We should stop saying 'racially charged' and just say 'racist.' Here's why.

"Racially charged" is a term used a lot in articles and headlines — but what does what it actually mean?

The president of Paramount Studios' TV division was fired after using "racially charged" language. After the White House hired her husband, Darla Shine's "racially charged" tweets and blog posts surfaced, among them a post asking why it's not OK for white people to use the n-word. Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers fired pitching coach Chris Bosio for allegedly making "racially charged" comments to a team employee.

In each of these examples, you could pretty easily swap out "racially charged" (or "racially tinged," which is another media favorite) and replace it with "racist." We all know that "racially charged" is just a euphemism for "racist" the majority of the time, and yet journalists have a tendency to hedge their language to avoid what actually happened.


Some people called Trump's comments that some neo-Nazis were "very fine people" "racially charged." More accurately, they were just plain racist. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

But does it really matter? Yeah, it does.

I'm about as white as a polar bear lost in a snow storm, so racism isn't something I've personally experienced. That's why I reached out to a few online acquaintances who have previously spoken out on the issue in hopes of gaining a little more perspective. Here's a bit of what they had to say:

Comedian Abbi Crutchfield worries that it "dilutes the potency of the truth."

"Using 'racially-charged' as a euphemism for 'racist' dilutes the potency of the truth and can be used to protect a person espousing racist beliefs, which just keeps those beliefs unchecked and in place," she says.

Writer and journalist Touré says that this euphemism "excuses dangerous behavior."

He explains:

"Not calling something racist allows someone to escape. It excuses dangerous behavior. We, as writers, can’t use polite euphemisms that mollify and make the truth more palatable. If you don’t call racist behavior that, then you’re excusing racist behavior.

I don’t know what racially tinged means. I don’t know what racially charged means. I know Black people don’t use those terms in private discussions about race. I know what racist behaviors or racist practices are. I understand that concrete language. If writers don’t insist on concrete language then readers risk not understanding. We can’t wink and hope they understand it's racist behavior.

White writers who shy away from calling racist behavior racist are helping racism survive."



Jamil Smith, a senior writer at Rolling Stone, thinks journalists should be able to explain the difference between "racially charged" and "racist" if they're going to use it.

"The continued use of terms like 'racially charged' was journalistic malpractice well before the Trump era. Now, in an America in which overt racism is more conspicuous and its violent outgrowths are a growing threat, many media outlets are minimizing the damage being done. They mistake equivocation for equality. Before another member of the press uses the term 'racially charged' again, she or he should be forced to define it. If the meaning is 'racist,' use that. It is considerably shorter and more accurate."

Let's visualize a world where headlines were just honest about racism.

Trump supporters frequently say they like that the president "tells it like it is," which makes the logical contortion people undergo to avoid offending anybody that much stranger.

For example, after Texas Democrat Al Green was threatened with lynching, a form of murder with a long, specific history tied to attacks on black Americans, ABC News called the comments "racially charged."

A more accurate version might read:

GIF from ABC News/Twitter.

After a white supremacist rally resulted in the death of one woman, Trump made a number of statements people described as "racially charged." Among them, the comment that there were "some very fine people on both sides" of the issue and that people demonstrating in favor of removing monuments to Confederate generals was an attack on American culture.

Here's what a more accurate tweet from the Associated Press might have looked like:

GIF from AP/Twitter.

Roseanne Barr compared Valerie Jarrett, a former aid to Barack Obama, to an ape. Barr had her sitcom cancelled and apologized (before blaming it on Ambien and, just last week, releasing a video where she yelled, "I thought the bitch was white!" into a camera). The comment was racist, and yet many media outlets wouldn't just say it.

A more accurate tweet from Politico might read:

GIF from Politico/Twitter.

In an article about why journalists are reluctant to simply call Trump's racist statements (comments about Mexicans being rapists, his years-long "birther" campaigns, and more) for what they are, NPR Politics didn't call him racist.

Here's what a more accurate tweet would have looked like:

GIF from NPR Politics/Twitter.

People have been pointing out how flawed language like "racially charged" is for a long while. It's time we heard that message.

Alexandra Petri, a satire columnist for The Washington Post, wrote an article in the wake of the "Roseanne" fallout titled, "What to call racist remarks instead of calling them racist remarks." Petri pokes fun at her colleagues for being seemingly unable to call racism what it is, offering up a list of new euphemisms to use other than saying "racially charged."

Earlier this year, New York web developer Tolulope Edionwe released a Google Chrome plug-in called "You Mean Racist?" that changes all mentions of "racially charged" with the word "racist." When enabled, it shows just how pervasive this euphemism's use tends to be.

If we can't speak frankly about racism, we can't address the problem of racism. Calling out something as racist is uncomfortable, but that's precisely the reason we must do it. Racism must be tackled head on.

So let's all agree to call things as they are and call a racist a racist.

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