When a minority cannot be a racist, what happens when the minority becomes the majority?
Allegedly derived from former presidential contender Sen. Bernie Sanders, the idea has gained some currency that a minority cannot be a racist. To be a racist, it is said, requires not only prejudice, but power. On this logic, if a white person has power, which, by definition, every white person has (or so it is said), and if a white person is prejudiced, that person is a racist. But if a person of color does not have power, which, by definition, every person of color does not have (or so it is said), and if that person of color is prejudiced, that person is not a racist.
This definition is itself an exercise in racism, since the point of identifying racism should be to eliminate it; while the “power plus prejudice” definition exacerbates it by magnifying the classification of people on racial lines. But put this aside for a moment. What happens when the minority becomes the majority?
The US is moving toward a majority population of people of color. When this occurs 10 or 30 years from now, then a white person by definition could not be a racist, even if he or she were prejudiced. For that white person would no longer have the power.
Of course this is absurd, but equally absurd is the definition that a person of color in today’s US cannot be a racist.
Not to mention, “power” is defined by many more variables than one’s place in a national group. Adolf Hitler had no power when he began the Nazi party. He only had prejudice. It is patently obvious that prejudice alone was sufficient to make him a racist. More generally, the idea that prejudice without power cannot be racism ignores the power of an idea. It is not just being part of the majority population, or controlling a large part of the economy, that constitutes power. In Hitler’s case, it was strictly the power of a malevolent idea that initially propelled him into perhaps the most dangerous racist that history has ever known.
Similarly, it would be dangerous to ignore the posturing of white supremacists in this country because they remain a small, marginalized group with no real power. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, Jews should not ignore Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party’s increasingly anti-Semitic statements just because Labour is not in power.
The notion that prejudice must be coupled with power in order to be racist is really the most recent variation on the culture of victimhood. We call it “competitive victimhood.” It has come to permeate current discourse, especially in certain progressive circles. Competitive victimhood runs this way: If I have little or no power, then by definition I am more of a victim than you are. I suffer more than you do. Competitive victimhood is really a mask for a supremacist agenda of its own. I want to achieve power so that I no longer need to suffer as much as you do. Iwill make you suffer to prove that I have finally achieved power.
So the next time somebody pops up with the “racism=power-plus-prejudice” definition, beware. At a minimum, it diverts anti-racism efforts from their lofty goal of equality. Worse, it is a veil for a malevolent power grab. Worse still, it is a rationalization for waiting too long to fight a prejudicial force, which, of course, is much easier to fight when it is not yet entrenched.
All this wound its way into a report on National Public Radio last week that was revealing for its lack of self-awareness. The report was on the upcoming white power rally held last weekend in Washington, DC on the first anniversary of the Charlottesville rally and murder. The report did not signal a quality piece of journalism when it opened with a warning from the announcer that racist comments from the rally’s organizer were about to be aired, as if the audience were not intelligent enough to discern racism by itself.
Far worse, though, was the one-sided, aggressive-to-the-point-of hostile questioning of the leader of the rally, Jason Kessler. What did he say that was racist? He spoke of “white people” as a collective, as a group — as a race. When he was done, the announcer introduced a spokesman for Black Lives Matter, who spoke of “white people” as a collective, as a group — as a race. Yet, he was not questioned aggressively, or even questioned much at all. Rather, he was given a platform for a racist comment using virtually the same words as Kessler.
Sorry, racism is racism, whatever its source.
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