Can Only White People Be Racist?

I’ve read a number of articles and been told specifically that black people can’t be racist, although they can be prejudiced.

As soon as I heard this claim, my bullshit meter went into high alert. However, being the skeptic that I am, I decided to do some research on my own.

So before we begin, let’s take a look at the definition of racism. I will even share more than one accepted definition, just in case you think I’m cherry picking.

racism_2racism_1racism_3

Here we have 3 definitions. All of them seem to agree with one another. The definitions are from Merriam, Oxford and Wiki.

I also can’t imagine a case where anyone couldn’t do these things, whether they’re white, black, purple etc. In fact, saying these things can only apply to one race of people could be seen as a racist statement.

According to studies, we all hold prejudices towards people of other races.

Racism is hardwired into the brain, say scientists – and it operates unconsciously.

The same circuits in the brain that allow us to see which ethnic group a person belongs to overlap with others that drive emotional decisions.

The result is that even right-thinking individuals make unconscious decisions based on a person’s race.

Funny, I don’t see anywhere in that article that only white people can do these things and that black people (or any other group) are exempt from it.

But let’s have a look at some of the arguments being made online by people who claim that black people can not be racist.

Let’s start with this one, which actually claims right in the title that black people can’t be racist:

The system of racism begins with a race designating itself as superior to another. To carry out acts of racism, a race must have power and privilege. There has never been a time in American history when a race other than white has had power and privilege over another—especially in the case of African-Americans.

What a pile of horseshittery. Are you really trying to sell that no African American has ever had power over a white person? They never have the opportunity to act discriminatory?

There are no African American police officers, business owners, politicians, teachers, doctors, celebrities etc?

This could be answered with one picture.

44_barack_obama1

Pretty sure this guy has a ton of power. I believe the President of the United States is often referred to as ‘the most powerful person on the planet’.

Now this is not to say that minorities cannot be prejudiced or practice discriminatory behaviors because they definitely can and have done so. Bigotry, the stubborn intolerance of any race, creed, belief or opinion different from one’s own, can be practiced by any race. As a part of a community that has experienced tremendous amounts of bigotry and racism to this day, it is important that we as African-Americans direct our anger and hurt at the institution of racism and not people.

Scroll up to the definition of racism and you’ll see that if you’re acting discriminatory, then you’re being freaking racist! Of course it can be practiced by any race because racism isn’t reserved solely for white people.

In this article about a Colbert interview, a comedian explains why black people can’t be racist:

As a counterpoint, Colbert asks if black people can engage in racist behavior, to which Bell notes an important distinction: Yes, black people and people of color can be prejudiced, but that is different from racism.

“When you say the word ‘racism,’ a lot of people who are way smarter than me … academics, they don’t believe you can be racist if you’re a person of color, if you’re a black person,” Bell explains. “We can be prejudiced, but racism implies power and institutions behind it. I can be prejudiced, I can be like, ‘I don’t like white people,’ but I can’t, like, not hire them or not give them their voting rights — you know what I’m saying? So it’s a very different thing.”

No. I don’t see what you’re saying. Of course if you’re a black business owner, you could (try) to deny someone a job purely because you might be racist. So can a white business owner. For your crap theory to sell, you’d have to show that no black business owners exist or are capable of racism.

Who the hell are these academics you speak of?

I feel like I’m watching a Trump interview when he just throws out that ‘other people’ have said something. He didn’t say it. These other people did and he’s just casually bringing it up.

Let’s look at this news story, which starts off with this emotional bit:

A man cannot hate the whip with which he is being flogged but then be expected to love the person doing the flogging. When such a black man, lying helpless bleeding on the ground expresses hate for the white person wielding the whip, it is only reasonable.

Yes! If the person being whipped hates or feels anger towards the person freaking whipping them, then that’s perfectly understandable. When you start thinking all white people are evil because of this one person whipping you, then that’s bloody racist.

On discrimination based on one’s colour, I can only concur that blacks can be prejudicial towards whites – but not racist. What do I mean? Before I attempt to give an explanation of my argument, I first have to define words that serve as the premises: prejudice and racism. Prejudice refers to a positive or negative evaluation of another person based on their perceived group membership. Racism on the other hand refers to social actions, practices or beliefs or political systems that consider different races to be ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other. Furthermore, racism is socio-economic, with systemic structures which promote one race’s powers over another. Socio-economic being the operative word, I am certain you will agree that black people do not have the resources to impose such oppressive structures which enforce their superiority. White people on the other hand have, and had imposed them on blacks for over four centuries of slavery and colonialism. Black people can be prejudiced, but not racist.

