Patterico's Pontifications


If You Say One Racist Statement, Does That Automatically Make *You* a Racist?

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:30 pm

I say no.

I have heard plenty of racist statements in my life. Some were uttered by racists — and some weren’t.

What do you say?

P.S. I see R.S. McCain acknowledged and explained his statement, very forthrightly. I think that is a good move which will help him in the long run. I’d say more but I am busy at work.

In the meantime, please discuss the question asked above. I’m interested in your views.

51 Responses to “If You Say One Racist Statement, Does That Automatically Make *You* a Racist?”

  1. I also say No. As I said before, I think a person can make a racially prejudiced or racist statement without being a racist. To me, you need to show a pattern to say someone is a racist.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  2. Anyone of any race who denies having ever had racist thoughts is a liar. Anyone who expects us to believe that he or she has never had racist thoughts is a fool.

    From time to time — but infrequently — I have made racist statements. They’ve been the product of racist thoughts. I didn’t intend them; I was surprised when I replayed them in my mind’s eye and realized that they were, indeed, racist. They reflect something occasional within myself of which I disapprove, and that I am committed to change or, failing that, to suppress, or failing that, to promptly acknowledge and apologize for.

    Identity politics — of which I profoundly disapprove, but which are universal in today’s American life and the preferred ideological mode of the Left and the Democratic Party — are most often what sparks the stereotyping that in turn leads me into racist thoughts and statements.

    My acknowledgment that I have had racist thoughts or made racist statements is not equivalent, however, to my being, on a regular and thorough-going basis, “a racist.” That’s a label that needs earning before it’s applied.

    Beldar (33a5e4)

  3. As a prosecutor, I pursued (and got convictions of) fairly decent people who had had very bad lapses of judgment on an occasion. It was pretty obvious that they were generally decent people, but they had done something bad, sometimes something very bad or evil. That one thing did not define their life, however; they remained basically decent people.

    So my answer is of course not.

    And that’s true even if they say something that they know to be racist (use the N-word, tell a racial joke with a real intent to demean somebody, etc.). Where someone has said something that they don’t even realize to be racist (for example, apparently the children’s choosing rhyme, eenie, meenie, miney, moe, began life as a racial slur of some sort, and some have gotten in trouble for saying the rhyme even though they had no idea of the history), well, then it’s just ridiculous to act as if they’ve done anything wrong at all.

    Kudos to McCain for finally answering the basic question and setting forth in detail what he meant. I still don’t care for him, but I think he’s adequately responded to this particular criticism. I do think it’s interesting that after all his noise and attacks against Patterico (including the absurdly ridiculous and slanderous implication that Patterico might misuse his job in order to harass McCain), McCain admits that the misunderstanding of his words is “understandable.”

    PatHMV (003aa1)

  4. Beldar:

    That is well said.

    Some are confounding the very real difference you explained so well.

    Patterico (a007a6)

  5. My acknowledgment that I have had racist thoughts or made racist statements is not equivalent, however, to my being, on a regular and thorough-going basis, “a racist.”

    If there is no provoking of the conscience when it the racist statement is acknowledged, nor any sense of shame and/or regret when looking it truthfully in the face for what it is, then I think there is a good probability that the utterer of the racist statements is indeed, a racist.

    If one is making a racist statement and was indeed a racist, his behavior would be consistent with the statement, and would confirm it. In our every day lives, our actions reinforce and evidence what we believe. Racism is no different. Our ethics, our morality etc., all come into play with every decision we make in one way or another. So, too, our views of our fellow man come into play in how we treat them. Actions follow beliefs.

    I believe we are to love our neighbors as ourselves – hence, the only level playing field.

    Dana (e9ba20)

  6. DRJ,

    Can you include a link to McCain’s post? It’s too hard to do on an iPhone when you are preparing an argument to a jury.

    [Will do. — DRJ]

    Patterico (a007a6)

  7. I am not a racist, and will not tolerate racism personally or professionally.

    But, as Beldar notes so eloquently above, I’d be a liar to say that I have not occasionally had racist thoughts~typically after dealing with a racist who has directed their racism against me or displayed it quite openly.

    I think it is also apparent that a person can unwittingly make a racist statement that cannot be seen in any other fashion, even when that person isn’t racist and doesn’t comprehend what is racist about what they have said.

    As Beldar says in his closing paragraph above, “racist” is an appellation that need be earned…and some people can earn it with a single statement. But after reading RSM’s response, I don’t think that is the case here.

