Why calling “racism” in political debate is unhelpful.

Abraham at 22 Words had a post this weekend on the kerfuffle over the President’s speech to schoolchildren. (I agreed with it.) It only took 2 anti-Obama commenters for the first accusation of racism to come out.

This is now standard in public and private discourse. Criticize Obama or his policies and you will be labeled racist, Nazi, anti-American, etc– whether by a blog commenter or a member of Congress.

There are at least three reasons not to bring up the charge of racism when you’re in an argument. (I mean argument in the technical sense– when you’re presenting and defending your point of view.)

  1. It’s an attempt to end debate, rather than respond to the claims of your opponent. That suggests that you are unable to respond to the claims of your opponent.
  2. It’s seldom based on evidence, making it both an unforgivable and an unprovable offense.
  3. It suggests that you, the accuser, are more preoccupied with race than the accused.

Probably the best response to “You’re just saying that because you’re a racist” is “Well, OK, but you’re just saying that because you’re an idiot.”

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