No, not racism. "Racism." The word. The (usually true) accusation.
Actual racism, and I'm specifically focusing on racism against black people though a lot of what I'm getting at applies all around, still exists and thrives. Any white person who tells you they think racism is vastly overreported is a liar or is delusional. Things have improved dramatically, of course, but just because we have a biracial president, that doesn't mean all is forgiven and forgotten and we're all on equal footing now.
But what's happening lately is white people are tired of hearing about it. At first, they would simply point out that black people are capable of being racist against whites and other groups, too. Or they would focus on the fact that some black people sometimes cry racism where it does not exist. Or, in a related move, would point out that black people use the N-word, so why shouldn't white people get to, as if it were a special privilege or a cherished treat hidden in the cookie jar on top of the fridge. But those tactics didn't always work.
So now, apologists for racism are simply turning things around. When an event is deemed racist, whether by the media or the black community, the apologists are saying, "That's not racist, YOU'RE racist."
I first observed this during the presidential campaign, when a small but vocal percentage Barack Obama's detractors would start any argument about him with, "Oh, everyone who's against him is racist, right? Well, I'm not racist, but..." even though I never heard a single accusation of racism regarding his campaign that wasn't rooted in a demonstrably racist episode. (Like when the Clintons, who I don't believe are racists, played on racism in the South to try to bait Obama. Hillary's tactics were racist then, even if they were opportunistic rather than ideological.) I don't think most of the people who voted for John McCain did so because they're racists. But I don't think none of them are racists.
More recently, as President Obama has steadfastly attempted to avoid ever deeming anything to be racist (not even calling him and his wife "uppity" raised his ire), I've noticed the right especially going a step further. Obama is the racist.
And now, with the NAACP belatedly pointing out the obvious—that there is a throbbing racist vein in the Tea Party movement—we have an exchange in which Tea Party spokesman Mark Williams (pictured) is simply asked to say out loud that racists are not welcome in the movement, only to reply:
"Racists have their own movement. It's called the NAACP...They make more money off of race than any slave trader ever."
Because noticing and fighting against racism is now racism. And apparently, not only are blacks capable of racism, too, but judging by his comment that the NAACP is a racist group, it would appear that blacks are the only ones still capable of it.
It is getting harder and harder for me to imagine how obvious an incidence of racism would have to be in order for that characterization not to be challenged.
Mel Gibson, drunk or not, rages at his estranged lover that she deserves to be raped by a pack of N-words, and yet we have people on forums saying, "He was drunk, she was a golddigger," etc. In fact, we have Whoopi Goldberg saying so on TV, though her own reasons are even more disgusting—because he's willing to be friendly with her and her children without lynching them, therefore he must not be a racist. Because, you know, it's not like being friendly with a famous and powerful Hollywood figure like Whoopi Goldberg has any other value, right?
I think the definition of racism is becoming so narrow that it is deemed to almost never apply. As with Goldberg's assertion, a true racist is not a man who loathes Jews, calls Mexicans "wetbacks" and not only used the N-word but has vile fantasies about black men as rapist avengers—all of those things can be explained away, are not racist. A true racist can not be friendly with black people. So what is a racist? Apparently, in order to be a racist, one would have to be blackphobic, literally incapable of suppressing one's hatred of blacks, unable to be in the same room with them or to walk by them on the street without spitting. One would need to wear those infamous all-white outfits even after Labor Day to be an actual racist.
What this strict definition does is it makes racist outbursts and racist language excusable. It ignores the fact that a person can be, in general, not a racist, and yet still have racist episodes for which he or she should be called out. Someone can be a supporter of black causes and still forbid their daughter from dating a black man, or still express views that can only be described as racist, or still say something racially disparaging.
It's not who is a card-carrying racist that matters—those people are extreme cases the rest of the civilized world can ID with no worries. It's what is racist that still matters, because passive racist views and words do keep people down and do lay the groundwork for making more and more outrageous acts more and more acceptable in the wider culture.