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  8. This “forthright” explanation has been on his blog this whole time if you, Patterico, had wanted to see it.
    I beginning to think this blog is trolling for attention aka web links. Congrats.

    zaugg (2d20d1)

  9. #6 Patterico:

    Can you include a link to McCain’s post?

    I’m not DRJ, and wouldn’t pretend to play her on TV, let alone the internets, but the link to McCain’s post:

    as provided by zaugg.

    [Thanks for the link. I’ve added it to the post. — DRJ]

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  10. pathmv- “Kudos to McCain for finally answering the basic question and setting forth in detail what he meant” He did this months ago. Try to keep up.

    zaugg (2d20d1)

  11. Who apparently missed that part about preparing for a jury.

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  12. I added the R.S. McCain link to Patterico’s post.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  13. and for the really slow ones- RSM did this same explaining when Chuckles Little Johnson got his feathers ruffled.

    zaugg (2d20d1)

  14. My instinct is no, Patterico. However, the charge of racism is so incendiary that it naturally spills past the single utterance that you try and pin it on. As you work to narrow your focus to just a single statement, it makes your original observation trivial.

    Here’s a parallel I’ve been noodling on: “I just said you killed a baby, not that you’re a baby killer“. It would be silly to try and make that distinction, wouldn’t it? It’s true that baby killer implies a pattern of killing individual babies, but the accusation is so horrible that the distinction is trivial.

    I see a similar pattern here. Highlighting a racist comment tends to suggest a broader accusation of racism. You can minimize it later by observing that everybody says something racist once in a while, but that doesn’t ring true. After all, surely your point wasn’t “R.S. McCain said something racist once, just like I have and you have and everyone has”. That point is trite, and very easy to make clear upfront.

    itouchayoface (ebad03)

  15. Zaugg, if he did, why didn’t you provide a link to such before now in one of the earlier threads? Why didn’t he?

    PatHMV (003aa1)

  16. zaugg asked me why I was relying on a white supremacist web site as the source for McCain’s words. zaugg thus implied that maybe McCain had not phrased it that way.

    Making it odd for zaugg to pretend that McCain forthrightly acknowledged this passage on his blog.

    Patterico (a007a6)

  17. Why is zaugg trying to foster dissent among conservatives? What is his motive?!?!?!?!111!

    Patterico (a007a6)

  18. #13 zaugg:

    and for the really slow ones-

    Uh, who gives a shit when Nancy gets his feathers ruffled?

    #15 PatHMV, in fairness, the link above is one that zaugg provided.

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  19. I know a guy who is Hispanic, and he said some non-complimentary things about a Hispanic group. Can he be a racist against himself and his children? One statement doesn’t make you racist.

    tyree (9d7ff3)

  20. EW1(SG),

    I think PatHMV’s response was to Zaugg’s comments ##10 and 13, which imply that McCain always acknowledged the statement as his and that he fully explained it before. However, it appears McCain only did those things conclusively today.

    DRJ (84a0c3)

  21. Thanks, DRJ, exactly right.

    PatHMV (003aa1)

  22. I have made many racist comments. I have also made many sexist comments. (Hi, artsy Dana.) Don’t mean nuttin without context and intention.

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  23. #21 PatHMV:

    Thanks, DRJ, exactly right.

    And I misread that. Sorry, Pat.

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  24. For God’s sake, grow up and move on. You are a great big hero is that what you want to hear? We all think the sun shines from your rear end. We like you more than RSM. Is that enough.? And yes there are more important things going on in the world!!

    Grow up will ya! (3b8d8f)

  25. Whoever the heck you think you are, thank you, drive through, good bye.

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  26. If you make one racist/sexist/[insert modern apostasy here] statement … well, it doesn’t matter whether you are or not, because once it’s been publicized IT’S INQUISITION TIME, BABY!

    We’re here, we’re austere, you’re guilty until proven innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt and even then your life is still ruined so it sucks to be you — get used to it!

    Remember, in these enlightened, overlawyered times, the process is the punishment…

    PCachu (e072b7)

  27. In response to PCachu,


    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  28. I agree with the premise in the post. As I said in an earlier comment, making one potentially (or blatantly) sexist remark, especially if done in either ignorance or temporary misjudgement, should not get you fired for sexual harasssment.

    Just as one comment, made either in anger, misjudgement, ignorance, or simply poor ellucidation shouldn’t get one a Scarlet R on the chest.

    It’s a trend of thought or behavior which needs to be evaluated before we get out the branding iron.

