I recently heard a black female student proclaim that “Black people can’t be racist”. I took the counterpoint and prepared to engage in an interesting and thought provoking discussion on the issue. She announced that she “can’t handle this, today” and left the area. Then, I was able to participate in a quite interesting discussion on #racism, who is #racist, what racism means, who can be racist and the ability to be racist (or perform racist acts without being seen as racist) as a form of privilege with self-identified Caucasian, Latino, differently abled and Black students.

I posted to my facebook account the following prompt: “#FacebookFriendsAssemble Black people can’t be racist. what do you think. my thoughts come tomorrow.”

Obviously, this prompted some discussion. Self Identified, Black, White, African American, mixed race and other friends joined in.

Here is my take on the topic, informed as it is by a mix of personal exploration, academic research and experience. I am sharing on my blog primarily so it will be more accessible for my followers.

First I will break down the statement into its constituent parts and acknowledge the definitions, published, academic and common use as I understand them. Then I will discuss the impact of the statement itself.

“Black people cannot be racist.”

Black (Google definition) having dark skin, especially of African or Australian Aboriginal origin.

People (Google definition) The men women and children of a nation community or ethnic group.

Cannot: Are unable to. do not hold within the realm of possibility.

-I imagine most people can agree on these three definitions. So that’s that. But, racist…ohh racist.

Stay with me for a bit.
To be a racist you have to participate in racism…
Racism is a form of prejudice that is based primarily on the perceived race of the object.
Prejudice is a preconceived opinion of a person object or situation without factual or reasoned support.

So racism is a preconceived opinion about a person based on their race without (or with limited) factual or reasoned support.

My facebook friends had a few arguments regarding that black individuals could be racist. These primarily focus on individual ability and personal experience. Black children for example using racially charged epithets for white family members, Black people using racially charged epithets for Hispanic, European, Asian or other Black groups.

Several of those that indicate black individuals could be racist also acknowledged the difference between individual and institutionalized racism. The institutionalization of racism was an essential element of most of the “Black people cannot be racist argument”.

Institutional racism is a pattern of social institutions — such as governmental organizations, schools, banks, and courts of law — giving negative treatment to a group of people based on their race. (Google again)

Those that use the institutionalized racism argument focus on white supremacy and the impact on black people through slavery, systemic persecution etc. The argument is that black people have never had sufficient power in white dominated society to oppress another group and so they cannot benefit from a system of racism.

Now these google definitions are published and accessible in various locations. Academia influences them greatly and somewhere within Academia this is being discussed right now… but here’s the thing, this discussion started in the Office of Diversity Affairs at Miami University. The Miami University Campus is a predominantly white institution but you can see more about the campus demographics here. And the campus is within the City of Oxford demographics here.

Here’s my soapbox.

  1. I admit: Yes racism can be institutionalized. So it can be fed and supported by social structures, laws, economic history etc. (guess what, on some of my government forms I self-identify as white, can I be racist now?)
  2. But, racism impacts individuals and it is perpetuated by individuals. When we come to a point that we equate a black individual’s propensity to be racist with white society’s power to be racist we make a logical error. The two should not be compared.
  3. Race is a bogus classification system. There is no objective standard for race classification and with the globalization of cultures interracial relationships etc. who is black and who white anyway? So we are basically saying that the amount of melanin in your skin determines whether or not you are able to engage in a fairly complex set of overt and subconscious behaviors. No. (but my eyesight might make me smarter because I wear glasses)
  4. Racism is comparative IMHO. You do not perceive a race as bad in racism, you perceive it as less fit compared to some other race. This is essential, because without others to compare it to there would be no basis for discrimination-Prejudice. therefore when you classify people into multiple races starting with black and white, they can have a dynamic between them. A is less or more intelligent, kind, rhythmically inclined than B. What about when we compare Blacks and Asians, Latinos, etc. have you ever heard it said “White men can’t jump?” “White people can’t dance?” who are they being compared to?
  5. Black people are traveling more than ever and visiting other countries where they may cross a boundary that places them in a majority position, compared to Whites. This statement may or may not hold in those places.
  6. The majority of the cannot argument predicates on the mostly USA based experience of white supremacy and black oppression. I know that in the Bahamas people of all non black races can be discriminated against. So not all Black people have this lack of power and privilege.
  7. In the end, any statement/decision you make about a person based solely on their race, is wrong,
  8. Finally, if I want to be racist, I sure as hell can… I won’t, but I can.