Definition of racism by Merriam-Webster
- 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
- A doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles | a political or social system founded on racism
- racial prejudice or discrimination
Ernst Roets of Afriforum says the racial hatred directed against this minority is virulent, dangerous, and ignored:
Andile Mngxitama, activist, Black First Land First (BLF)
Author of the self-published pamphlet, “Blacks can’t be racist”:
Andile Mngxitama’s understanding of the word racism:
“Andile argues that racism “locates white power and privilege on the historical reality organised upon white on black violence … to make the concept of racism elastic, as to include whites as victims, is to render it useless, and more importantly, to make it susceptible to appropriation by the very beneficiaries of racism.
“Though Andile elaborates at length the reasons why black subjugation is still a blatant psychological and material reality in SA, he fails to acknowledge that white privilege has considerably decreased in the political arena. Blacks now have the political power to subjugate. The conspicuous consumption of wealth and tenders and big bonuses has placed an elite group of black bigwigs at the centre of social, economic and political power. And yes, they do not by any means represent the hungry, powerless, dirt-poor black people who have all but lost faith in the government’s promises. But they are black. And they are powerful. And they can subjugate. And if we use Julius Malema as the exemplar of this new black elite and use his public utterings as further exemplars of the potential for black racism, then some holes start forming in Andile’s thesis. At the very least, “conceptual fidelity” and “the right to racial privacy” may refine the question of “black racism” to a more clearly defined problematic.
Suntosh Pillay is a clinical psychologist who writes independently on social issues.
“Government employee, Velaphi Khumalo, has also been suspended after calling on black people to do to white people what “Hitler did to the Jews”, saying all whites are racist and that he’d like to “rid South Africa of white people”. (enca.com)
Andile Mngxitama (Black First Land First) believes black people cannot be racist.
“We blacks gotta understand. whites don’t hate us as a matter of personal taste. whites are locked into a system of power which is anti black” – Andile Mngxitama, Twitter
“Complicit in Mngxitama’s rise as a legitimate intellectual voice, the media has now been unabashed in their portrayal of his racist and violent rants. Unfortunately Mngxitama’s support for an anti-constitutionalist, leviathan vision of South Africa has never posed a threat to his continued status as a public intellectual. He has close links with Blackwash and the September National Imbizo (SNI), organisations that distributed leaflets during the height of xenophobic violence calling for black South Africans to instead turn on “the white settler elite” — the real enemies. The media did cover this story but Mngxitama was allowed to continue writing for several publications and grow his personality as a “Bikoist”.
Much like Malema, Mngxitama is the sizzle and the sass that papers need to make them seem as if they are balanced and well-rounded. Actually it is a shrewd business tactic that sells papers rather than actually contributing anything meaningful to the debate. It’s easier to find the village idiot screaming hate than it is the unassuming intellectual who has really thought about what he articulates.”
– Kameel Premhid BA, LLB, Helen Suzman Foundation.
Anybody can espouse racism, regardless of the color of your skin. Anybody can use racist speech and actions to be damaging to others. You can even be racist within your own race (in POC communities people with darker skin are sometimes discriminated against), or against your race as a whole.
I have heard the argument that people of color cannot be racist because they are not in a position of power, which I think is a flawed argument. First, power dynamics can change rapidly based on the situation. Just as a person of color may be targeted for discrimination or violence based on their race, so can a white person. Having power can simply mean being stronger, being meaner, or having more people on your side. I acknowledge that in the United States, this has generally benefited White Americans as opposed to American people of color – and nothing in my answer should be understood to suggest otherwise – but that does not change the fact that power can shift due to individual circumstance.
Second, racism is a system of belief that one person can be superior/inferior to another solely based on their race. When this belief is adopted by an empowered class of society, this is systemic racism. There is nothing gained from redefining a word that already has a generally-held meaning and understanding, except perhaps to be able to say the words, “Black people can’t be racist toward white people.” Which may be a linguistic victory, but changes nothing in actuality.” Mikael Sifuentes, Quora
Q. Can Black Americans be racist against white people?
A. This is one of those questions that people bicker about only because they haven’t defined their definitions upfront. When people think they are arguing about whether or not a black person can racist, their disagreement is almost always over definitions.
Yawn. I find fights over definitions terribly boring. Don’t you?
Almost everyone would say that black people can be prejudiced against white people, just like women can be prejudice against men.
But also, black people can be prejudiced against other black people and women can be prejudiced against other women (and men can be prejudiced against other men, and so on).
In fact, from what I’ve seen, I think women are at best only slightly less likely to be prejudiced against other women than men are. The most severely prejudiced views do tend to be held by men, but the much more mild views – women are nearly as likely to hold them as men.
This actually makes sense. People adopt prejudicial based on what they see in society (fewer women in computers -> women are bad with computers). There’s no reason to assume that women are somehow immune to adopting cultural views about gender. (However, women might be more attuned to it though since they experience sexism, and thus try more actively to fight their assumptions.)