    Steve B (5eacf6)

  29. Is “Nice Rack” a sexist remark or a compliment these days or does it all depend on the context? Some days I just get so confused. There are too many rules!!!

    daleyrocks (718861)

  30. Depends, daley (or did I just mock the incontinent?) on the object of your approval. Are you looking at a deer with huge antlers or a dear with huge pectoral muscles?

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  31. Or, maybe you were playing nine-ball.

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  32. “Anyone of any race who denies having ever had racist thoughts is a liar.” As Beldar said, we are all in this together. And I would add to the original question of the post and two or three or more times– not just one.

    We are all human and fallible. There is a big difference between saying that f***king n*gger or pulling a gun out an killing a guy because he is black. I have done the former not the latter. Am I proud of it, no. Also I have had it done too me, as I am of mixed race. In those cases the best I can do, is feel the sting and then try to forgive. Carrying around hatred for someone because they hurt you is a burden not worth baring. I have to remember that they are in many cases, just like me–someone who is trying to make themselves feel more powerful at the expense of someone else. Not a great way to go through life.

    Racism is a process, it is what you do over a period of time not something that pops up once or twice. And people do change, for the better. I certainly hope that is true in my case.

    BT (74cbec)

  33. […] has an excellent comment from the last thread that is worth reproducing here in full. I will emphasize the parts I think are […]

    Patterico's Pontifications » Must One “Intend” To Be Racist to Say Something That Is Racist? (e4ab32)

  34. 29.Is “Nice Rack” a sexist remark or a compliment these days or does it all depend on the context? Some days I just get so confused. There are too many rules!!!

    Comment by daleyrocks — 12/10/2009 @ 11:16 pm

    I ran across a Lieutenant who had an impressive ribbon rack – probably prior enlisted as the Lt had a couple of rows. In the mil we call those racks. I almost said “Nice rack!” but thought better of it because the Lt was a woman.

    voiceofreason2 (d2b5fe)

  35. I have read that when LBJ told Thurgood Marshall that he was appointing him to the Supreme he said something like “There is going to be a n****r on the Court”. To Marshall.

    Speech is intrinsically noise. It is consequential only with an audience and the effect it has on that audience. That is why the “speaker’s intent” argument mostly ends up in an intellectual cul de sac. The person who spoke attempted to communicate an idea to another person, not sing in the shower, and he should rightfully hold himself strictly liable for being understood or misunderstood. Or something like that.

    nk (df76d4)

  36. Short answer no.

    Slightly longer answer no but that is not relevant to the case since in context the statement in question wasn’t racist to begin with.

    datechguy (ccf661)

  37. I am told by somebody who knows that speech is not intrinsically noise. Speech and thought and intellect are inseparable because we think in words. Or, as in the case e.g. of people deaf from birth, in some other arbitrary but understandable symbols. Ok, I will have to think some more about it.

    nk (df76d4)

  38. datech, it’s not even relevant? In context, it’s not racist? Your blog says he was trying to calm down a bunch of (in my words) bigots. So he used an argument they would understand. And because of that, the basic truth of the matter is changed somehow. It’s not racist to feel revulsion at people in virtue of their race.

    OK. I know a lot of people share this view. They all seem to share your conclusory argumentation. Many have said it’s not racist to be intolerant of other races. And some have said it’s not racist because it was a strategy to be more compelling to people who are racist.

    your blog shows that context matters by citing a lot of racially charged material.

    But you hold, on your blog, that

    he only bounds given is that the bank clerk is black. She is generic, no family, no religion, no looks, no other knowledge context at all. Since the only context given is a racial one the statement that the person “may yet be adverse to accepting the clerk as his sister-in-law” not only describes racism, but it can’t describe anything else because the only criteria is racism.

    Yes, exactly. No matter what the context is, this comment is clearly an unequivocally wrong about racism in a way that denies the core immorality of the racism.

    You meander off to talk about Mccain’s personal attitudes and feelings. No one can prove what they are, and that’s part of the the reason one racist comment doesn’t make someone racist. This is true, but banal. Most people granted this from the beginning. But you never give the context that would change this quote to not racist.

    You conclude that the context makes a clearly racist comment not racism. How? What aspect of the context changed the meaning? That he was speaking to out of control nuts obviously doesn’t help. that he talks about the perspective of “southern” doesn’t change any truth values of this quote.

    I take pride in my Sicilian, Catholic background and I equally expect any person I meet to take pride in whatever background they have. That is equality. Kirk has it exactly right.


