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Thursday, October 31, 2013

On racism....

Saw this article in a Facebook post and I had to reply.  I do ask that before you read what I have to say, please go read the article itself.  I am going to be honest and say that I think that while the point of the article is understandable, the author is using words in a certain specific sense that differs from the common usage. i am specifically talking about the term "racism".  In the article, she says

                                  [r]acism exists when prejudice+power combine to form
                                  social constructs, legislation and widespread media bias
                                  that contribute to the oppression of the rights and liberties
                                  of a group of people. Racism is systemic, institutional, and
                                  far reaching. It is the prevalence of racism within social
                                  structures and institutional norms, along with implicit and
                                  explicit enforcement by members of a group, that allows
                                  racism to run rampant and unchecked.

This definition of racism is what most people (myself included) would define as institutional racism.  Dictionary.com defines racism as:

                                  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the
                                      various human races determine cultural or individual
                                      achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own
                                      race is superior and has the right to rule others
                                  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or
                                      fostering such a doctrine; discrimination
                                  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races

The author is defining racism using only the second definition, while ignoring the other two.  I would argue that this is problematic if only because in her article, she discounts instances of racism that do not exist on an institutional level.  Basically, her argument is that unless there is an institutional component, there is no racism.  So anyone who is white cannot (by her definition) experience racism because there is no power structure to enforce prejudice against them.

I am not going to argue that there is no institutional racism in the United States, nor am I going to argue that a white person experiences racism in the same way that a a member of a minority group would experience racism.  However, racism is real and does exist against white people by individuals within minority groups.  When one person beats another because of their skin color, that is a racist action no matter what the color of the attacker's skin or the color of the beaten's skin.  To argue differently is incredibly wrong headed and quite offensive.

I do want to note that I am not saying that the author would condone that sort of action.  But given her argument and her narrow definition of racism, someone could logically come to the conclusion that if an African-American shot a white person because of their race it is not racism whereas if the same white person where to have shot the African-American person for the same reasons, it would be racism.  that does not make any sense unless you are using her incredibly narrow definition of the word racism, which pretty much runs counter to every dictionary definition I have checked.

While I do think that the author has a point that the experiences of racism as experienced by people of different races is very different and that we, as a people, need to learn to listen and work to eliminate racial prejudice whether it is on an individual or a systemic level.