Defining and detecting “racism” is difficult. If I have negative thoughts about racial groups, but never express them or act on them, am I racist? If I’m an editor at a publication that publishes personal essays about life experience, if I primarily publish minority authors because I find the minority experience to be a rich subject for description, am I racist?
These questions could go on all day, with any one of a number of tricky edge cases illustrating that racism is a somewhat foggy concept, despite its perennial place in the national discourse. As a result, the divergence in extant definitions of “racism” is striking.
Currently, there appear to be two competing definitions of racism vying for mainstream popularity. The first is a classical, limited definition of racism: explicit prejudicial acts towards a person based on their (real or perceived) biological grouping. The second is inflected by concepts of social justice and power struggles: Racism is the exercise or expression of racially prejudicial societal power.
Under the second definition, it’s coherent to at least claim that white people are the only racists in America, because white people arguably hold the most institutional power. As Rohn Kenyatta writes in Black Agenda Report : “Racism, inherently, implies power; Black People in America have virtually no institutional power.” Similar claims are advanced by social justice oriented associations like the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center , whose page links to other examples.
Now, the case gets thornier once we proceed to the individual level: If I’m a black judge and I’m racist towards a white convict, don’t I have institutional power? Does my grouping really matter in that case? Nevertheless, you could sensibly claim that whites have the plurality of institutional power, and thus inflect the justice system in ways that benefit their interests.
However, why muddy the waters by adding all of this conceptual weight to the word “racism?” Why not introduce another term to the lexicon and leave the original word alone? (Some progressives have done this by distinguishing “structural racism” from the plain article.) It seems like there’s only one practical reason to do this: to demonize a group of people because some of them hold the majority of institutional power, and excuse everyone who isn’t in that group. In other words, to make white people the bad guys.
Under the common-sense definition, matters are simpler. It is manifestly untrue that only whites commit racist acts in America. Beyond small-scale everyday racist incidents that go unrecorded, we can point to historical events like the 1991 Crown Heights riots , in which black residents violently retaliated against the local Jewish community after a local Rabbi accidentally struck and killed a black child with his car. A more recent example comes from 2017, when four black youths in Chicago tortured a white peer while chanting “F*** white people” while streaming the event on the Internet.
So, ultimately, the evaluation of this claim is simple. If you want to claim that anti-white racist acts don’t count as racism, then you need to radically change the definition of racism to villainize white people and excuse everyone else from culpability. But if you’re using plain language, everyone can be racist. And since racism only goes down, bigotry up is tacitly allowed, fostering division. The addition of the power dimension for racism has taken the eye off the legitimate inaccuracy and fallacy of bigotry. Since only whites can be racist and all whites are racist, anti-racism means anti white by these definitions
What do you think?