Monday, July 6, 2015

Malcolm X said black people can be racist—I kind of think he knew what he was talking about

On Facebook, someone insisted black people can't be racist. I commented,
Malcolm X thought black people could be racist, so I'm going to stick with his opinion. For example, he said, "I totally reject Elijah Muhammad's racist philosophy, which he has labeled 'Islam' only to fool and misuse gullible people as he fooled and misused me. But I blame only myself, and no one else for the fool that I was, and the harm that my evangelical foolishness on his behalf has done to others." He knew more about racism than any privileged theorist who teaches at the private schools for the ruling class.
A common response by anti-racism theorists is they're talking about "institutional" racism. If so, they should say only white people can be institutional racists, but they don't, perhaps because they subconsciously realize that as soon as they say that, they would have to acknowledge that just as black slaveowners benefitted from slavery in the Old South, the black bourgeoisie benefits from "institutional racism" today.

Worse for them, they would have to ask what the institution of "institutional racism" is, which they really don't want to do, because it's capitalism, the hierarchical system that let most of the believers in insitutional racism attend expensive private schools where they were taught how to understand privilege in a way that did not challenge their own place in this country's economic hierarchy.

My current definition of "institutional racism" is that it's

(1) an explanation of how capitalism affects working class black people that avoids mentioning class, and

(2) an explanation of any capitalist institution that's managed by racists.

Consider this a footnote to Racism equals prejudice plus power, so only white people can be racist?

ETA: A relevant data point for anyone who talks about race and power in the US. In What Matters, Walter Benn Michaels notes:
In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4. And while this inequality is both raced and gendered, it’s less so than you might think. White people, for example, make up about 70 per cent of the US population, and 62 per cent of those in the bottom quintile. Progress in fighting racism hasn’t done them any good; it hasn’t even been designed to do them any good. More generally, even if we succeeded completely in eliminating the effects of racism and sexism, we would not thereby have made any progress towards economic equality. A society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.
Related: The Man Who Changed Middle-Class Feminism, or Derrick Bell and Critical Race Theory, Where Racism and Anti-Racism Intersect

"The limits of anti-racism" by Adolph Reed Jr.