And so black people are incapable of feeling superior and can never take social actions or practices that are based on the prejudices you admit they are capable of feeling?

Jesus. Really?

Well, I can come up with at least one real life example of a black person being racist.

 

In that video a jar of mayonnaise is supposed to be the ‘white friend’ and she says some insane things, such as ‘your people’ don’t wear deodorant.

If a white person said these things about black people, they’d rightly be shouted down as racist.

And if you’re talking about power being necessary for racism, have a look at this video where she decides to get white people to say they owe her reparations.

 

If you can watch those videos and still think black people are incapable of racism, I don’t know what else to say.

I think it’s dangerous to push this narrative that some groups are incapable of racism. It allows them to ignore and excuse away real life racism, and it makes minority groups perpetual victims.

Look, we all know that racism exists. It should be challenged wherever it is found, in whatever group it is found. I also think when we separate ourselves into groups, we make race matter more. Wouldn’t it be a better world if we didn’t see race but just saw the human being instead?

I think ANYONE is capable of being racist. Let’s fight it together.

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38 Comments

  1. I think the notion of superiority is a bit of red herring in these definitions. To keep the same sense of unjustified discrimination throughout all of the prejudices means we have to grant this aspect way less credence and keep the fundamental aspect that informs all these prejudices front and center, namely, that it is a thinking error to attribute to racial identity personal characteristics that may not be the case.

    I interpret the term ‘racism’ to mean a kind of groupthink present in all these group-based prejudices (which is why I generally despise sociology as an academic field of study). We construct group identities… by selecting only certain attributes. That’s fine… as long as we keep the units the same, meaning we talk only about actual group differences based on the same criteria. In this way, we can talk about, say, sickle cell anemia in ‘black’ populations, talk about lactose tolerance in ‘northern’ populations, heritability of specific genetic traits, and so on. There really are genetic markers for racial heritage. Even though we are using race as a group identity – which is not in these cases simply a social construct but an identifiable physiological one independent of beliefs we assign to the traits – we aren’t being racist for doing so. But we are being racist if we see the group identity as if it were automatically an individual characteristic.

    This is the border-crossing that I find happens between spokespeople for various races. Race-based inequality is very real and we have to understand the problem that drives it – people assuming individual characteristics derived from group membership – before we can find systemic solutions that rectify the unbalance.

    Other than physiological differences independent of our beliefs, group identities (and our belief in their descriptive values of the individual) are only as strong as the power we assign to its meaning. Therefore, reduce its importance in your own mind and elevate in its place not jst the quality of the character you encounter but offer the same treatment and respect you wish all others to exercise towards you to others.

  2. This is one of those posts that will eventually devolve into semantics.

    Historically, it was white people who sailed the seven seas and ”discovered” black people, likening them, in the main, to inferior beings and either enslaved them or tried to eradicate them.

    This we would usually consider common racism: the black person is inferior to the white person based on skin colour and other attributes.

    And white people did this with practically every indigenous people they encountered.

    It was likely white people or a white person that coined the phrase racism in the first place.

    Yeah, there is push back and some of it vociferous and aggressive that might come across as racist..

    Historically, white people have been the instigators therefore they must assume responsibility for taking the lead role in sorting out the shit they caused.

    Are black people racist? Yeah, I’m sure they can be, but in the main it has traditionally been a white stigma.

    • “Historically, it was white people who sailed the seven seas and ”discovered” black people, likening them, in the main, to inferior beings and either enslaved them or tried to eradicate them.”

      True. White people did it to a lot of people, and we should learn from the past and not repeat it. That’s why guarding against racism is important, and that goes for all groups.

      “It was likely white people or a white person that coined the phrase racism in the first place.”

      Not sure why that would matter?

      “Yeah, there is push back and some of it vociferous and aggressive that might come across as racist..”

      As shown in the above videos, I don’t think it comes of as racist. I think it is racist. Just as racist as it would be if a white person were to talk about a black person that way.

      “Historically, white people have been the instigators therefore they must assume responsibility for taking the lead role in sorting out the shit they caused.”

      I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to call out racism equally when it’s found.

      “Are black people racist? Yeah, I’m sure they can be, but in the main it has traditionally been a white stigma.”

      Then we agree. That’s all I meant to show. 🙂

      Thanks Ark!

  3. Then we agree. That’s all I meant to show

    Sort of, but not entirely.

    And, you did say before you posted this might be controversial, so….

    I am not aware of any scientific studies (so I stand under correction) but in the main, I would venture the blow back from black people against white people is as a direct result of centuries of institutionalized racism and that, racism per se, is not something that would have come natural to them, and (likely in the main) didn’t.
    Xenophobia, perhaps.

    As an example, when you see banners at European soccer matches against racism it is, largely, by implication directed at white people.
    Consider when black footballer, John Barnes first started playing for Watford people would throw bananas at him when he took a corner kick.

    • “I am not aware of any scientific studies (so I stand under correction) but in the main, I would venture the blow back from black people against white people is as a direct result of centuries of institutionalized racism and that, racism per se, is not something that would have come natural to them, and (likely in the main) didn’t.
      Xenophobia, perhaps.”

      Prejudice comes natural to all of us. That’s what the study showed.

      “As an example, when you see banners at European soccer matches against racism it is, largely, by implication directed at white people.
      Consider when black footballer, John Barnes first started playing for Watford people would throw bananas at him when he took a corner kick.”

      I agree. I wasn’t trying to refute the percentage of racism historically. I was merely saying that everyone is capable of racism.

      Also, the list of ethnic cleansing throughout history is very long.

  4. I have always found this question difficult in challenging. If racism is defined as being bigoted and having hatred towards others than yes, everyone is capable of being racist. I have found the analogy of white people being racist because they have power as challenging because individual white people are often powerless but they benefit from racist policies. This is why I tend to define racism more in institutionalized terms rather than individual terms. Using terms like bigoted, prejudiced, and hateful are more appropriate when referring to individuals. Racism is much more broad and has more to do with policies and practices that disenfranchise people. I believe that our country has policies today that benefit white people and disenfranchise people of color. It is a lot more subtle than it used to be but it is nonetheless still prevalent. From the war on drugs to mass incarcerated, racism is active and well in our society. Individual whites are not responsible for this but rather benefit from it.

    Thanks for writing this. I write about race on my blog and have recently started. Follow me and i’d love to have a discussion with you.

    https://jholmes90blog.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/the-colorblind-christian-the-toxicity-of-the-churchs-silence-on-racism/

    • Thank you Jdholmes. I’ll check out your blog for sure and thanks fir giving this a read.

      Just curious about how you said that some individual whites are powerless but still benefit from institutionalized racism. If they are powerless, how are they benefiting?

      I also almost always think it a bad idea to change definitions of a word. Words are the best way of communicating and changing definitions means it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation that will go anywhere.

      I think it more helpful to call racism racism. Call forms of racism by those terms, such as institutionalized racism etc.

      Hope that makes sense?

      • You can still be powerless as an indivudal but benefit from certain privallages. For example, I may be powerless as a man but I certainly benefit from privileges in society and can get away from certain things as a man. A white person individually can be powerless in the sense that he/she is incapable of instituting polices that impact a community but he/she can benefit from not being criminalized, not being suspended at alarming rates, not having the media paint a bad picture of your race..ect. I actually plan to write a blog on this very topic in the next week breaking this down, but feel free to comment on your blogs. I would love to hear some of your ideas.

        • I look forward to reading it. I suppose that could be true but I’m fairly certain homeless people get arrested more than people who aren’t homeless. And last time I looked at stats, a fifth of them commit a crime just to go to jail and get food and warmth. Many are also struggling with a mental illness and getting little or no help. I don’t think they would agree that they are benefiting from much.

          And yes. I took sociology. They use different terms to describe different forms of racism but using the word racism means the dictionary definition. 😊

  5. Pingback: Can Black People Be Racist? Can Women Be Sexist? | Power + Prejudice | Godless Cranium

  6. Having conversations about race is a good thing, when we want to understand each other (clearly we are all unique and different). However the focus on “race” needs to give way to more important ideas and attention needs to be focused on more important issues, when we have another focus (other than race or colour) then we will find solution to those problems.

    Just a word on reparation, if everyone thought this way we would be in an endless cycle of trying to take from one group and give to another. For example the word “refugee” origin is that of the Huguenots (nothing to do with race or colour), if everyone from Huguenot ancestry had to keep focusing on their past and reparation, there would be no end.

    Instead we should be fighting for a “system” that promotes equality and provide the means for anyone to accomplish that which they want to do. Race, colour and differences are ideas that deviate our attention and focus from the real world problems – these also divide, distract rather than allowing everyone to co-operate and co-exist.

  7. I’ve been threatened with violence just for being white in the wrong neighborhood, and I’ve had that happen more than once. I don’t give a damn what any sociologist says, if I have to be concerned for safety because of my white skin, then I’m going to call that racist.

    Now that’s the kind of thing that you’d expect from a small town redneck. Guilty. But here’s a less anecdotal approach to the question, and it happens to be sincere. Why is it that I reject the notion that black people can’t be racist? Because I see people as individuals. That’s one of the central concepts of my morality. I can’t give anyone a pass on any moral question because they belong to any group. As ironic as it may seem, my absolute belief that a black person has every bit as much morality, intellect and personal agency as anyone else means that I can’t agree that a black person can’t be racist.

    Now I realize that there is a distinction between the sociological and individual definitions of racism. Is someone states that black society can’t be racist because it lacks the power to influence society the way white society does, I would almost agree with that. The main reason I don’t really accept that is my naive desire to avoid separating people into ‘societies’ defined by skin color or even history. Even if I did agree without caveat that black society can’t be racist, that wouldn’t change the fact that INDIVIDUAL racism is a different concept. Linked, perhaps, but not the same concept and certainly not the same definition.

    I always have to wonder, why the distinction? Why do people insist that though black people can be prejudiced or bigoted that they can’t be racist? What difference does it make? Honestly, right or wrong, the word racist is seen as a greater evil than bigotry or prejudice. Prejudice is certainly a softer word than racism. This strikes me as a form of newspeak language manipulation. If you can convince people that white people are the only racists, then any minority is free from the responsibility. Even if that’s not always the intent, it’s the result. And I can’t accept that.

  8. In the true definition of the word, of course everyone can be racist. But looking up correct meanings and doing actual research has never stopped internetters espousing opinions has it? 🙂
    Clearly the idea that only whites can be racist is borne out of the countless historical opportunities taken by whites to show just how racist it is possible to be, but that does not change the meaning of a word.

  9. Just stumbled across this:

    University of Wisconsin – Madison
    African Cultural Studies
    College of Letters & Science

    The Problem of Whiteness

    African 405
    Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm
    Professor Damon Sajnani

    “There is no Negro problem in the United States,
    There’s only a white problem.”-Richard Wright

    “How does it feel to be a problem?”-Du Bois

    Have you ever wondered what it really means to be white? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “no.” But here is your chance! In Frantz Fanon’s famous Black Skin, White Masks (1952), his chapter “Look, a Negro!” interrogated the meaning and experience of coming to know oneself as Black under the constant scrutiny of the white gaze. It is an experience concomitant with W.E.B. Du Bois’s observation that under systemic racism, even well-meaning whites are constantly asking, in one way or another, “what is it like to be a problem?” But, Like Richard Wright’s quote above, philosopher George Yancy’s book, Look, a White! (2010), turns the question around, and rightly returns “the problem of whiteness” to white people. After all, since white supremacy was created by white people, is it not white folks who have the greatest responsibility to eradicate it? Our class begins here. We will come together with our socially ascribed identities of Black, white, mixed and other and, with the problem properly in its place we will ask ourselves and our allies, what are we going to do with it?

    Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy. Our class will break away from the standard US-centric frame, and consider how whiteness is constructed globally, with particular attention to paradigmatic cases like South Africa. Whereas disciplines such as Latino/a, African, and Asian American studies focus on race as experienced by non-whites, whiteness studies considers how race is experienced by white people. It explores how they consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism and how this not only devastates communities of color but also perpetuates the oppression of most white folks along the lines of class and gender. In this class, we will ask what an ethical white identity entails, what it means to be #woke, and consider the journal Race Traitor’s motto, “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”

    Readings will include:

    W.E.B. Du Bois, 1920. “The Souls of White Folks” in Dark Water

    George Yancy, 2010. Look, a White!

    Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015. Between the World and Me

    Damon Sajnani, 2015. “Rachel/Racial Theory: Reverse Passing in the Curious Case of Rachel Dolezal”

    Tim Wise, 2016. White Lies Matter: Race, Crime, and the Politics of Fear in America

    I wonder what would happen if a university offered a course called “The problem of non-whiteness”. Would anyone protest?

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