I was quite disappointed with some of the comments on my post last night entitled 'You Are A Bigot. Yes, You'. There was an amazing amount of calls to dictionary definitions and semantic arguments and just wow, the amount of ignoring the message in favor of distancing oneself from the message was disheartening to say the least.
I just want to point out that many are seriously arguing that 'everyone is bigoted' is a fair statement, but 'everyone is a bigot' is not. Can we just appreciate the amazing pedantry in that suggestion? What if this piece were narrower and only about racism. Would I get the same reaction if I had said 'everyone is racist'? How about 'everyone is homophobic' or 'everyone is ableist'? I think I would. No one wants to be labeled and I think the idea put forth by some that if I had changed the label I used people would be more receptive is completely false. I strongly disagree and I think if you think of all the experiences you have seen/had with bigotry, it will bring you to the same conclusion about the nature of how even progressive people react to negative labels regarding privilege and oppression. Distancing is the norm and it is present in spades in last nights article.
Distancing oneself from negative labels through calls to Merriam Webster and the like is pretty much privileged discourse 101. See also: the dictionary definition of racism used to defend 'reverse racism' and the 'phobe' part of homophobe used to distance oneself from homophobia. Dictionary definitions are not as helpful as some want to think. We have this exact problem every time we try to label homophobia, racism, ableism or others. People come along and argue semantics to avoid anyone being labeled anything ever. People even feel strongly enough as to use semantic defenses to argue for celebrities and people they don't even know when someone labels them. That's how fearful people are about being labeled. They will fight very hard for people they don't even know just to stop people being labeled at all.
I also think it's dangerous and disingenuous to fall onto the idea that a 'bigot is one who is willfully resistant' and nothing more. It basically closes the definition so much that it only applies to KKK members and religious zealots. If you have read about or met any of them, even they can learn. One could argue even they do not fall under the definition as it is preferred by some commenters. We wind up closing the definition so much that it only applies to 'evil' people. We run the risk of falling into that trap that so many fall into where racism winds up being a useless term because one can only use it when someone has been lynched and even then, people will defend the accused using pedantry and semantics. Racists are always someone else. Homophobes are always some other person - not me! Semantics are useless to these conversations. As is the dictionary. I would argue that immediately running to definitions and arguing semantics to avoid hearing the message and looking inward is pretty willfully resistant anyway, if we are going by that definition.
It's quite amazing the hoops people will jump through to avoid being labeled with uncomfortable language. Look at the comments of this article, where we had arguments about trans and homophobia for instance as people tried quite hard to place themselves outside the box of homophobia even as they defend an article many queers found quite hurtful. Or this one in which caused an entire counter article to be written about how I'm a criminal because I used the phrase 'White Supremacy' to describe an someones thought patterns and language. A lot of commenters were okay with that one though because it was about 'someone else' and allowed them to hitch their wagon to othering 'that bad old racist' and in so doing paint themselves as 'good people' in comparison.
I don't think that watering down language is at all useful. I don't think that sugar-coating language does anything more than make people feel more comfortable with hearing bad things about themselves. Unfortunately the reason that watered down language feels more comfortable is that the watered down versions allow for people to have some sense of distance from the concepts. That is what 'watering down' means in this context - labeling something in such a way that people can give themselves an out. I think we all know what 'bigot' means in the broader sense of 'one who holds bigoted thoughts'. It is silly to argue that everyone holds bigoted thoughts, but it is somehow not okay to call anyone a bigot. If the word bigot scares you so much, perhaps it's time to look inside rather than run to the dictionary (written by white people, I might add) or advocate for lesser words to be used (such as biased, which is far too open to interpretation) to defend yourself. Perhaps it's high time we stopped trying to be comfortable and really, truly question ourselves instead.
Everyone is bigoted, but no one is a bigot?