''Black people can never be racists.''
True as I think it is, this has to be one of the most incorrectly stated, most obscured and counterproductive phrases ever used. I first heard this line used by a black scholar on my campus a few years ago. He was attempting to point out the idea that; contrary to Webster’s definition; racism was prejudice + power. In others words, members of a dominant social group (individually or collectively) possessing prejudiced beliefs and the institutional power to systemically oppress a group of people based on that prejudice. Since black folks possess no such power, it would be pretty reasonable to conclude that racism is a hat that we can never wear. I was so impressed by that perspective of racism, that I began using it as my mantra. In fact, in an argument that I recently had with a white guy, I made reference to that line.
Why the hell did I do that?
After a firestorm of relentless debate, it was communicated to me (forcefully) that racism was an experience that was felt by my white brothers and sisters as well as by blacks. He attempted to lambaste me based on his assumption that I was somehow implying that black folks possess no ability to be racist as he defined it (prejudice based on race). He took the argument a step further by suggesting that -- in reality -- I was ignorant as to what racism truly meant.
Let it be known that while I fervently believe that black folks; or any other folks who are marginalized in this society do not possess institutional power to enforce bigotry, I will never again say that “black can’t be racists”. What I’ve learned from making such a declaration (which is what I hope black scholars will also pick up on) is that our definition of racism; prejudice + power (as solid as it is) will never be fully comprehended by everyone in the dominant culture. If anything, that contention is more likely to generate controversy and opposition than it would be in enlightening people. That’s the sad reality. But it is reality nonetheless.
So, I’d like to examine racism from another angle. I’m going to allow whites to declare that blacks can, in fact, be racist. If it puts your mind at ease, I'll say that black can be racists, bigots, prejudiced…whatever term makes you happy. Since black folks are apart of humanity (and therefore just as susceptible to human flaws), I’ll concede that we can practice some of the same lunacy against different people as whites can. There, I said it.
With that said, allow me to also note that it's an insult to logic to imply that there are similarities between ‘racism’ that whites face from blacks and the reciprocal. This, to me, is the idea that gets lost in the conversations of black scholars and which seems to get casually dismissed by ever-so-defensive whites. Collectively, blacks who practice 'racism' (again, I’m using this term synonymously with bigotry, prejudice, etc as opposed to how I define it.) possess far less of an ability to do serious damage to whites than whites who commit racism against blacks. Let’s keep it real here. Besides that, blacks don’t have nearly the historical track record of racism as do whites. I’m sorry to say, but these are irrefutable facts -- backed by history -- which silence the incessant implications (at least I think they’re incessant) that black racism has somehow dented our country’s consciousness in a way proportionate to white folks. I simply don’t buy it. History doesn’t seem to either.
If a black person is practicing ‘racism’, I have no problem with him/her being called out for it. What bothers me is when black ‘racism’ is somehow labeled as a barrier to the rights and livelihoods of White America. I mean, if it’s such a hindrance to White America, then show me the studies that prove how whites have been systematically oppressed. Show me the numbers to support how whites on a wide level have been robbed of equal housing rights, health care access, employment opportunities, judicial rights, voting privileges, etc. By the way, using the whole "Affirmative Action denied 'qualified white student X' admission into a college or a job" story doesn’t quite compare to the racist practices that we face. They are in no ways similar.
While I'm challenging people to produce proof of the affects black racism, I can produce hoards of data supporting institutional racism against blacks. These data, by the way, are not a product of pro-black establishments who have a chip on their shoulder. No. I’m talking about analyses produced by federal agencies, colleges, research institutions, and even from media reporting. Interestingly however, even in the face of clear and obvious examples of institutional powers wielded by those in the dominant culture, I still find that many whites simply can not see (or refuse to see) beyond the lines.
I guess it makes sense that the levels of white racism be ignored by folks in the dominant culture. It has to be ignored. Otherwise, they won’t have any leverage in equating the ‘racism’ they claim to face to the racism that we actually do face.
Comedian Chris Rock once said that there’s a white, one-legged busboy somewhere who wouldn’t trade places with him…and he’s rich. Sure, they’d want Rock’s money and his fame. But they wouldn’t want to be him; as a black man. To put it another way: if you had the choice to be a white person dealing with black racism or a black person dealing with white racism, what would you choose? I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.
Now why do you think that is?
Monday, March 19, 2007
''Black people can never be racists.''