The administration, in a knee-jerk reaction, fired Department of Agriculture employee Shirley Sherrod because of a video that surfaced of a speech in which she talked about not wanting to help a poor farmer simply because he was white. They later learned that her theme in the speech was how she had grown past her hatred of whites and that she actually ended up helping the white farmer.
Similarly, the NAACP had first condemned Shirley Sherrod, but when the end of the speech got their attention, they withdrew that condemnation.
But there is an interesting section of Ms. Sherrod’s speech in which she calls Republican opposition to government-run health care “racism.” This comment doesn’t draw so much attention because it is mainstream NAACP thought. But it caused me to reflect.
Let’s look at racism. Calling someone names, based on their race, is blatant racism, and is disgusting. Use the “n” word, and people react with justified outrage. But I have a question. Which is worse – to use the “n” word, or to call someone a racist?
One point I would make about that is that using the “n” word hurts the object of your hatred very little. True, it wounds sensitive feelings and does have its negative effects. But I would argue that, because of the reaction of the hearers, it hurts the speaker more than it does the object of the speech. It won’t get people to turn on the person you are speaking about.
On the other hand, calling someone a racist can cause serious, long-term damage. There are some people that will then turn on the object of your speech. Your intent is to destroy their reputation, to cause people not to listen to their ideas, to banish them from the public square.
So which is worse? It is an interesting moral question.