Friday, April 10, 2009

Intuitively Defined Racism

Disclaimer: This was written more to vent than anything else, so I didn't edit it at all. I might, eventually; I just don't want whoever is reading this (which I suspect isn't many people) to think that I can't write.

First, a link to the post in question. You can find your way to the rest of the blog.

The post is her definition of racism, and I quote (the entire post):

An ongoing series. Here’s something you need to understand before engaging me in any debate:

Racism = Prejudice + Power

By definition, Blacks and other minorities cannot be racist because they do not have insitutional, systemic power. The term Minority doesn’t even refer to a minority of numbers any more (after all, minorities outnumber whites in many places, now), but instead to a minority of power.

So, again: Racism = Prejudice + Power

Reverse racism does not exist. It just doesn’t.

My issue with this- she's defining racism in a very non-intuitive manner. Reading the discussion after the post, I come across her main idea, which I partially agree with: there are two different ideas that "racism" describes, and that there need to be terms for both of them. The first meaning is "racially-motivated prejudice", which (though "prejudice" is a sketchy term too) is the belief that race influences a person's actions more than it actually does. The second is "institutional racism", which is when a society or system is set up based on racist beliefs, which generally means that someone is getting the short end of the stick.

Note that the second definition doesn't use "discrimination", because I don't think that the connection between distinguishing and harming is self-evident enough to have them described by the same word, and that it uses "racism", from the first definition. This is because it's a deriative definition. Definition number two is based off definition number one.

I think that the most obvious way to define such a term is to pick the first definition, and then use some sort of modifier, like "institutionalized" to describe the second. This way, we get terms for both that both have obvious etymologies. However, ABW takes the other view- that we should pick the second as the definition. The obvious problem is how to describe the first.

Based on this clarification of terms, I agree with her. While anyone can be racist (so reverse racism, by my definition, can exist), only those in power can be institutionally racist (so, there is no such thing at all as reverse institutional racism. However, this distinction is not made clear enough, and most of the disagreeing commenters seem to think she's using "racism" to mean racism, when she's using it to mean institutionalized racism.

When I started writing this, I was annoyed at ABW. Now I'm not; in fact, I almost agree with her. I suppose that writing this post served it's purpose. However, as an addendum: the other salient point of criticism is that she says that blacks can never be institutionally racist. Later comments reveal that what she meant was that in the US, blacks can't be institutionally racist, but they can in, for example, Zimbabwe. This Amero-centricism is an artefact of her only having experience with American race politics, which is a perfectly valid reason. I merely suggest to ABW: If you want to not come across as a white/male-basher, don't say things that can be interpreted that way.