically, so let me be clear. The assumption that race is going to be used in a negative way is implicit in the word “racist”. The person calling someone else a racist is the lone person who gets to decide who is using race to discriminate and who is using race to appreciate. Whether they mean to or even realize it, people using the term “racist” assume race is primarily used in a negative way. Even if a person believes this is the truth, there is nothing to be gained by perpetuating that assumption.

This is why some people prefer the term “prejudice” even if it sounds archaic and out of touch. Based on the definition of all the other “-ist”s, a “racist” is someone who uses or practices race. To use or practice race doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s clearly made negative in the term “racist”.


Posted February 15, 2010 by Wada in Uncategorized

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