Yesterday, NPR aired a story about the commmonplace exclamation used by young people: "That's racist!"
I was intrigued because I have an 11-yr-old son who is constantly saying this. For example, my elder daughter once suggested that an Asian friend would like to have rice with her dinner. My son quickly accused, "That's racist!"
I tried to explain to him that acknowledging cultural preferences and differences is not racist. I have heard him say this several times since, in a variety of contexts.
The NPR piece argues that young people now commonly refer to things that are racial as racist.
I am curious to hear if other have heard this swap of terms, and whether you believe it demeans actions that truly are racist.
You can read or listen to the NPR story here.
12 Answers | Add Yours
It's been said before, so I'm simply chiming in to agree and express frustration - to many of my students, "that's racist" is another easy way to decry any statement or direction with which they are unhappy. Very little thought was generally given to the use of the response by the students - if they thought there was any possible reference to any word that might be connected to race or sex or any other grouping of individuals, that was a quick and supposedly all-encompassing condemnation of me for giving the direction. It was a copout on their part, and the really funny/sad part was that they thought they were being superior and condemning me for the statement without realizing they were revealing their ignorance of what those two words actually meant.
I agree that "young people now commonly refer to things that are racial as racist." However, there is a double standard in that arena, even in the general public, ... a double standard that many people feel is justified. (For example, something as simple as African-American teens enjoying basketball, ... This can be discussed freely among the black community, but in the white community that same discussion can raise eyebrows.)
After teaching in an inner-city school for many years, I remember vividly the conversation I had with many-a-class about the word "nig**r" in the context of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the reasoning behind the explanation of why it was "okay" for the African-American community to say it. Really great springboard to discussion through literature, I must say! : )
I also agree with bullgatortail when he says that we live in a world "where political correctness is of utmost importance." I'm afraid it's at the point now where not "political correctness" itself, but the changing of our behavior as a result of ridiculously overexaggerated political correctness is truly harming our society.
Ironically, this ridiculously overexaggerated political correctness is at least a minor reason why there is actual worry associated with a random teenage kid complaining "that's racist" ... instead of us having the reaction of simply shrugging it off.
@bull (#3): Oy. My mother used to say "Oriental" as well. I had to explain to her that things were "oriental" and people were Asian. I had quite a few Asian friends at the time.
To this day, she still says "Moslims." Not sure if that's a Southern thing or just my mom. :)
@speamerfam (#6): Interesting, the "That's gay," parallel. I bet we are about the same age. Something I def used to say, as did my peer group. The comedian Louis CK has a great bit about that.
I teach in a southern school, and the term is often used with abandon, particularly when a minority student is disciplined by a teacher who is not of that minority. I think it is more of a knee jerk reaction than anything else--if one doesn't know what to say, that's an appropriate retort. I do think they do not realize the implications of the term, just that they need to respond in some way. I have NOT heard it used in a flippant way or with a touch of humor. In almost every instance, the only "touch" I observed was anger. It is sad that this accusation can be used so easily and with so little regard for its meaning.
To me, this is akin to this younger generation saying "That's gay." I have heard that expression and the "racist" one many times, and in few of the contexts in which I have heard either have the terms been used in a meaningful way. I do think there might be a touch of humor sometimes, poking fun at how politically correct the world has become, and I have heard my own sons, who are biracial, I might add, use it this way, with a touch of irony. I tend to think it is just one of those memes that floats around, something kids say because they heard it somewhere else. If I were responding to something written, an essay for example, I would make some comment about precision, but how many of us actually do express ourselves precisely in conversation? I have no sense as I hear this term being used that it demeans the truly racist, and I am quite certain that the youth today have a perfectly good understanding of what is truly racist and what is not.
I teach in a mostly bi-cultural community, and while racial tension is nothing compared to what it is in some of the more urban, multi-ethnic areas, some still face racist situations and rhetoric. I think because it is not nearly so pronounced, overt, obvious and even legal as it was in the days of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, young people have a harder time recognizing it when they see or hear it, or distinguishing between those things that are racist or, as you point out, are merely cultural descriptors.
I think the important point is that we do not have much of a racial dialogue in the country or the classroom anymore, and it would be a healthy one to have.
I too would agree that for the most part, young people may say "racist" when they really mean "racial" but I think this is all a measure of our ever-growing concern over political correctness and politically correct language. As a society we have encouraged our students to not see color or ethnicity and to recognize that we all share our common humanity, but this actually heightens their sensitivity to comments that talk about race or ethnicity. They perceive a judgement or a criticism when none may be intended.
In this world where political correctness is of utmost importance, it's easy to say anything that someone may consider "racist." I agree that the proper word should be "racial" in most cases, but even that is too strong for some otherwise innocent comments that many people say in passing. I used to use the word "Oriental" to generally cover anyone native to Asia. Boy, did I hear about that one time. I certainly meant no disrespect--I think "Oriental" has an exotic sound and connotation--but I certainly have reverted to using the term "Asian" now, when necessary. I have had some African-American students become quite upset when I used the word "black" in a discussion of literature or sociology. I now use "African-American" since it is the present politically correct term. Young people need to understand that such phraseology is ever-changing; what is in vogue now will probably be considered insensitive at some point in the future.
Students where I teach use that phrase (and have for years) just as a joke, which is also something that is mentioned in the NPR story. They'll refer to anything that they don't like as racist -- "you're giving us homework? That's racist." Stuff like that.
I wonder if kids today care less about race than people our age. I have no real way of proving it, but it just seems to me that it's not nearly such a big deal for them. I teach in a majority Hispanic district and I was surprised when I first got there to see how lightly issues of race and ethnicity seem to be taken. No one uses the terms that we were taught to use. They display very little senstitivity about talking about racial issues. So I really wonder if it's not a generational thing and that those of us who are of a certain age are being left behind by the times.
I agree with both larrygates and litteacher8 as to the use of accusation of being racist in the classroom. I am a white teacher in an urban school district that is primarily black and Hispanic. The term “Your racist” is all too commonly used when discipline is given out. I do however try to press the student to look at his behavior and my behavior and then review whether I intentionally singled him out due to his race. I generally get an apology and the student recognizes that I am only doing my job and we move on with our day. If that fails then I ask my administrator to intervene and we set up a conference with the student and parent. Maybe overkill - but I appreciate that we quash the conversation.
I had one student who used the phrase so often that another student finally said to him, "She is not writing you up because your black. She is writing you up because your an idiot that cannot follow the rules." Problem solved.
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