Racism And Race-Baiting Cont.

A lot of posters took issue with Conor's distinction between race-baiting and racism:

As one of the most powerful slurs in American life, "racist" is an accusation that ought to be made rarely, after careful deliberation, with incontrovertible evidence, and never merely to score points at the expense of a political adversary.

There are many great responses to this in the comments, but this one from Klyopod, I think gets to the heart of things:

Conor makes a good argument, but I think he's copping out by suggesting that Rush's incessant race-baiting and obsession about race doesn't amount to a form of racism. It is a standard gambit of bigots to accuse the targets of their bigotry of being the "true" bigots. Go to the front page of Stormfront (if you dare), and you'll see that they do not describe themselves as an organization for hating Jews and blacks. They describe themselves as an organization for fighting racism against white Aryans.

If you think that example is too extreme, consider the following: earlier this year, David Duke remarked that the RNC had selected as their chair a "black radical." Most of us realize that when he says "black radical," he simply means "black." That's because all of us, Republican or Democrat, realize how laughable it is to call Michael Steele a black radical. The trouble is, it is equally laughable to call Barack Obama a black radical, but a significant chunk of mainstream right-wing commentators have suggested just that.

The issue is not whether Limbaugh knows he's being racist. The issue is that that's what his rhetoric amounts to. The Donovan McNabb comment, as well as his insistence that Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama was "all about race," basically come down to the mindset that he sets the bar very high for people of color, and is predisposed to think they're pulling something on whites (aided by guilty white liberals). Of course, he likes Bobby Jindal. And we know that if Jindal were a Democrat, Rush would be ridiculing him as "Piyush," bringing up his Hindu background, and calling his success a result of affirmative action.

Also Adam has a typically brilliant take on this:

The irony is that Friedersdorf essentially read off a rap sheet of some of Limbaugh's most outrageous remarks, and then he said he took Limbaugh at his word that he wasn't a racist, merely because he said so. By this standard, should we be taking Keith Bardwell and Patrick Lanzo at theirs. To extend the legal analogy, it's as though Friedersdorf were a prosecutor working a first-degree murder case with a near-certainty of conviction and he decided in his closing argument that he couldn't speculate as to the defendant's motive.

Prosecutors infer motive from people's behavior. In the case of Limbaugh, I think it's fairly obvious that his intent is to "hurt minorities" with his remarks. For example, the point of his "government's been taking care of [young blacks] their whole lives" remark was to paint black people as ungrateful, lazy, and stupid so as to delegitimize whatever grievance the poll he referenced was measuring. Focusing on a standard of "proof" that requires telepathy pretty much ensures that only the most outrageous behavior can credibly be described as racist--but in this day and age, precisely because certain behavior is so easily identifiable as racist, it's the least threatening form of racism...

I will concede this: There may be a rhetorical advantage in referring to racism through euphemism in that it may prevent people from becoming defensive and shutting out whatever argument is being made. But that's not the same as genuinely arguing that Limbaugh's actions are "racial provocation" rather than racism. That is splitting hairs.

I've basically settled on that last point. I'm quite convinced of what racism is, and isn't. And I'm unpersuaded by Conor's argument. That said,  I'm starting to find the term distracting. It allows people to tee off on a tangent, without getting to the core arguments.