I really can't say it any better than Portly Dyke over at Shakesville, so please go read her essay about how the desire to will away public expressions of racism, sexism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, paired with desensitization have brought us to where we are today.
It's not that all expressions of racism are equivalent -- they range from ignorant miscues to out-and-out egregious exposure of personal animus toward a group of minorities, from Andrew Cuomo's use of "shuck and jive" (along with his sad excuses for using it), to Imus and "nappy headed ho's", to Dog the Bounty Hunter ("I'm not going to take a chance ever in life for losing everything I've worked for for 30 years because some f**king n***er heard us say n***er and turned us into the Enquirer magazine"). These didn't happen in a vacuum.
But as a society, even well-meaning progressives are finding ways to excuse statements that would have never flown a couple of decades ago. I had a similar reaction to Portly Dyke when she started hearing this excuse... PD:
I entered a conversation about whether a white news commentator might not have known that suggesting that other golfers "lynch him (Tiger Woods) in a back alley" was a racist comment worthy of public sanction.
Among the various arguments I read was this one: Given the commentator's age, she might not really understand the charged context of the word "lynch" in reference to a person-of-color.
And somehow, vaguely, in the back of my mind, I remembered a time when I could not imagine that I would be hearing this argument from progressives.
...I could remember that, in the 80's, even though there were still many, many confrontations with the MSM and mainstream culture, and much consciousness-raising yet to be done, I didn't think I would have been having this very basic argument about using the word "lynch" (or arguing about whether rape was "gray", or "gag gifts" featuring detached female body parts were "just a joke" rather than sexist) -- with progressives.
...My problem with filing off the edges of our outrage at such racist words and actions is just that -- it's filing off -- it's erosive -- and the problem with erosion is that if you let it go on long enough, you'll eventually wind up with nothing at all.
Go read the rest -- particularly the back and forth in the comments. She also included this Brave New Films video I've featured before, with incredible racist statements from talking heads at Faux News. No one in these segments was fired or reprimanded for saying nasty and outrageous racist statements things on the air. I'm also sure none of these people in this video -- including Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a favorite black pundit brought on to say the most vile things -- consider themselves to be racist. The edges are so filed down on the "benign" aspects of racism that the label is reserved only for extreme violence against a POC, or extreme cases of institutionalized bigotry that cannot be ignored.