By: William Lawson
Let’s have a serious conversation about an age old argument amongst African Americans and white people. Black people cannot be racists. This is a statement I have used plenty of times. To be honest, I used it less than 24 hours ago. I, like most other African Americans, treat the word racism as being interchangeable with institutional racism.
A simple Google search of the word racism gives us this definition “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” When you search for institutional racism you get a more specific definition that claims to be a form of racism that is “reflected in disparities regarding criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education…” If you search further into this definition of institutional racism, you’ll also find a definition by judge William Macpherson that states that it can be “seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behavior which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.”
Now that we are all on the same page as far as our definitions of racism and institutional racism, is there really a difference between the two? How can a group of people that have been themselves discriminated against, been sold, used, beaten, traded, and degraded for sport be racist? Is it even possible for a people that have been broken down physical and mentally for over 200 years have the capacity to ever feel superior and show that? When African Americans are constantly being told that they are lesser, but having everything they create be appropriated. Are we counting saying ignorant things as being racist? Making jokes about stereotypes? If so, we need to read those definitions again.
To summarize, yes, African Americans can say ignorant things, be prejudice, maybe even be bigots, but not racist. African Americans don’t have that luxury. When you think about racism you should also think about power. In terms of acting on racism or having the power to be racist, African Americans (and minorities in general) are far from having the power to be racist. If you take nothing else away from this, take this: racism is two fold and involves having the power to enact the feelings associated with racism onto another group.
Zeba Blay, from the Huffington Post, wrote that “some people simplify racism as one group not liking another, and think ‘racist’ and ‘prejudiced’ are interchangeable. But racism is a concept that operates on both an individual and institutional level.”
The film Dear White People was brilliant and we’ll end with words that bring my point to fruition:
Black people can’t be racist. Prejudiced, yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people cant be racists since we don’t stand to benefit from such a system.