Clear definitions

A recent letter to the editor discussed the importance of establishing clear definitions for words before using them. This is especially true of any terms that are frequently misunderstood or emotionally charged. Clarifying meaning is vital if we are to have informed, empathetic discussions instead of getting defensive and arguing the moment someone disagrees with us.

It is ironic, then, that the author of the letter in question failed to define racism when complaining about its over-use as an accusation. So let’s define it.

Racism is the belief that one race is superior to, or biologically different from, other races (race is a social construct with no biological basis). Racism includes actions, statements and preconceptions that are prejudiced for or against one race over another based on the belief in inherent racial differences. Racism includes the systems and policies that perpetuate racial inequality.

Racism can range from overt acts of hate to subtle dog-whistles meant to make racism seem innocuous or palatable. It can range from intentional, deliberate hate to words or behaviors that are the result of ignorance.

A person is a racist when they repeatedly and consistently express racist beliefs, commit racist acts or support racist policies. Again, this can range from conscious, deliberate hatred to prejudices that stem from a lack of awareness.

We should be cautious before jumping to conclusions about a person’s motive or intent, especially with limited context. But we also must acknowledge and call out prejudiced statements and actions when we see them. Whether something was deliberate or not doesn’t change the fact that it was racist.

And that’s just the problem – people seem to see being called out for a prejudiced action or statement as equivalent to being called a racist. They seem to see racism as an either/or proposition – either you’re actively, consciously hateful, or you’re free of prejudice. But the world is more nuanced than that. People are more nuanced than that.

We all have biases, both conscious and unconscious, that impact what we say and do. Even good people can fall victim to their own unconscious biases and lack of awareness of issues that deeply affect others. If we seek to do better as a society, to be better as people, than we must be willing to stop and listen when someone tells us that something we did was hurtful or offensive or racist without taking it as a personal affront.

Having biases does not make you a hate-spewing Klansman – it makes you human. Yet too often, people react as if a critique of their action amounts to a critique of their moral character. Being informed of a prejudice you didn’t know you had or a behavior that you didn’t realize was problematic, is an opportunity to learn and grow. But only if you listen instead of getting defensive.

So what will you do if someone calls you out for a prejudiced statement, or points out the racial bias inherent in something you did? Will you get angry and defensive? Will you put your fingers in your ears and ignore them? Or will you pause, accept that you may be wrong, and truly listen to the other person with the goal of learning from them and improving yourself in the process?

That last option isn’t easy, but it’s the only way we can grow as individuals and as a society.

Keegan Robbins

Mount Pleasant

Ban e-cigarettes

South Carolina lawmakers need to put the health of our residents first by banning flavors in e-cigarettes. Right now, teenagers and adults in the palmetto state smoke more than the national rate. In addition, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death and puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke.

Adolescents’ use of e-cigarettes, nicotine vapor devices, hookahs and small cigars has gone up dramatically, threatening to completely erase decades of progress. Right now, 25,000 teenagers are using e-cigarettes in South Carolina.

With their colorful packaging and sweet, candy flavors, today’s flavored tobacco products are often hard to distinguish from the candy displays near which they are frequently placed in convenience stores and gas stations. Because of the addictive nature of nicotine, experimentation or initiation of tobacco use among youth and young adults is particularly troubling. This is a critical period for growth and development where the brain is especially susceptible and sensitive to the effects of nicotine. Studies have shown that e-cigarette use can lead to other forms of addiction. Evidence also shows that the younger a user is when they smoke their first e-cigarette, the more likely they are to be a smoker for life.

As representatives of the American Heart Association, we believe banning the sale of flavors in e-cigarettes would reduce youth access to and use of, all nicotine products. The ban would also significantly increase overall life expectancy and simultaneously reduce healthcare costs. This crucial step is needed to continue building a healthier community.

Larry Tarleton, American Heart Association Board Chair and Katie Schumacher, American Heart Association Executive Director

Rats know

Recent newspaper articles about rats in The Citadel mess hall brought back fond memories of my cadet days. Rat sightings were not unusual, certainly nothing to warrant newspaper coverage. They would often be seen scurrying, I mean really booking it, out of the mess hall kitchen. The kitchen was, for good reason, known as the “the haven of culinary atrocities.”

No big deal really, just another day in The Citadel life back then. As the furry buggers made good their escape from the kitchen, a cadet would quietly get up and open one of the mess hall doors. The enlightened rodents would make a beeline out and head off to the local dump where the cuisine was no doubt better. Apparently, some rats are not fools.

Different times those were. No air conditioning in the barracks, no computers, no calculators, we used slide rules. I think we had electricity, but I’m not sure, memory fades. However, I do remember the rats, but they never stayed. Ah those were the days, when men were men, cadets were to be feared and the rats knew which kitchens to get the hell out of.

John Sneed

Mount Pleasant