    Taken in context it makes an argument that the tactics and unequal application used has radicalized the radicals and that the people he is talking too should not take the bait to radicalize themselves. This is clearly not only not racist but endeavors to prevent actions that would be.

    What? “clearly not racist”. Why is this clear to you? You’re still talking about revulsion at a black person, right? Of course political correctness is deeply unfair and people shouldn’t let it affect how they see the world. Why does that make a racist comment not racist?

    What’s disturbing is that you seem to be saying that everyone taking pride in their own race, when articulated as revulsion at the other races and interracial love, is somehow not racism. All racist equally would still be racists.

    I think you make a good case that RSM is a smart person who wasn’t trying to promote intolerance. Good. But you haven’t made a good case that there’s some context that makes this quote non racist. That context simply does not exist.

    I really appreciate the hard work you put into your analysis. It’s so much more interesting than all the folks crying that this is a witch hunt because RSM is on their side of the political fence. If this quote appeared in Audacity of Hope… If Obama said this. Seriously imagine hearing him say this.

    Dustin (44f8cb)

  39. I’m sure I got some detail of your argument wrong. Apologies in advance if this is the case… it really must be the case since your argument seems to be missing the crucial element. Just tell me where I’m mistaken.

    Dustin (44f8cb)

  40. A retired colonel from the Air Force Investigative Services once stated nicely that one cannot use the word bigot without being a bigot. I understood what he said; but, being me I cited the exception he’d just exercised. {^_-}

    I contend that it is similarly impossible to call a person a racist without yourself being a racist or becoming a racist with the utterance.

    Isn’t the subject close to dead yet?

    I accept being a racist. I work hard to prevent that fact from contaminating my good judgement. That can cost me money if I fail to select the very best.

    {^_^} I just used the words so I must be a racist. {^_-}

    JD (847e52)

  41. “I contend that it is similarly impossible to call a person a racist without yourself being a racist or becoming a racist with the utterance.”

    JD, I like you, but this is nonsense.

    You don’t call people racist because they have oppressed your personal race and you’re trying to even the score. Racism is a specific category of behavior, and you don’t have to be racist to identify it.

    Dustin (44f8cb)

  42. #41 Dustin:

    JD, I like you, but this is nonsense.

    Dustin, this in not the JD you are thinking of.

    /Jedi mind trick

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  43. Are you serious? hahaha! How ironic that the fake JD is condemning racism in earnest (if I understand what’s going on, anyway).

    Dustin (44f8cb)

  44. I don’t know that the second is a “fake,” but certainly hasn’t displayed the courtesy of differentiating herself from the long time JD (who should be along to denounce my intolerance shortly).

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  45. You don’t call people racist because they have oppressed your personal race and you’re trying to even the score.

    Are you talking about affirmative action here?

    Makewi (0864f9)

  46. To be honest, Makewi, it was just a totally superfluous part of my comment. What I meant was that you don’t have the racism charge is not solely part of some tug of war between two races. I said this so badly I can not imagine anyone understood me. Still, I stand by the rest of the comment, that you don’t have to be a racist to know what racism is (and in fact, you really can’t rationally be racist once you realize, truly, that you’re being racist). You’re no longer prejudging other races as inferior once you know that it’s ridiculous to do that. You’re just being a dick to a group of people, which isn’t really racial prejudice at all. The results can still be racist, but the intention is something else (I know, I’m being a bit unclear).

    I find Affirmative Action to be counterproductive, and it is obviously racism.

    Dustin (44f8cb)

  47. Is it possible to feel revulsion over the impending marriage of your sister to a member of another race that has nothing to do with racism?

    Makewi (0864f9)

  48. It’s hilarious that even after all this there a still a few insisiting on banging the ‘RSM is a racist drum’…….lol.

    harkin (a9320f)

  49. Consider Senator Byrd. If he were a racist, the Dems would kick him out, right? Yet he was a Klan recruiter, which implies he said racist things. No, no, not even 10,000 racist statements make you a racist.

    Kevin Murphy (3c3db0)

  50. Saying one racist thing doesn’t necessarily make you racist. In answer to your question: no.

    But it does probably mean you lack judgment. In our hyper-sensitive society, saying something that can even be CONSTRUED as racist will get you labeled. Best not to say it at all. There are ways to word thoughts so they are not seen as offensive. Just think before you speak (or type, or whatever).

    otcconan (29ea67)

  51. It was a nice movie thats for sure :) watched for fre3 on WikiBlast . n e t

    Aldo (26ad3e)

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