Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Yes, Cardinal Kasper's comment was racist

At first, I was on the fence about calling cardinal Kasper's remarks racist. Sure, he said the African bishops should be ignored. Yes, he strongly implied that their taboos are silly and easy to dismiss, whereas our pieties are too important to ignore. But, racist?

That seems to go too far.

The cardinal's remarks were deplorable, sure, but "racist"... it implies something a bit more, doesn't it? Some kind of racial superiority, or a claim of racial inferiority. A marked animus against a race, at least. Kasper's remarks were, at best, about a culture that happens to be drawn along racial lines by happenstance. A nuanced interpretation, but on examination, fair. And shouldn't we try to be fair to the cardinal, regardless of our disagreements?

Well, yes, we should. The problem is that fairness demands we admit - by progressive standards, his remarks were racist. And those are the rules that Kasper plays by, and so clearly wants to use as the yardstick to compare others against.

The problem is that the 'racist' card is thrown around with ease... by one side of the political divide. Remember when disliking Obama was considered racist in and of itself? Sure, sure, you could say that you disliked Obama's policies, but - the narrative went - all that was just a cover for the fact that you just couldn't stand that a black man was in the White House. This was a fairly popular line until right around the time where his popularity tanked - including among the left - to the point where, if disliking Obama meant you were racist, then quite a lot of people on the left side of the political divide must be racist.

And just like that, the standard for 'racism' changed.

If roles were switched around here - if it were cardinal Burke, not Kasper, who talked about ignoring the concerns of African bishops - we'd still be hearing cries about how the Church was no place for racists, and that Burke needed to be ousted altogether. How he was trying to marginalize Africans unfairly, and make a lily white conclave impose its views on poor, downtrodden blacks in Africa. And if ever someone on the right says something akin to what Kasper said, you can guarantee that the 'racist' charge will resurface once again.

It's easy to take what I'm saying here as a call for petty tit-for-tat game-playing - fighting fire with fire - but that's not really the point. The point is that there needs to be consistency with how these terms are used, and consistency demands that we flat out call Kasper's comment racist, and likewise Kasper himself. Just as it demands that we call leftists who dislike Obama, racist.

The alternative is to allow the word to be redefined whenever it's politically useful, deploying it against enemies and soft targets, but holstering it and rolling back to some far more thoughtful definition whenever it would wrap up a political progressive. Better to be consistent in its application - and if consistency means that reasonable or forgivable remarks can be racist, then so be it.

So, cardinal Kasper is a racist. Don't be afraid to say as much.

No comments: