First of all, words do matter and while we live in a time when it seems acceptable to play fast and loose with words' meanings, these terms have been defined. Until there is such a widespread shift in common usage, I think it's only appropriate to discuss a word based on it's existing accepted definition, and not what might be "trending" in twitter or what is used by a celebrity or a group that has caught public attention.
If one looks at the definition of racism, it clearly incorporates the notion that race can be identified and evaluated in relation to others
"The White Race is superior to the Black Race which is superior to the Red; and all three are inferior to the Yellow race."
In order for something to be racist it must be based on the notion of relative racial value. I can't imagine "soft racism"
Bigotry is intolerance or dislike for someone or some group of people for the primary reason that they are simply different from you.
I can't think of a "soft" version of bigotry. If you had to, could you rank the hardness of bigotry toward:
- Fat people
- People with glasses
- People who don't like sports
- Black people
- People who live in the Southrn US
- Men who wear jewelry
There may be "softer" expressions of bigotry than mocking an obese woman at a salad bar or refusing to promote someone who doesn't like sports, and there may be some forms of bigotry that have the potential to affect a greater number of people than others, and there may be some forms of bigotry that get more attention from society than others, but if they are all bigotry, in essence, they are the same, and if someone's thinking qualifies as bigotry how can it be softer than someone else's?
When you talk of "soft bigotry" I imagine you are referring to "insensitivity," or "ignorance." Because of a lack of sensitivity or knowledge, people can say and do things that are hurtful to others, and I'm not necessarily opposed to others making an effort to address this individually or on a broad basis, but they are not dealing with "soft bigotry" because they are not dealing with bigotry.
If I make a mistake through ignorance or I upset someone because I was not sufficiently mindful of circumstance of which I had knowledge then I should be willing to apologize for the behavior. However, I will not find any discussion around that behavior helpful if it is described as bigoted, no matter the degree of hardness, and it might put me off of apologizing.
Softening the accusation is not going to improve communication if it remains inaccurate.
Words like "insensitive," "uninformed" and "unmindful" have been around for a long time and certainly throughout the period in which society has been engaged in what you term "tackling soft bigotry." That you still feel softer words are needed strongly suggests they have not been used or have been ineffective. Why might that be?
I will argue that it is because the majority of people "tackling" the issue (and certainly those most vocal in their tackling) not only do not draw a distinction between "soft" and "hard" bigotry, they don't draw much of one between bigotry and insensitivity and ignorance.
Micro-aggression was not coined for the purpose you are endorsing, although one would assume the incorporation of the word "micro" as well as the terms actual meaning would imply a softness when compared to calling someone a slur, or refusing to serve someone because of their differences. However, look at how the micro-aggressions are now perceived. Half of the organized campus mayhem is based on micro-aggressions. More than half of the tirades from the offended that are posted on social media involve micro-aggressions.
I just read of a woman who was participating in some group meeting on campus who was either expelled or almost expelled because she was charged with the micro-aggression of raising her hand to be recognized while someone else was speaking. An actual vote was held among the participants to determine her fate. I think she won the vote on that offense but was later expelled because the horrible witch actually shook her head in disbelief when someone else was speaking.
This sort of thing may not be happening every day on every campus in America, but it happens frequently enough that we know that on colleges, a micro-aggression is a macro-offense.
What could "All Lives Matter" be but a micro-aggression and yet look at the furor it has caused with both those offended by it and those offended by the response of the offended.
It is this way because there is an every growing social pathology concerning taking offense. People are not just easily offended they are on a daily quest to find offenses. You need only participate in a discussion on Facebook or any other social media forum where a particular topic can attract literally hundreds of comments from a wide group of people who have no relationship to one another, to witness the quest played out. If you get in one early you can watch for and immediately recognize the comments that will generate a mass of replies. Of course many are blatant attempts to offend, but many others are not and yet they will reliably attract swarms. If you come late to a discussion, you will still find these comments and be able to read the replies from the swarms.
In these threads of replies there are numerous offshoot discussions and entirely unrelated comments made, but you can always rely on the fact that no matter how many times the originator of the comment is criticized for his or her racism, fascism, stupidity, bigotry etc or how many times he/or she is wished harm and even death, every fifth or so reply will be a repeat of the direct criticism against the originator. Nothing new, everything that can be said about the person has been said, but having found something to be offended by, these people are compelled to add their urine to the fire hydrant, to make sure the world knows that they recognize the horrid monster for what he or she is and have gone on the record
as hating their racism, homophobia, xenophobia etc.
Unfortunately people like the women who confronted the young white man with dreadlocks in the airport are increasing in number too. Regardless of what the woman (or any of the many people whom max believes agreed with her) thought about the white kid and his dreadlocks, he wasn't guilty of racism, soft or hard. It would take a profoundly insecure mind, fixated on looking for expressions of superiority, to find it in this kid's hair style.
I'm sure she would argue that only someone who thinks they are inherently superior would blithely steal from the culture they believe to be inferior and therefore their pride of ownership relative to dreads would not be worthy of consideration, however such nonsense is only possible if one accepts that cultural appropriation
is, at all, a meaningful term.
The only context in which I might accept the term is one where people of one culture adopt certain or all aspects of another culture AND then claim they originated with them. Has this ever happened? Romans stealing Greek mythology? It certainly wasn't happening with the kid in the airport. No culture owns dreadlocks, and the kid wasn't wearing them because he thinks blacks are inferior to whites. He didn't decide that he could or should wear them because as a white person he has a right to do whatever he wants, regardless of how it affects one idiot in an airport.
And yet, the idiot at the airport who attacked him and her numerous supporters on campuses and in newspapers think he's a racist. For the most part, the latter think he's a soft racist, but a racist never-the-less. Tackling this soft racism and bigotry is a boon to society?
I don't think his wearing dreadlocks has anything at all to do with feeling superior to black people, so what difference would it make if he was chastised with a "softer" word that meant "unthinking bigot" or "basically decent guy but totally insensitive about race." The offense is totally in the mind if the offended, and whether they use soft or hard terms to address it, their thinking will remain irrational.
You seem to be of the opinion that the obsession is, overall, a good thing; that it causes sensitivity and change. Greater sensitivity and changed behavior can certainly be good things, but I seriously question whether they have been a result of the obsession and aggression represented by the drama at the airport. I do believe though that have led to discord and increased rigidity, and have, in part, given rise to the Trump phenomena.
I'll credit you for the sentiment behind your suggestion but it seems to contend that there are hundred of thousands if not millions of people longing for less insulting language with which to address ignorance and insensitivity.That's not the case, and any "softer" terms you come up with will very quickly assume "racist" and "bigot" as their definition. Their existence will only open the door for a time to judgmental cowards.
The people most concerned with addressing what might be called insensitivity and ignorance don't want "softer words" because they don't see it as a softer problem than flat out ugly racism. In fact, some of them will argue it's worse because it is insidious. They don't want to reason with, persuade or educate anyone, they want to get in their face, intimidate them and cut off their dreadlocks.