[…] Note : More from Sarah Brown on Racism a cross-post of this. My initial response on identity and parallels between racism and religious hate speech was what […]
Interesting, thought-provoking post.
“What distinguishes racism is hatred against a group of people on the assumption that they’re inferior or demonically powerful.”
I would add to this that the notion of power is relative to the context in which it is exercised. I am a white middle-class British man living in London. At a national and global level, I have enormous structural privilege. Considering the hierarchies of power in the western world, I’m more or less at the top (coming from a poor working class family knocks me down a bit). But there are situations in everyday life where I do not hold the most power. Here’s an example, a real one, that to me demonstrates it is possible for non-white people to be racist.
I was travelling home from work on a bus. Two large black men came and sat next to me on the top deck of this half-full bus. Immediately they began talking loudly about hating white people, that white people are all racist, and that they should go around stabbing the white people on this bus. I am an average sized guy. These two men were bigger and stronger than I am. They were using their relative power in that specific situation to intimidate me and others on the bus on the basis of our skin colour. It was threatening. It was centred on racist generalisations and assumptions about me as a white person.
My position is that there are two types of racism that are not mutually exclusive. One is structural racism and the other is personal racism. Our society and its institutions, because of our history, are structurally racist (though I think this is slowly changing for the better) against non-whites. Individuals of all colours can be racist based on their personal feelings towards others of a different colour. A white person can hate a black person because of irrational opinions and assumptions based on the colour of their skin. The same is true in reverse. Both can exist outside of and separate to structural racism within the society they live.
I think that makes sense? Shoot me down…
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That’s a reasonable position.
To me, the term you would refer to as ‘structural racism’ is a misnomer. First, because it is intentionally equated with personal racism by those served by such an equality, and second, because in the modern world personal and institutional racism are different.
Statistically, it’s difficult to prove that structural racism exists any more. Not only have affirmative action programs erased (and in some cases reversed) biased hiring practices, but the holy grail, the ‘wage gap’ has been refuted for decades (that is, there is no systematic biasing of pay toward white males – any difference in average earnings can be demonstrated to be a consequence of the predominant choices made by people of that group).
However, even if structural racism existed to a degree now, the bias would be as much wrapped in socio-economical and historical influences as it might personal bias. That is, a hiring manager might bias against blacks for a certain position because traditionally blacks aren’t interested in those jobs, are therefore underrepresented, and thus it feels like a larger risk (what I mean can be best thought of in sporting terms – most managers would default to choosing a pro British footballer over a Canadian one because one country has a much greater history of football than the other and thus, choosing the Canadian footballer would inherently be seen as a greater risk). While it’s true that we should judge each person on their merits, independent of race/colour (something people like Bahar Mustafa can’t do), the truth is that we will base our judgements often on personal experience and so institutional racism can become, to a degree, self-perpetuating (feeding back into society in a loop), even without the intent to discriminate.
I think it is important both to judge everyone as individuals when they make claims or go for job interviews, etc, and, at the same time, to realize that equal opportunity does not always mean equal representation. Some groups, for various reasons, will favour certain jobs over others. While this should not exclude anyone from applying or being hired, if they qualify, it does mean that we should not, automatically, strive to have the population demographics of society be equal to the demographics of a given job position or industry. Otherwise, we will soon come to the point of backlash, where we’ll start forcing schools to hire more male teachers (even though there aren’t as many), and we’ll be forcing fire and garbage departments to hire more women (even those most either don’t want to, or are incapable of doing those jobs).
So, while this situation with Bahar Mustafa is incredibly saddening to someone who believes in true equality of opportunity, I hope that it is a situation which starts the social wake-up call leading from this culture of the victim that has developed recently, toward something more positive.
Good article which caused a flask-back to 1990. Had this argument then, and a few times since. I expect I’ll have it again. It’s always worth getting on a soapbox when people start changing the definitions of words to fit a political theory.
Excellent response to an ideologically twisted rationale.
I don’t think “Racism is the demonisation of a group on the assumption that they’re innately inferior or innately omnipotent” is correct. I would argue that “or innately omnipotent” doesn’t belong in there. I can’t think if an example for racism where this would apply, except for anti-Semitism if you want to define it as a form of racism. But I don’t think this makes much sense. In order to fully understand how these things work, I think it’s useful to keep them apart conceptually.
It’s the Nazis who added racism to anti-Semitism, leading to a curious picture where Jews would be racially inferior to “Aryans” yet structurally omnipotent. Anti-Semitism by itself is not a form of racism. It’s a different form of discrimination with different socio-psychological functioning.
Apart from that I mostly agree with you.
Anti-semitism is a form of racism, though. And it became a form of racism prior to Nazism.
The “minorities can’t be racist” argument seems primarily just a way for far leftists with social science degrees to end an argument using the power of semantics. “Hah! You can’t call me racist, because I’m not white. Fail! I win!”
It’s semantics because these same social justice warriors will admit that non-whites can be prejudiced or bigoted against other races; it just can’t be called racism because there is no structural support for that bigotry. As if being “prejudiced” or “bigoted” makes you somehow less of a douchebag than someone who is “racist”.
But of course, in the parlance of the common man, bigotry or prejudice against another race = racism. So this sort of semantic sidestep allows the “enlightened” radical to feel self-satisfied that he or she is better than the sort of average Joe who doesn’t know what “cisgendered” or “check your privilege” means.
White parents won’t let their daughter date an Asian guy? Racism, and they are horrible people who are instruments of white supremacy.
Asian parents won’t let their daughter date a white guy? That’s merely prejudice… besides they are probably justified because Palestine, slavery, colonialism and drones.
Non-whites can most certainly be racist. I’ve seen coloured people make racist comments about ethnicities who are darker than them. And anti-blackness is perpetrated by non-whites too. I think a person of colour can do a racist act against a white person, and that’s just as bad on an individual level as a white person being racist. But it can never be as bad on a societal level because there is no racist social structure against whites (in western societies). So, on a social level, is it truly racist? I dunno. But that was a great point you made, that the assertion is myopic as it applies only in the west (and only to interactions between whites and non whites, not to interactions between people of colour).
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