There are a lot of posts below, not so much agreeing with Chris' point that racist is "close" to nigger as an insult, but seeking to reformulate the argument to make it work.
This is amazing to me. We all have a place where conversation ends, and we begin to doubt that dialogue is actually the answer. The contention that "racist," if unsubstantiated, is close to "nigger" is, I think, mine.
The Holocaust is the epitome of industrialized hate, antisemitism invoked to genocidal ends. Moreover it exists within a shockingly ancient, and shockingly consistent tradition of state-sponsored terrorism against Jews. Hence to be labeled an antisemite is to be placed within one of the most evil, and trenchant, traditions in Western History.
Yet if a Jewish person called me an antisemite--or a Nazi--not because I'd done anything to warrant it, but because they felt like it, I simply can't see myself asserting that that's almost as bad as me calling them a kike, a hook-nosed Jew, money-grubbing Jew, or any other anti-Jewish slur.
If only because I have no sense of the other side, my tongue would be stayed. But more than sheer modesty, I'd understand the difference between attempting to dehumanize someone, to reducing their entire person to the ugliest imagery I can muster, and dishonestly ascribing to them a set of noxious beliefs. One says that you have some dangerous ideas about humanity. The other doubts your relationship to humanity itself.
Moreover, I understand that my status as an antisemite, or Nazi, is up for a debate--even if it's utterly unreasonable, and completely illegitimate. But I would never think that a Jewish's person's status as a "kike" is ever up for debate.
I am, in many ways, a bad fit for this job--there should be a black person here with a gentle-hand, willing to walk people through their differences step by step. There should be someone here who believes in conflict resolution. I have, after many conversations and arguments, concluded that some aspects of understanding are about information. But others are about will--people understand what they want to understand, what they believe is in their interest to understand.We have--yet again--reached an impasse. I can go no further. I don't even want to.
UPDATE: I think 182 comments is a good place to stop. Lotta heat. Very little light. I think it's worth clearing up a quick note of confusion--this blog never has been, and never will be a "dialogue on race." Indeed, I think such a dialogue is a bad idea. What you get from me is set of observations from a guy who is finding his way through. As a bonus, you get a smart group of commenters.
Either way, this past week has crystallized why I write. I am not here to think for people. I'm not here to respect all opinions. Some ideas about the world deserve honest debate and others deserve scorn. Each person must decide for themselves which is which. Even as I am aware of my own limits, I will not hesitate to make the choice. We can't talk our way out of everything.