I have discovered yet another one of those “Brits and Americans use words in different ways” situations, but unlike many, this one is serious. “American” does not imply a race. Americans are of many races, and we getting more diverse all the time. “British” or “English” are similarly not races. These words related to countries refer to political and cultural distinctions, not heritable genetic factors (which is the defining feature of the concept of race, at least according to Wikipedia). Americans can be American either by birth or by naturalization, so clearly heritable traits are not part of the picture. Several times in the active discussion over the last few days, the word “racist” has appeared in the context of US-UK relations, both on this blog and elsewhere. And this really, really bothers me.
Racism in the US is very serious business, and this is a word that is not tossed around lightly, but said almost in hushed tones because even if true, the accusation is extremely serious as it could be damaging to the accused in the event that something was misapprehended. To accuse someone of being racist is more than just a criticism. This is a word that is used and should be used very carefully and most thoughtfully, and most importantly, correctly according to its definition.
This is not the first time I have noticed that this word is used sometimes differently (and much, much more frequently) in the UK than I am accustomed to from my American background, but I don’t like it and now that the word appeared here in the comments, it’s been on my mind. Speaking openly about the harsh realities of racial discrimination in any country is good and probably needed to start fixing the race-relation problems that exist; race-relations are a serious current issue in both the US and the UK (and that’s leaving aside immigration policy –add immigration issues and there’s yet another, very serious layer of discussion.) Tossing the word “racist” around in the context of trans-Atlantic cultural divides is inaccurate and inappropriate. Cross words between Americans and Brits about living here or there are not about race, this is at most about about culture but more likely about personal experience; equating personal or cultural disagreement with racially-motivated discrimination is simply “not on”.