Colleges can’t redefine racism

Robert VerBruggen of National Review Online explains why it’s not the academy’s role to change the definition of “racism.”

Some academics who study racial matters use the word “racism” to mean not “dislike of people on the basis of race,” which is how most people use it, but rather something like “prejudice plus power” or what is more clearly called “institutional” or “systemic” racism — meaning, conveniently, that members of minority groups by definition cannot be racist. And as Scott Alexander noted at Slate Star Codex back in 2014, parts of the Left are no longer willing to admit that this is a departure from standard usage by saying something along the lines of, “I suppose a group of black people chasing a white kid down the street waving knives and yelling ‘KILL WHITEY’ qualifies by most people’s definition, but I prefer to idiosyncratically define it my own way, so just remember that when you’re reading stuff I write.”

Instead, as Alexander writes, “we have a case where original coinage, all major dictionaries, and the overwhelming majority of common usage all define ‘racism’ one way, and social justice bloggers insist with astonishing fervor that way is totally wrong and it must be defined another.” I am not entirely sure if this is a conscious effort to redefine the word — and by pretending it’s already defined this way they’re “gaslighting” us — or if they have drunk so much Kool-Aid that they can say this in all sincerity. When called on it, many simply point to academic definitions, as though academia had the power to redefine words for the rest of society; that, of course, is not how language works.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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