Where “*ist” stands for racist/sexist/ableist/transphobe/elitist/homophobe etc.
I see it all the time, both online and off – Person X writes/says something, Person Y says “gee, what you just said/did was kinda *ist” and Person X comes back with “how dare you call me a *ist” (or Person Z butts in with “how dare you call X a *ist”).
But behaviour is never a fully accurate reflection of character. None of us is perfectly enlightened. We all have unexamined and not fully examined attitudes which pepper our vocabularies with cliched phrases and gestures we use from habit rather than deep consideration. Bad habits we engage in unthinkingly don’t necessarily make us generally bad people or even generally thoughtless people, but this tends to be the reaction to having those bad habits challenged as marginalising behaviours – that the challenger is calling us a bad person.
This defensive conflation of behaviour and character tends to mean that the debate gets derailed onto whether the person is or is not, intentionally/ideologically *ist, when what the person believes/means generally is simply not the point. The point is that this one particular act that is being criticised has problematic cultural assumptions embedded within it, and those problematic cultural assumptions are what need to be challenged.
Every one of us has internalised a whole bunch of toxic judgmental attitudes from our toxic judgmental culture which privileges certain behaviours/ identities/conventions/associations above others as part of the mechanisms for maintaining the status quo. Every one of us has absorbed bigoted tropes via sociocultural osmosis, because we wade through a world saturated by bigoted tropes, and those tropes are still floating around in our heads, no matter how much we might wish it to be otherwise and no matter how hard we work on suppressing them because we’re working towards improving the status quo.
Denying that toxic tropes could possibly be lurking in the corners of our consciousness only gives them more power to undermine our best intentions.
(n.b. this post is an expanded/clarified version of a comment left on another blog)