I can’t say if the same trend exists with race, but it might.
Whether or not all this amounts to racism/sexism depends on your definitions of those terms. But pretty much everyone would agree that someone can be prejudiced about any race or gender, regardless of their own.
Next time, separate these questions. Ask what someone’s definition of racism is, then ask if black people can be racist given that definition. I’ll bet you’ll find near total agreement on the second question. Gayle Laakmann McDowell, Quora
Certainly. The controversy all boils down to whether you use the standard definition of racism found in an English dictionary, or the new, manufactured definition floated recently to manipulate the conversation.
See Jon Mixon’s answer for an excellent example of the new, manufactured definition in use:
While Americans Blacks have been extremely prejudiced towards Whites, they are rarely racist towards them as racism implies that the person disparaging you has a measure of control over you or the situation. (Emphasis added.)
To be clear, Jon Mixon did not come up with this definition, so don’t blame him. He’s in good company. It’s become very fashionable to add this stipulation to the definition of racism.
Here’s some of the problems with this new definition:
It would make it such that there are no racists in nations like the United States, because here in the U.S., racists don’t have any power. At one time whites had power over minorities, but that’s not true today. It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race in the U.S. There are laws against it. Anyone who does it is subject to serious consequences. Not only is it illegal, it is common for companies to have systems in place to ensure they are in compliance and building a diverse workforce. Even at a social level, with the exception of a few remote areas, anyone who is prejudiced toward minorities will be ostracized. Ask any hundred white people who are in hiring positions who they would choose between a fully qualified person of color and a fully qualified white person they know is racist. You could argue that a small business owner could conceivably exercise racist power by refusing to hire blacks and possibly get away with it, but black business owners can do the same thing. This is simply not a country where white people are in power by virtue of their being white.
It’s also illogical. Racism is both a moral and intellectual failure, similar to lying or theft. In fact, when you break it down, racism is a lie or acts based on a lie. So, it’s like saying only people with a measure of control can lie. It’s nonsense.
Also, the new definition tends to be used such that it makes racism something entire races are guilty of rather than individuals. When (or if) one says an entire race is racist by membership in that race, that proposition is racist.
Finally, this new, manufactured definition doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t clarify anything. It doesn’t bring us closer to a solution to any problems.
Due to overuse, abuse, and misuse, the term “racism” is losing it’s meaning and it’s power. That does not help in rooting out and addressing the remaining vestiges of true racism that exist.
The way forward is to maintain a clear and objective definition of racism so we can identify racism where it exists and apply consequences, while at the same time recognizing where it does not exist. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to make progress if you can’t measure progress.
Eric Lauritzen, Qora
I have a friend that thinks it’s okay to yell in public:
“I hate white people”
I find that the people who say that black or any POC can’t be racist either mean one of two things:
- Black people can’t be racist because—slavery, segregation, Jim Crow. So because of this, it’s okay to get a pass for saying things like “all white people are racist” or in the case of my friend, screaming “I hate white people” in public. It’s like a tit for tat kind of thing
- Because there isn’t a majority of black or POC in positions of power, black people cannot enforce any institutional racism.
I can get behind #2, assuming that’s what someone means by black people can’t be racist.
Other than that, you can bet your bottom dollar black people can be racist.
Renee Morales (Black, Nuyorican, painfully American) , Quora.
“The two most contentious issues on this website are the definition of racism and the concept of white privilege. The concept that racism is power based—and flows from power to lack of power—is hard to grasp for majority people (defined in this country as white, male, heterosexual, Christian and with no disabilities). I can understand the frustration: Racism is hard to grasp. But white privilege is almost impossible for a majority person to truly understand.”
Luke Visconti, DiversityInc
Question to Luke Visconti:
“Luke what if your employer is black. Your supervisor is black. And you live in a city with a black mayor and majority black city council. Can the bigotry expressed by those in power toward that white employee in that circumstance be considered RACIST?”
LV: No, it would be bigotry. Why are you racists so wrapped up with this issue? It seems like you want to have racism work both ways so you can absolve yourself of your self-loathing and guilt. It’s like all the people obsessed with other people’s genitals and what they do with them—they (like you) are consumed with the issue. You need counseling for this lifestyle, not a change in definition of one word or another. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc
Question by Craig:
So to be sure I understand correctly, an ethnic minority can be a bigot, but not a racist.
LV: You are correct
Comment by John Reynolds:
“So by your reasoning it is impossible for South African whites to be or have ever been racist, as they are not and never were the majority.”
“First, to be clear, I understand the purpose of the definition of racism that is supported by the author of the article and why its important. But, like how many other people pointed out, it seems wrong that a term is to be redefined from its commonly accepted definition on the basis of some sort of social gain. Can white people in America be discriminated based of their skin tone? Yes. Does it happen often? That’s relative, but for arguments sake, lets say no. Is it bigotry? Yes. Is it right? No. Does changing the definition of racism such that white people cant experience it by a technicality marginalize the discomfort of being a victim of racial bigotry? I think it does, and I think many others, based off their comments, think it does. That’s why some people have aproblem with the proposed “fix” to the definition of racism.”
