Isn't racist to find the word "nigger" racist? As in when it's merely said around you and not directed towards you. When someone calls another an "asshole," there isn't a normally a particular ethnicity that comes to mind -- yet The "N" Word is automatically associated with people of African descent. This all seems to fit into the ideology of race making racism possible.

I'll have to admit that I'm having a bit of trouble following you.

In the sorts of cases that matter for this discussion, the "N" word is a slur. It's also a slur that, unlike "asshole," has a racial meaning. It's belittling someone because of their race. I think we agree on all that. The reason the "N" word brings "a particular ethnicity" to mind is because of what the word means; no mystery there. You write "yet the 'N' word is automatically associated with people of African descent" as though this was somehow puzzling or in need of explanation, but there's no puzzle that I can see.

Close enough for present purposes, a racist is someone who has a negative view of some people simply because of their race or who mistreats people on account of their race. Seems pretty clear that that's bad; also seems pretty clear that there are plenty of people like that. Using a racial epithet like the "N" word is stereotypically racist behavior, and I can't see why that should seem puzzling.

So what's left is your first sentence and your last one. Start with the first. You suggest that it's racist to find the "N" word racist even when the person making is judgment isn't the target of the insult. But why? I don't have to be the target of an insult to recognize that someone has been insulted, just as I don't have to be the one who was hit to tell that someone was assaulted.

So let's consider your last sentence: "This all seems to fit into the ideology of race making racism possible." Now it's certainly true: without racial distinctions, racism isn't possible. You can't demean or mistreat someone on account of their race unless we can talk about their race in the first place. Same goes for gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic status, educational level and so on. But if I recognize that someone is being shunned simply because they don't have much money, I'm not buying into an ideology; I'm recognizing bad behavior. Same in the case of race.

Now someone might argue that by acknowledging race at all, we help make racism possible. But let's think that through. I might think that race is a category with no interesting biological basis. I might think that distinctions among so-called races are shallow. I might also think it would be better if we all just left the idea of race behind. But thoughts like that might be exactly why why I object to racial slurs. We don't live in a post-racial society, and pretending that we do doesn't make it so. Racism is real and it's wrong. Even if I dream of a world where people are judged by the content of the character and not the color of their skin, that's not the world we live in.

One last stab: maybe the idea is that the best thing to do with racism is to ignore it. By calling it out, we draw attention to it and help keep the idea that race is important alive. If that's the thought, then there's an empirical question in front of us: what ways of responding to racism are most likely to help bring it to an end? In particular: would ignoring people who make racist insults be better in the long run than worrying about it or calling it out?

Since this is an empirical question, I can't pretend that I know the answer a priori, but even a casual glance at history makes a strong case for saying that confronting racism rather than ignoring it is what's brought about the demise of many ills (slavery being an obvious example), and the diminishment of others (job discrimination, for example.) The question of how best to move forward isn't always easy to answer, and if that's part of your point, I agree. But it seems to me that we have a ways to go, and I find it hard to convince myself that racist acts and attitudes will go away if only people of good will ignore them.

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