Americans disagree about what racism is, and it’s a big problem

Our society as a whole is not going to accept things like unconscious bias and cultural appropriation as disqualifying outside of places like college campuses. Unfortunately, too many conservatives have used these diluted definitions of racism to excuse even examples that violate their own more narrow one.

Perhaps one potential point of agreement is that individuals should never be attacked or criticized on the basis of their race. This would still allow progressives to continue the attacks on the racial groups in power they deem necessary to fight systemic racism, and would give conservatives a clear boundary for disqualification instead of a spectrum of racism that runs from the benign to the atrocious.

Agreeing on such a norm will not be easy in today’s atmosphere of acrimony and tribalism. But in affirming a person’s right to be judged by who she is, rather than the racial group she belongs to, both sides will be embracing a traditional vision of equality common to both and to the imperfectly executed goals of our nation. This will not put an end to arguments over racism, which will always be somewhat subjective, but it will help us determine lines that a consensus agrees people shouldn’t cross.

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