Can Things be Racist?

One can, of course, change the meaning of words, but it may be counterproductive to expect that others will understand and agree.

In Some medical devices don’t mean to be racist, but they are | Psyche Ideas, the authors say “If it seems hyperbolic to call an inanimate object racist, it might be due to our tendency to think of racism and other forms of oppression as residing in people’s minds.” But others (and I am among them) may say that’s just because that’s how the word has always been defined in their experience – namely as an attitude or opinion. Those who define racism as an attitude may well be able to see oppressiveness as defined more in terms of the effect, and so agree that it makes sense to call inanimate objects and systems racially oppressive while denying that they are actually racist.

My own preferred usage would include the use of “racist” to describe a device or system developed and maintained with racist intent, but that would not necessarily include everything that may have racially biased and even oppressive effects (such as the fingertip pulse oximeter).

Given what we have by way of explicit historical documents, it seems clear that, whatever the intent of our current populace and leadership, there are still some features of some of our institutions that were imposed with racist intent and so do qualify as “systemic racism”. There are also many individuals with racist attitudes who have power in the system. And even if the intent of the system as a whole is no longer racist, the presence of such people also fits in with what I would call “systemic racism”.

But others (such as Monsieur Legault), who do not see the continued persistence of those elements as intentional, may need some clarification before being prepared to describe the elements of racism that persist in their system as “systemic racism”.

And if they agree to aggressively pursue and root out from their system all of its racially oppressive aspects, racistly motivated structures, and racist individuals, then perhaps it does not matter whether or not they agree to use that label.

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