The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

What Does Racism Mean, Anyway?

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Pauline Hanson has a point.

Paragraph break while readers get back on their chairs.

The fearless Ms Hanson did have a point when she lamented that many of the people calling her a racist do not, in fact, know the definition of the word ‘racism’. I think a great many people are unaware of the exact definition. What they do know, however, is what they think it means. I find it odd that Ms Hanson would object to this kind of usage, given that this would appear to be the first time she’s resorted to anything resembling a dictionary. While I applaud this sudden lurch towards an academic understanding of words and things, I do feel compelled to point out that she’s muffed it.

You see, the main reason people don’t have a single clear definition for ‘racism’ is that the word does not have a single, monolithic definition. It’s always the same with pesky abstract nouns.¬†There’s popular usage, the rather precise and fussy definitions used by various branches of academia, definitions in law and, after all that, the definitions that end up in the dictionary. Yes, definitions, plural. Not definition, singular.

And it’s really not the dictionary definition we’re concerned with when we’re talking about any sort of vox populi statement. It’s the duty of the listener, in any kind of communication, to make an effort to understand what their interlocutor actually means, and when people call Pauline racist, what they mean is that there is a fundamental assumption of ethnic superiority inherent in her particular brand of mythical monoculturism. Or, to put it in simpler terms – she’s a racist.

I suppose it’s not exactly a state secret that Senator Hanson is terrible at language. In fairness, linguistic capability is not what her supporters value her for. It’s for her ‘straight talking’, the way she ‘keeps the bastards honest’ and stands up to ‘lefty elites’. It’s a shame, then, that she hasn’t stuck to her core competencies. Incoherent diatribes blaming anybody and everybody for problems which are never clearly defined are the core, the fundamental bedrock of right wing populism. All of this semantic trickery is much more properly kept in the arsenal of the left.

If I were Pauline Hanson I’d be very careful about precision in language. I’d strongly advise she stick to inchoate expressions of injured outrage – if she gets too specific, it might become apparent to her supporters that she does not, in fact, have anything else.

Category: Asinine, Politics

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