Growing up in the turbulent 1960s, I understood racism to mean hating others simply because of the color of their skin. The KKK comes to mind. Consulting Wikipedia, I read that racism is defined as believing one race is superior to another.
Both definitions bring me to CNN host Chris Cuomo’s recent charge that a troll he walked past called him “Fredo,” and Cuomo sees that as not only a pejorative term, but also racist.
Wait — what?
Fredo, of course, is a character from Mario Puzo’s novel “The Godfather.” He is a pathetic figure insofar as he is the oldest son in a testosterone-fueled Italian crime family and the runt of the litter in more ways than one.
Cuomo has a right to be insulted by such a comparison. I probably would not recommend reacting to it as he did, but I have a measure of respect for him for standing up for himself. (Hey, maybe he was having a bad day — have you seen CNN’s ratings?)
Where Cuomo crossed the line is claiming the use of the name Fredo is racist. For starters, Italians are not a race but an ethnicity. But even if the definition were broadened, I fail to see the connection. To be racist, one has to tout one race or ethnicity over another. Where is the touting? There is none. Fredo is a loser and his brothers’ psychopathic murderers. See, no touting. There is solid dysfunction from beginning to end.
This is not a game of semantics. Words, insults included, are being bandied about with reckless abandon by TV talking heads, major newspapers and social media. Much of it is rooted in nothing deeper than “I disagree with you.”
We are doing exactly that with the word racist. We use it too much — a disservice to those who have actually faced it. To devalue its true meaning would be sad. We have already done it to the word fascism, an ugly ideology marrying extreme nationalism and socialism.