Monday Debate : What is Racism?
My new idea for getting other people to say interesting things on my blog: Monday Debate. This is where I invite folks to come in, sit a spell, and have a discussion on a contentious topic. The main reason for doing so is to try and solve some unsolvable problems and answer some unanswerable questions. Lofty, right?This week’s Monday Debate is about Racism. Many months ago, I posted:
Racism = Prejudice + Power
Whenever I get into it with someone who calls me a racist, I point to that post and tell them that I cannot be racist because I have no power. Prejudiced? Oh yes. But not racist. In America, I say, black people cannot be racist.
However, it has come to my attention recently that there are people who feel that this definition of racism is incomplete, perhaps even completely wrong. They deny that Racism and Institutional Racism are the same thing. They deny that minorities are exempt from it. They often wield the dictionary as their rhetorical weapon of choice.
Here is the dictionary definition:
- : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
- : racial prejudice or discrimination
[Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary]
- 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.
- a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
- hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
The point of contention here mainly comes from the last definitions: racial prejudice or discrimination / hatred or intolerance of another race or other races. These make no reference to society, culture, or systems. Just discrimination based on race.
Other definitions of Racism found on the web:
A form of discrimination based on race, especially the belief that one race is superior to another. Racism may be expressed individually and consciously, through explicit thoughts, feelings, or acts, or socially and unconsciously, through institutions that promote inequality between races.
The inherent belief in the superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance.
[Source: Audre Lorde via University of Idaho Lexicon of Appropriate Terms]
The belief that one ‘racial group’ is inferior to another and the practices of the dominant group to maintain the inferior position of the dominated group. Often defined as a combination of power, prejudice and discrimination.
Some of the points I want this debate to address:
- Which definition of Racism should be used in discussions about race?
- Is the dictionary definition sufficient? What argument can be made as to why the dictionary definition is irrelevant/outdated/etc?
- Is “Institutional Racism” the only real Racism?
Feel free to bring up/make your own points.
Also, the related topic of Sexism as Prejudice + Power may also be discussed because it’s another -ism that some feel requires institutional power for perpetration. However, let’s keep the main focus on Racism.
I’m hoping this will be an actual debate and not just groups of people screaming at each other. I don’t expect that this will be a problem considering the excellent regulars here, but I’m putting that out there for new folks who drop by. While I am normally all snark all the time, I’m turning off the snark for now. I am interested in exploring this issue with an open mind. I’m asking that anyone who comments do the same. Though humor is, as always, welcome.
When you make statements, make it clear if you are spouting an opinion or a fact. If a fact, back it up as well as you can. Unsupported ‘facts’ are opinions. If your ‘fact’ is supported by personal experience, that doesn’t invalidate it, but it does make the ‘fact’ one based on limited data, thus it does not carry as much weight.
Anonymous commenters, please provide us with some kind of handle to call you by. And don’t come and post under lots of different handles to make it seem like lots of people agree with you. I’ll know. And I’ll smite you.
I’ll say this: I am being extremely optimistic that a debate on this blog can settle anything. But we have to start somewhere, right? If this question is to be settled somewhere at some time, then the discussion has to happen somewhere at some time. Part of it will happen here and now.
P.S. The discussion of racism on Karnythia’s LJ is very eye-opening and a good primer for this debate.