For everyone who is following Belgian politics, you might have heard the name ‘Liesbeth Homans’ a lot lately… Why? Well, she a politician from the nationalist right party in Belgium and she made quite a statement about racism in the Belgian press a while back. She called racism a relative concept, something that is mostly used as an excuse for personal failure lately. Of course this is taken out of the context of the full conversation, but you can imagine the public reaction. Lots of open letters appeared in the media, people expressing their shock and asking for a response from other politicians. So I couldn’t let this pass without expressing my opinion too.
I think Miss Homans got a few facts wrong. Racism isn’t relative; it has quite a strict definition that you can find in most dictionaries:
The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as...
Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.
And there is no joking about that. If we look at what history taught us, racism can go a long and horrible way. There should be no discussion about that. Even now, racism is a vast part of daily life. I have seen it close by and I have been disgusted by it. For example, clients of employment offices asking specifically to not send them foreign applicants, or a young woman with a foreign name looking for an apartment getting no response after she visits a place that's available. The moment she changed that name at the bottom of her e-mails, replies from potential landlords come more easily. This is no joke and it affects lives.
How people use the term racism is a whole different thing. I would be a hypocrite if I said that everyone knows the correct meaning. Someone is not a racist when they cut you off while driving. He/she is just an asshole. And someone is not a racist when they have a different opinion than you. You might not become best friends, but it has nothing to do with racism.
However, miss Homans, these are the exceptions, not the norm. Remember, you are ridiculing a term here. This is incredibly dangerous. People who trust in your opinion, who will live by it -or at least consider it- will forget how REAL racism can be. You are giving the inhabitants of our country that do judge someone on their skin color an excuse to continue doing so. If I can give you one advice, just stick to your facts. Or is setting up one group of people against others really what you want? In that case: shame on you.