When to Use the Word "Racist"

PRINCETON, NJ (December 7, 2010)—Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, has published a statement, “Racism at Wesleyan?” on the use of the term “racist” in higher education. 

The statement was prompted by a recent controversy at Wesleyan University. A student group on campus, the Cardinal Conservatives, held a satiric “affirmative action bake sale” to protest the university’s use of racial preferences in admissions. A faculty member denounced the event as “racist.” Civil rights activist Ward Connerly is scheduled to speak at Wesleyan about the controversy at 4:00 PM on December 8. 

Wood defined racism as “the belief that humans are profoundly and importantly divided into hereditary groups; that these groups are inherently unequal in talents and ability; and that their hereditary characteristics are crucial to understanding their group attitudes, mores, and ideas.” He wrote that racism is not always associated with white privilege. 

Wood argued against censoring the term “racist” but pointed out that the word can be abused as a label “to intimidate and to polarize,” as was the case at Wesleyan University. He advocated eliminating racial preferences in college admissions: 

We would as a society be better off if we jettisoned race from our consideration of how public goods such as college admissions are distributed.  Getting rid of race, like getting rid of racism, is far from easy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take the preliminary steps.  One of those is de-institutionalizing racial categories. 

Wood’s article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education on December 7, 2010. 

The National Association of Scholars advocates for higher education reform. To learn more about NAS, visit www.nas.org.

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CONTACT: Peter Wood, President, NAS: 609-683-7878; pwood@nas.org

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