Monday, April 23, 2012

Racism equals prejudice plus power, so only white people can be racist?

Critical Race Theorists reject the dictionary definition of racism and use this instead: “racism = prejudice + power”

The formula appeared in 1970 in Developing New Perspectives on Race by Pat Bidol. Judith H. Katz popularized it in White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training. Mary Anne Mohanraj explains it:

“…there’s an alternate and widely-used definition of racism that goes like this: We’re all prejudiced, because we grow up in a racist culture and we inherit those prejudices. But racism is a system of institutional, systemic oppression, and in order to be racist, you need both the prejudice + the power to affect people. By that definition, which a lot of progressives share, PoC (people of color) can’t be racist, because they don’t have any reinforcement from that institutionalized power. We may hold individual racist ideas and thoughts, but we only have the power to do damage with our actions in the rare, brief contexts where our other privileges temporarily override color privilege.”

The problem with that definition is Condi Rice and Oprah Winfrey have far more power than any homeless white guy and almost everyone else in the USA.

Greyorm suggested, “The equation SHOULD rightly read: “privilege = prejudice + power” (which actually makes sense).”

Ron Kozar noted that by the CRT definition, “American Nazis aren’t racists, since they have no power.”

An anonymous commenter at a conservative site said, “I thought a racist was any conservative who was winning an argument with a liberal.” (The more precise definition, of course, is to a Critical Race Theorist, a racist is anyone who does not agree that racism equals power plus prejudice.)

In “An Examination of Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Theory and Practice in Social Work Education”, Marie Macey and Eileen Moxon wrote:

…an edifice of theory and action has been constructed on the simplistic ‘explanation’ of racism as being the outcome of power plus prejudice. Not only does this inaccurately assume a single cause and type of racism but it dangerously implies that there is a single solution to the phenomenon (Gilroy 1990; Husband, 1987; Miles, 1989).
The view that racism is an attribute of the monolithic category of people termed ‘white’ who hold all the power in society is equally confused and confusing. At one level of abstraction, it is true that a certain sector of the (white, male) population holds much of the economic and decision-making power in British society. It is also true that some members of this group are statistically likely to be racially prejudiced. However, though this knowledge should inform social work education, it has limited utility at the operational level of social work or, often, in the everyday lives of black and white service workers.
Furthermore, if a Pakistani Muslim male refuses to have an African-Caribbean or Indian Hindu female social worker for reasons which, if articulated by a white Christian would be condemned as racist, one has to ask what the point is of denying that this refusal stems from racist (or sexist or sectarian) motivations? Similarly, if one compares the structural position of a white, working class, homeless male with that of a black barrister, would the statement that ‘only whites have power’ make sense or be acceptable to either of them?
…the approaches [of anti-racism theory] are theoretical and thus closed to the canons of scientific evaluation and because the discourse itself prohibits the open, rigorous and critical interrogation which is essential to theoretical, professional and personal development.

Modern anti-racism is a commercial movement promoted by graduates of the US’s most expensive private schools. The most famous of them are white:

Judith Katz is the Executive Vice President of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, a business that profits from teaching anti-racism.

Peggy McIntosh, author of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”, is the associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, one of the US’s fifty most expensive colleges.

Tim Wise, a graduate of Tulane, makes his living lecturing about anti-racism at “over 400 college campuses, including Harvard, Stanford, and the Law Schools at Yale, Columbia, and Vanderbilt.” I watched part of one of his youtube videos and stopped when he said he was doing what black speakers could not. Black speakers have been popular at universities since at least the early 1960s. The idea that black speakers could not speak about race at a college campus today is as silly as the title of one of Wise’s books, Speaking Treason Fluently. When polls show most Americans support racial diversity, a better title would be Speaking Truisms Profitably.

People like Wise, Katz, and McIntosh mean well, but they content themselves with a superficial understanding of injustice. My favorite Upton Sinclair quote applies: “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it.”



“We need to rethink what is racist and who can legitimately call whom racist. With a black president, a black attorney general, and blacks holding various power positions around the country, now might be a time when we can concede that anyone can express attitudes and actions that others can justifiably characterize as racist.” —Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University