I’ve always been intrigued by the sheer power of language. Usually, the power of words lies in their context, and in the way they’re strung together to communicate a complex concept in a way that disposes the listener to accept or reject it. Certain words, however, have their own intrinsic power, irrespective of context. I think of those as magic words. The “F” word is a magic word because of its peculiar power to shock and offend and to stop a conversation dead in its tracks. But the power of the “F” word pales in comparison to the power of the “N” word.
The “N” word may be the most powerful word in the English language, in terms of pure visceral impact and the ability to elicit shock, anger, betrayal, humiliation, hatred, and even violence. Can you think of any other two syllables stuck together that could incite a riot? The “N” word is not just a word; it’s a weapon. It’s an incredibly ugly word because it objectifies the person at whom it’s leveled, stripping them of their individuality and casting them as an insignificant inferior.
The word “Racist” is another of those amazingly powerful words, similar to the “N” word in its capacity to evoke an emotional response. Arguably, the “R” word is even uglier than the “N” word, because what it says about the person at whom it’s leveled is uglier. It implies that they are blind to the individuality of others and are motivated by ignorant hate.
One may say the “N” word is worse because it’s based on race, a characteristic with which one is born, about which one has no choice. Presumably, if one is a racist, it’s by their own volition. But what’s more insidious about calling someone a racist is that, just because one is labeled that, doesn’t mean it’s true. Yet how does one prove what one is not? Once tarred with the brush of racism, either by accusation or implication, one cannot easily defend oneself without sounding like one is begging the question.
Spurious imputations of racism are increasingly in vogue these days among a certain set of people. It’s commonly used to shut down discussion without having to come up with a rational response, to vilify someone with whom one disagrees, and to discredit whatever it is they have to say. Unlike the “N” word, which is so politically incorrect that one can’t even spell it out without invoking imprecations of racism, the word “racist” is commonly used by those who see themselves as infallibly politically correct.
It’s ironic that, though Senator Obama sells himself as the “post-racial” candidate who will heal the racial divide in our nation, his campaign has become the focal point for racial divisiveness. Perhaps more ironic is that the most aggressive perpetrators of that racial divisiveness are not his opponents, but his supporters. While Obama himself has tiptoed around direct accusations of racism, many of his supporters are quick to fling the epithet at anyone and everyone who doesn’t support their candidate, or who disagrees with them on any number of hot button issues.
I know how it feels to be branded with the scarlet “R” for daring to speak about race without genuflecting before the altar of political correctness. But I’m not intimidated by magic words. However, I know many people who are hesitant to express legitimate opinions about subjects such as affirmative action or welfare because they don’t want to be put in the position of having to defend themselves against the inevitable intimations of racism. How are we ever going to “heal the racial divide” if we can’t talk openly and honestly about any issues that happen to touch on race? Liberals like to spout “Speak truth to power,” but they won’t abide people who speak truth to political correctness.
I’ll continue to speak my mind, and to support my opinions with logic and facts. Anybody who can refute my positions with logic and facts is welcome to convince me I’m wrong. I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again, but I won’t shut up because I’m afraid of what somebody might call me, no matter how ugly it is.