[BLOG NOTE: reruns are over! This is not a rerun post! No subsequent posts will be rerun posts! Thank you.]
It may surprise you to learn that the Catholic Church is against homophobia.
You see, many Catholics argue, it is a logical conclusion of Catholic teaching that one should not be cruel to LGB people: one should not discriminate against them at work, disown them, wave signs about how they are in hell at their funerals, assault them, murder them, et cetera, et cetera. It’s right there in the Catechism:
[LGB people] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
So therefore (they argue) it is really quite unfair for people to go around calling the Catholic Church homophobic just because they keep calling LGB people “intrinsically disordered” and saying that they will be tortured for eternity if they ever have an orgasm. Homophobia is the thing where you want to discriminate against LGB people and commit violence against them! The Catholic Church doesn’t support that!
I hope we can all agree that the sensible response here is not “that sounds reasonable!” The sensible response is “while I am very happy about you not supporting the murdering and the disowning and the obnoxious sign-waving and so on, the suggestion that gay sex is morally wrong is still homophobic. You are not as homophobic as you could possibly have been, but that doesn’t mean you’re not doing something homophobic. Your attitudes cause LGB people a lot of pain and provide cover for homophobes who are far worse than you, and I wish you would stop.”
Sometimes, people respond to to accusations of having done something racist by saying that they are very against racism. In fact, they are so against racism that they think that only very very evil people are racists. Since they are not very very evil– as both they and their conversation partner can agree– it is highly unfair to say that they’re doing something racist.
I sort of admire this rhetorical move. Normally, when you try to avoid being told that you’re racist, you set yourself up for being accused of not taking racism seriously. But this argument sets up your opponent as the one who doesn’t take racism seriously! It’s very clever.
It’s still bullshit.
Look: Stormfront is not the primary cause of black people’s suffering in America today, because there are literally only a few thousand of them. (130,000 according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has an incentive to exaggerate to stay in business.) If you avoid people with swastika tattoos and websites that use the word “Negroes”, you can very easily go through your entire life without interacting with a Stormfront member.
What is a cause of suffering for black people in America today? Nice people who just feel uncomfortable in neighborhoods with too many of the wrong kind of person. Nice people who vote for politicians who promise to get tough on crime, because, well, think of the children! Nice people who just thought the black woman wouldn’t fit in with the culture of the company. Nice women who cross the street when they see a black man at night. Nice cops who really believe, in their heart of hearts, that they saw a gun.
The racism problem is basically 100% a nice person problem, because most people are nice people.
And when you say “racism is a word reserved for very, very evil people”, you are making it impossible to talk about the vast majority of actually existing racism.
Now, some people suggest that we should reserve “racism” for the Very Very Evil People, and instead say something like “perpetuating racial prejudice” for your more ordinary housing and job discrimination. But the problem with that is that people can tell what you’re fucking talking about. If I say “unauthorized removal of preowned objects”, you can tell I mean “stealing,” and if I say “perpetuating racial prejudice”, you can tell I mean “racism.”
In practice, words such as “cissexism” intended to refer to lighter forms of oppression tend to get an equally bad negative reaction– if you say “it’s cissexist to say a trans woman is biologically male”, you will still get people being upset at you because how dare you say that, they are not a real transphobe, they always use the right pronouns for everyone except sometimes when they forget.
Furthermore, this is not how other words in English work. Frank Abagnale was dishonest, and claiming to be sick so you can skip a boring-but-important-to-your-friend performance is dishonest, but you would not object to someone saying “it’s dishonest to lie about being sick” with “I’m not a real dishonest person, REAL dishonest people assume no fewer than eight identities including a doctor and an airline pilot.” Fundamentalist Christians are irrational, and the sunk cost fallacy is irrational, but you would not respond to “you continuing to watch that boring-ass movie is irrational” with “how dare you call me stupid? I’m not a fundamentalist Christian!”
When I talked about the ideas in this post with my friends, some of them pointed out that there is a very good reason not to want to be called racist, which is the fear of social justice mobs. But I think we should identify the correct problem here: speak out against social justice mobs (which I have), not against correctly identifying problems.