(July 20) The overuse of the word “racism” has become such a pathology that even a major newspaper headline affixed the label to remarks that were not racist at all.

In a brouhaha completely unmoored from reality, the San Francisco Chronicle ran a July 19 story headlined “After making racist statement, S.F. school board member apologizes.” The lead sentence reiterated, as if it were fact rather than accusation or opinion, that board member Ann Hsu had “made a racist statement.

The lack of journalistic ethics is appalling. So is the continued alteration of the meaning of a potent word so that it loses almost all its legitimacy and moral power.

First, let’s get this straight: “Racism” is not necessarily present merely because skin color is part of the conversation. Racism is not at issue when someone is citing demographic facts and trends for purposes of helping minorities escape bad circumstances. If you claim that “black voters overwhelmingly tend to vote for Democrats,” that’s not racist, even if you don’t like Democrats. Statistically, it is undeniable.

What would indeed be racist, for example, would be making assumptions that because an individual is black, he should or must vote only for Democrats. The first example is a mere fact. The second is a prejudicial assertion based on skin color — an application of general trends to assume a particular character or viewpoint of an individual. Racism is most obviously present when the stereotypical assumption involves negative value judgments.

In that context, here’s what Hsu actually said: “From my very limited exposure in the past four months to the challenges of educating marginalized students especially in the black and brown community, I see one of the biggest challenges as being the lack of family support for those students. Unstable family environments caused by housing and food insecurity along with lack of parental encouragement to focus on learning cause children to not be able to focus on or value learning.”

That statement, made in search of solutions for real problems that afflict minority communities, does not blame them or attribute bad character to them. Hsu was stating facts about certain socioeconomic factors such as “housing and food insecurity,” which cause “unstable family environments.”…. [The full column is here.]


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