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

10 comments:

  1. Okay, lets set the record straight. As a graduate of the Defense Race Relations Institute in the 70's to be racist one must come from a position of power. The position of power as set forth by the governement at that time and the 1976 race relations act was that the persons in power were white anglo saxon, protestant and male. Hence by govenment definition on one else can be racist.

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    1. Anonymous, you got me wondering when blacks first acquired power in the military. Google brought up this: African-American 'firsts' key to Army history | Article | The United States Army. Claiming a black general doesn't have power seems mighty odd to me.

      Power has many traits, but under capitalism, it's ultimately about wealth. I keep thinking the sea change came when OJ Simpson was found innocent, just like any rich white guy.

      And, no, this doesn't mean there aren't still a lot of racists out there.

      An interesting factoid: In the previous decade, American Jews, Asians, and Hindus were wealthier than WASPs. The housing bubble changed things for Asians, who had heavily invested in west coast housing, which was especially hard-hit. Jewish and Hindu Americans must've put their wealth in safer places.

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    2. # The position of power as set forth by the governement at that time
      # and the 1976 race relations act was that the persons in power were
      # white anglo saxon, protestant and male. Hence by govenment
      # definition on one else can be racist.

      Whahay! I'm catholic (lapsed) thus I'm in the clear!

      Of course, I'm not 'in the clear', no-one ever is. These theories, if taken seriously, mean that the racism I saw growing up on Birmingham markets wasn't racism, as the people involved, though white, had absolutely no institutional power (people, don't be telling me that a fruit-seller has power). And the racism I've seen between minority groups, well, that wasn't racism either.

      I first came across this definition only a few months ago (though I've heard similar things said with regard to sexism). This stuff is deadly. All over the world there are racial groups in positions of privilege (not all of them white) towards whom one can now apparently say and do just about anything without it being considered racism. So, where does that leave us on genocide? How have various legislators defined genocide, and can an argument be extended that the slaughter of a group who are what Amy Chua would call an 'economically dominant minority' (as was the case to some extent with the Tutsi in Rwanda) isn't genocide because they were in privileged position, so it was a 'war against privilege' and not genocide? I think we're bound to hear this argument used to justify the 21st century's genocides (let's be honest with ourselves, they're going to happen). Once people accept there are groups that one can't be racist towards, then it's a small step to take them out from under the next protection and the next.

      To some extent this problem has always existed. The Soviet Union successfully argued against class being considered in the UN Genocide Convention after WWII, for obvious reasons. And that's the problem with definitions, they are always someone's definition, and people always try to define things in order that they can have a free reign against their personal hate targets.

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  2. "The problem with the theory is Condi Rice and Oprah Winfrey have far more power than any white homeless guy living under a bridge or almost everyone else in the USA, regardless of hue."

    You're assuming here that Condi Rice's and Oprah's privileges based on wealth, fame, etc override or delete the lack of racial privilege. Even though the white homeless person lacks privileges based on housing, employment and wealth, it doesn't mean he magically no longer has white privilege.

    Also, your cherry picking of famous critical race theory scholars is either purposefully dishonest or just evidence of a lack of research: Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado, Angela P. Harris? Richard Delgado in particular has been very active in the media and through his articles.

    Your attempts to discredit critical race theory are pretty transparent, sorry.

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    1. If "white privilege" does not even guarantee food or shelter, what use is it when compared to Rice's or Winfrey's "wealth privilege" that lets them have mansions and servants and the ability to eat anything the world's best-paid chefs can prepare?

      As for "cherry picking", did you follow the link to the article about Derrick Bell?

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    2. # Even though the white homeless person lacks privileges
      # based on housing, employment and wealth, it doesn't mean
      # he magically no longer has white privilege.

      Telling people who are starving in the gutter that they're privileged is a gob-smacking betrayal of the poor by the new left. This of course means that the poor, especially the white poor in this regard, will start to listen to those other voices that are always claiming to represent their interests (as seems to be happening in Greece right now with the rise of the Golden Dawn).

      We need someone to appear on the scene with a genuine agenda that unites everyone, because all I see these days are people preaching division and hate. We need a King or a Ghandi, but with so many internet trolls preaching one form of hate or another, be it left/right, fem/masc, religious/atheist or whatever, we need more than Ghandi, we need Mecha-Ghandi. And we don't got Mecha-Ghandi. I suspect therefore that there's bad times ahead.

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    3. I so want the Mecha-Ghandi series now!

      And, quite seriously, yes, we need someone who is will focus on what unites us.

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  3. We are all one and the same.
    Human beings or Homo Sapiens.
    Quote -
    "Race has no genetic basis. Not one characteristic, trait or even one gene distinguishes all the members of one o-called race from all the members of another so-called race.
    Human subspecies don’t exist. Unlike many animals, modern humans simply haven’t been around long enough or isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species.
    Skin color really is only skin deep. Most traits are inherited independently from one another. The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms of intelligence. Knowing someone’s skin color doesn’t necessarily tell you anything else about him or her.
    Most variation is within, not between, "races." Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.
    Slavery predates race. Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, even debt, but not because of physical characteristics or a belief in natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, ours was the first slave system where all the slaves shared similar physical characteristics.
    Race and freedom evolved together. The U.S. was founded on the radical new principle that "All men are created equal." But our early economy was based largely on slavery. How could this anomaly be rationalized? The new idea of race helped explain why some people could be denied the rights and freedoms that others took for granted.
    Race justified social inequalities as natural. As the race idea evolved, white superiority became "common sense" in America. It justified not only slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and the taking of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.
    Race isn’t biological, but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Our government and social institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to white people. This affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.
    Colorblindness will not end racism. Pretending race doesn’t exist is not the same as creating equality. Race is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice. To combat racism, we need to identify and remedy social policies and institutional practices that advantage some groups at the expense of others."
    Copyright (c) California Newsreel, 2003
    RACE - The Power of an Illusion
    We should be looking for similarities not differences.
    Finally, we should learn the true art of humour and be able to laugh at ourselves.

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    1. ADDENDUM:-
      Quote -
      Out of Africa

      Spencer Wells is a disciple of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, famed pioneer of "genetic geography." In 2002 Wells produced a two-hour National Geographic documentary entitled "The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey," in which he demolished the myth of race. Only 60,000 years or 2,000 generations ago, the entire human race consisted of 10,000 black Africans living in central east Africa. Everyone alive today is descended from those individuals. This understanding of man's origin is known as "Out of Africa," and has been confirmed by the scientific evidence."
      If an alien was to visit here they would notice more physical and mental differences between men and women than between the so called races!

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