Conservative Hypocrisy on Language
It would be nice to go back to the days where major network news anchors weren’t making snide remarks to political organisations on Twitter.
Before you know what specific feud I’m referencing, I want to lay the groundwork for something else. I recently became aware of an obvious ideological contradiction in right-wing talking points that pertains to that particular Twitter incident. Once I noticed the contradiction, I wanted to share it, given that it pertains to something deeply important. So bear with me.
If you’ve been involved in political discourse for a while, you’ll know that it’s a common conservative argument that terms like ‘racism’ and ‘sexism’ are thrown around too often, primarily by those who align themselves with the political left. The argument is that by using these words to describe actions and words that are either ethically faultless or otherwise minor, the meaning of those terms is watered down, and they lose part of their ability to be taken seriously.
If you want to see this logic in action, imagine a completely plausible conversation that you might have with a conservative. Let’s say that you’re talking about an incident where someone offended a member of a minority group because of a comment they made that was considered insensitive—you might call this a ‘microagression’. You tell the conservative that this incident was an example of racism. The conservative disagrees, saying, “This was only an accident. An accidental mistake is not at all on the same moral level as something like discrimination or bullying someone because of their identity.”
You respond that they may not be as morally reprehensible as one another, but because they are both still harm ethnic minorities, they both count as racism. The conservative replies, “But this just waters down the meaning of the term ‘racism’. If leftists, celebrities and activists call these comparable smaller incidents ‘racist’ on social media and in front of audiences, they widen semantic boundaries so far that everyday people stop taking allegations of racism seriously.”
In fact, some conservatives may go as far as to add, “Nobody should have even have gotten offended in the first place. Everyone is just too sensitive.”
I’m not here to comment on whether I happen to agree or not with this argument, because that’s not the point. I’m just here to point out that if you do agree with this, then you should be wary of some of the glaring hypocrisy on the political right lately.
Considering these are the ideas held by the right, it might seem richly ironic for you to see a prominent conservative news personality on your Twitter timeline declaring the use of the of a meme about white people to be a racial slur. And yet this is exactly what Tucker Carlson did, in response to a tweet from the NRCC using the word ‘Karen’, where he tweeted, “Anyone know why the NRCC is using ethnic slurs?”
This is a position not only unique to Tucker, but held by most conservative ideologues as well. It’s not uncommon to see Fox News endorsing the view that certain words are derogatory towards white people, and seeing this on their cable TV is probably in part why 75% of Republicans report thinking that white people face discrimination.
The word ‘Karen’ originated on the Internet a few years to refer to predominantly white women who use their privilege and status to belittle others. Examples of this kind of behaviour include demanding to speak to the manager, refusing to wear a mask, and making police complaints against black people for little to no reason. The meme gained traction in 2020, becoming a recognised way to make fun of people who engaged in these kinds of behaviours.
In comparison, slurs directed towards marginalised groups were and are both a product of centuries of oppression and a direct tool to additionally traumatise them. They are used by small children to bully and instigate fear into their peers who come from non-white households; they’re shouted at adults on the street; and they historically often come with violent attacks. These are words loaded with so much vitriol that they have the capability to be hurtful no matter the context they’re said in. For many people, these are the last words they heard before they died.
Now imagine the same conversation you had before, but with slightly different wording. Instead of talking about an action being bigoted, you’re talking about the word ‘Karen’ being a racial slur. The conservative disagrees by saying, “This is only a joke. A joke made at the expense of a majority is not at all on the same moral level as something like a word used to oppress and harass people for centuries.”
You respond that they may not be morally as bad as one another, but because they both still have racial connotations, they both count as racial slurs. The conservative replies, “But this just waters down the meaning of the term ‘racial slur’. If journalists, pundits and commentators call these comparably weaker insults ‘slurs’ on social media and in front of audiences, they widen semantic boundaries so far that everyday people stop taking the impact of racial slurs seriously.”
In fact, they might also add, “Nobody should have even have gotten offended by the word ‘Karen’ in the first place. Everyone is just too sensitive.”
Needless to say, this is not something you see conservatives saying very often. In fact, you often see just the opposite, with many conservatives being the first to claim that jokes about white people are examples of racism. And yet the two conversations are identical in every way, barring who is the apparent victim. This is a crystally obvious hypocrisy that the right has yet to rectify.
In fact, you could even point out that microaggressions are not even comparable to jokes like the word ‘Karen’ in the first place. While microaggressions are directed towards marginalised groups, words like ‘Karen’ or ‘cracker’ are actually jokes at the expense of the majority. Because of this, they’re clearly not expressions of prejudice to be taken at face value, unlike microagressions. In other words, you could be completely consistent in thinking that microagressions should be called out—even if they aren’t as severe as other forms of racism—while also thinking that the word ‘Karen’ isn’t offensive at all.
So why the hypocrisy from the political right? There are two potential explanations, with one being more sinister than the other. The first is that humans are vulnerable to tribalism, and that this extends to politics. For thousands of years, homo sapiens competed against other tribes for resources, and as a result, those who were willing to do anything for their tribe had an evolutionary advantage. Our brains evolved to be tribe-aligned machines, more invested in protecting our in-group and disarming our out-group than being consistent in our ideas. It would be naïve to expect that this doesn’t extend to politics. A 2003 study by Geoffrey L. Cohen titled “Party over Policy” confirmed that it does, showing that leftists withdrew their support for a welfare policy proposal when they were told that it was supported by Republicans in Congress.
In other words, when conservatives see leftists endorsing or using terms like ‘Karen’, they immediately respond by disagreeing and making it out to be as malicious a term as they can, putting their foot down intuitively—a kind of reverse psychology, but for adults shouting about politics instead of three-year-olds who don’t want to go to bed.
The second explanation is darker, and that’s that the double standard stems from certain conservatives having one rule for white people, and another for people of colour. This double standard is willingness to hold inconsistent principles in order to make out white people and white people only as some kind of victim, whether consciously or subconsciously. While this is not something that can be attributed to each individual conservative, evidence points to the fact that this kind of racist hypocrisy is prominent enough on the right to merit some serious challenging.
If you are hyper-critical of allegations of racism against marginalised groups while simultaneously jumping on the opportunity to make white people out to be victims, that’s a double standard. If you oppose the use of words like ‘racism’ for what you determine to be not a big deal while also employing their use to make the white population seem victimised, that’s a double standard. And if you’ve realised that this is something you do, it’s time that you acknowledge this hypocrisy and call it out for what it is.