LV:It’s not a redefinition. It may be different than what you assumed, but the concept of race is based in power and always has been—just trace the law, right back to the Roman Empire
Comment by LaurieO:
“Luke, I love your site and respect your perspective, but about this particular issue I disagree. I perceive racism to be rooted in white supremacy, and to be specifically based in the concept that lighter skinned people are superior to darker skinned people. I don’t agree with your Han example in China; I would characterize that as bigotry or cultural prejudice. Same goes for, say, Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda.
With your definition, I think you muddy the water and open the door for white people to play that “what if” game of which we seem so fond. In the same way, sexism is about misogyny, or hatred/oppression of women by men/patriarchy. I’m with Albert Einstein: “Racism is a disease of white people.” And we white people need to fix it. Thanks for all you do.”
What USA Racism Is
Being ‘racist’ means that your behavior or attitude towards people will favor an outcome that privileges white racialized people, that privileges a white supremacist value system in the USA. USA racism means that USA society has built, and continues to organize, hierarchies of power around a white supremacist value system. Such a system means white racialized people end up collectively benefiting from this structural/systemic/institutional arrangement of power, privilege, and resources. This is how the USA canon of critical race studies and critical whiteness studies fundamentally define ‘racism’ in terms of systems and institutions within the USA (Crenshaw 1995; Allen 2001; Flagg 2005; Lipsitz 2006; Sullivan and Tuana 2007; Chapman 2010; Martinot 2010; Razack et. al 2010)
Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior” (Henry & Tator, 2006, pp. 46-67).
Do you only want to use the Merriam-Webster definition of what racism is? Here is a good reason why simply using that definition completely negates the reality that (1)USA racism is based on the concept of whiteness and (2) white men who never studied or lived racism as a non-white, wrote the dictionary definition. Hence, many [white] folk are quick to use the dictionary definition as the ‘more adequate’ one than using the complex definition of racism developed by scholars and activists of color, within the canon of critical studies of race/legal studies.
What USA Racism Isn’t
I have had white people tell me that they are angry that they cannot participate in a healing event for people of color that acknowledges the pain and trauma that racism have caused to people of color. The other summer, I participated in a healing retreat for women of African descent. I received quite a few rants from white Buddhists who said the event was ‘racist’ and I was too, for participating in it. Because the event focused on the healing needs of women of African descent who seek to resist the pains of racism-sexism ( due to white supremacist structuring of society) this event and my participation in it was not racist. If the event were racist, then it would have functioned in a way that would have allowed white people to participate and the two teachers would have taught everyone that a white supremacist value system is superior and that black women should know their ‘submissive’ place in it and not talk about their racism-induced suffering.
I have also been told that it is ‘racist’ to engage in research about how racialization and race affects people’s thoughts, actions, behaviors, etc. Sorry, but this is not racist. It is racist to deny that race is an organizing principle in the USA and claim that we live in a ‘post-racial’ society. Wanting to ignore or deny the reality of how resources, power, etc, are shaped by white supremacist value system (backed by a canon of social-science based research and legal studies that supports this) is racist; racist because this ignorance, dismissal, and/or denial does not dismantle a white racist value system, but simply upholds it.
Don’t get me wrong. It drives me nuts that I have had Black people come up to me an tell me they are angry, disgusted, annoyed, etc that my husband is white. This is not racism, but it is annoying as hell and something I also do not condone. Yes, it is prejudice and another form of hate, however, it is not racism (and like I mentioned before, I am speaking within the context of USA). And no, I do not support this prejudice or hate against white people from black people, as I don’t believe that the hate or prejudice against any group or people will every create a harmonious and loving world. I try to understand these strong hateful feelings within the context of a very messed up history of white colonialism, racism, racialized-capitalism, and imperialism that has produced what can be understood as “the hate that hate produced” amongst some Black people in the USA.
Some interesting comments/counter comments at sistahvegan…
I know that your sources for the definition of racism are situated within a white supremacist discourse, and I’m sure that definition applies in those cases, but in reality, anyone an be racist. I think the best way to go about thinking about this is to consider racial minorities, and leave Caucasians out of the picture for just a moment. I can think of several occasions where I’ve witnessed one racial minority saying terrible things about another racial minority. For instance,a couple of years ago, there was a big news story about how a group of African Americans were calling a group of Asian people racist names and apparently assaulted them. I have heard some terrible things about Asian and Arabic people from people of Hispanic descent as well. And I must confess, I have heard some terrible things said about Caucasians by other racial minorities as well. I think perhaps what needs to be said is that INSTITUTIONALIZED racism (at least in the West) benefits Caucasians and promotes white supremacy, but racism can and does occur on an interactional level that can be committed by any race on any other race. (Vegansunshine1991)