Evolution, Sexism and Racism – why definitions matter
Scientists often get annoyed, or even angry, when creationists claim “evolution is just a theory”. It’s often unclear whether creationists are deliberately using a widespread confusion about the use of the word “theory” in science to their advantage or whether they genuinely believe that the theory of evolution is simply a guess, an idea, that should be viewed as no more important or valid than any other idea about how life on Earth developed.
As a science teacher, I often emphasise to my students the precise meaning of the word “theory” as it is used in science and contrast it to the everyday meaning of the word which suggests a sort of speculation or guess.
Racism and Sexism are two words which seem to have obvious meanings. In everyday usage they may simply mean “prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race or sex”. However, to sociologists and others, “racism” and “sexism” are words used to denote something more than just simple prejudice based on difference – they are words which are used to refer to the systematic disadvantaging and oppression of non-whites and women.
I’m not a sociologist, but I do not know of any male academic who has had his views taken less seriously because he is a man, I do not know of any man who earns less for doing the same job as a woman in the same company and I do not know of any word like “nigger” or “paki” that can make a white person feel, indeed believe, that they are genuinely inferior human beings.
Whilst I agree that you might technically be able to apply the words racism or sexism when someone says something mean about a white man, just as scientists get angry when creationists misuse the word theory, I tend to get a little annoyed when these words are used in this context.
I’m not sure I’m right about this, maybe white men are genuinely the victims of racism and sexism and perhaps my views on this are shaped more by how I feel than by any watertight rational argument. I want to emphasise though, that I don’t believe one has to have been a victim of racism or sexism in order to appreciate the complexities of these subjects – empathy and reason will suffice.