Short answer: no — but the statement does have to be the product of racist thought. You should not get called a racist for a completely innocent comment that you did not intend to be racist and that has no roots in racist thought.
Beldar has an excellent comment from the last thread that is worth reproducing here in full. I will emphasize the parts I think are particularly important:
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 makes two very important points: 1) making a racist comment does not mean you are a racist, and 2) you need not “intend” to be racist to be racist.
As for the first point, that is why I was careful to say that I was not calling R.S. McCain a racist. Some across the Internet made the claim that I had — simply by saying he had made one racist comment! — but I did not. The people who made that claim either did not read me carefully or are liars.
As to point 2), there are just a lot of instances where it just makes no sense to say you “intended” racism. Unless you’re an unabashed racist, few people “intend” racism. To use the word “intend” in that fashion is just not how normal people talk — and if you insist on talking about “intending” racism, you’re going to lose a lot of people who think just like Beldar and I do.
However, for a statement to be racist, it does have to be the product of racist thought. We can all agree that it is unacceptable to judge someone a racist for comments that are not the product of racist thought in any way.
What I think concerns a lot of conservatives is the idea that they might say something completely innocent and yet have it misconstrued as racist because of the listener’s reaction. I have never endorsed that (although people who do not understand my arguments have accused me of it) — because I have had false accusations of prejudice happen to me, more than once.
One example I can’t discuss because it relates to work — which is why I sympathize with R.S. McCain’s complaint that he could not defend himself against allegations of racism while he was at the Washington Times. I get it.
Another time, I lashed out at a blogger who, in my opinion, was creating dishonest controversies to boost traffic whenever it looked like money was running out for him. I never said a single word about his Jewish heritage, so imagine my shock when he then wrote that I was calling him a “money-grubbing Jew opportunist.” (It’s not important who the blogger is, since this is about the ideas and not the personality. If you must know, you can click the link here and keep reading. To make the irony as rich as possible, this blogger actually habitually rants and raves about this tactic of playing the group identity card — when it’s played by others.)
It is precisely this sort of invocation of one’s group status to declare oneself a martyr — in the face of a totally unprejudiced comment — that should indeed concern conservatives. Again: I get it. It’s impossible to face down false accusations of racism or anti-Semitism and not understand it.
However, I am not convinced R.S. McCain falls in that category, personally. I have read his response and am just not impressed by the argument. (Nor am I impressed by the victim status he claims. Did you know I “hijacked” the whole Internet to convene some kind of inquisition? And here I thought I was some guy with a web site criticizing a statement by some other guy with a web site! I never knew the power I had!)
I am, however, pleased that he finally addressed the issue directly, and I think it will be to his benefit to have done so. Because some will accept his argument, and others will at least see that he is no longer being evasive. Which is a good thing. Owning your own words is what bloggers should do.
And I think the entire discussion is worthwhile, because this topic is coming up more and more in this wonderful post-racial era we are enjoying with the Barack Obama presidency.
P.S. DRJ will be out the next couple of days, and I am still crushed at work, so unless Karl or Jack Dunphy comes to the rescue, this is all you’re getting out of me for a while. Feel free to bitch about the fact that I’m writing about this again — but please also understand that I am as bored by such comments as you are by the posts. Who in real life voluntarily walks into a group discussion just so they can declare the discussion stupid? Why is such a nonsensical action suddenly respectable because it’s done on the Internet??
P.P.S. Cassandra understands me well. After days of reading dozens of comments from people who don’t — and who ignore what I say — it’s a pleasure to read someone who is paying attention and understands.