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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

On Racism = Power + Prejudice

"What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church … a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them." - Martin Luther


it's all one thing: racism equals prejudice plus power, so only whites can be racist?:

"I used to think all white folks, no matter how well-meaning, had a little racism in them. Then I took the Project Implicit race test. I expected to learn how racist I was. Instead, I found that 20-25% of whites show no implicit racial preference or, like me, show an implicit preference for African Americans.

That inspired me to research "racism = prejudice + power". It was created by a white woman...

The problem with the theory is that Condi Rice and Oprah Winfrey have far more power than any white homeless guy living under a bridge, or just about 99.99% of the American population, regardless of color. Others have noticed that:

"By Weind's definition, the American Nazis aren't racists, since they have no power." —ron kozar

... The more precise definition, of course, is a racist is anyone who disagrees with the idea that racism equals power plus prejudice...

Marie Macey and Eileen Moxon examined many of these problems in "An Examination of Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Theory and Practice in Social Work Education". My favorite bits:

...an edifice of theory and action has been constructed on the simplistic 'explanation' of racism as being the outcome of power plus prejudice. Not only does this inaccurately assume a single cause and type of racism but it dangerously implies that there is a single solution to the phenomenon (Gilroy 1990; Husband, 1987; Miles, 1989).

The view that racism is an attribute of the monolithic category of people termed 'white' who hold all the power in society is equally confused and confusing. At one level of abstraction, it is true that a certain sector of the (white, male) population holds much of the economic and decision-making power in Briitish society. It is also true that some members of this group are statistically likely to be racially prejudiced. However, though this knowledge should inform social work education, it has limited utility at the operational level of social work or, often, in the everyday lives of black and white service workers.

Furthermore, if a Pakistai Muslim male refuses to have an African-Caribbean or Indian Hindu female social worker for reasons which, if articulated by a white Christain would be condemned as racist, one has to ask what the point is of denying that this refusal stems from racist (or sexist or sectarian) motivations? Similarly, if one compares the structural position of a white, working class, homeless male with that of a black barrister, would the statement that 'only whites have power' make sense or be acceptable to either of them?

…the approaches [of anti-racism theory] are theoretical and thus closed to the canons of scientific evaluation and because the discourse itself prohibits the open, rigorous and critical interrogation which is essential to theoretical, professional and personal development.

Modern anti-racism is a commercial movement driven by graduates of the most expensive private colleges and universities in the US. That may explain why Rev. Thandeka, author of Learning To Be White, says anti-racists “make an erroneous assumption about the nature and structure of power in America”...

Judith H. Katz, who defined racism as “prejudice plus power” is the Executive Vice President and “Client Brand Lead” of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, a business that prospers by teaching anti-racism.

Peggy McIntosh, author of “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” is the associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College, one of the fifty most expensive colleges in the US.

Tim Wise, a graduate of Tulane, has lectured about anti-racism at “over 400 college campuses, including Harvard, Stanford, and the Law Schools at Yale, Columbia, and Vanderbilt.” I watched a little of one of his youtube videos, then quit when he said he was doing what black speakers could not. Black speakers have been popular on college campuses since at least the early 1960s. The idea that people like Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, or Malcolm X could not speak at a college campus today is as silly as the title of one of Wise's books, Speaking Treason Fluently. When the majority of a nation supports diversity, a better title would be Speaking Truisms Profitably.

Wise, Katz, and McIntosh undoubtedly mean well, but they content themselves with a superficial understanding of injustice. My favorite Upton Sinclair quote applies: “It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on his not understanding it.”"


And then, using the weapon of the Enemy against Him (getting a Marxist to fight a Post-Marxist - brilliant!):

Why "Racism = Prejudice + Power" Is The Wrong Way to Approach the Problems of Racism

"Critical Race Theory is a popular pass-time among my comrades on the radical left who ascribe to various positions within the broad political ideology of identity politics. As someone with a vaguely Marxist outlook, it's largely been something that I've ignored given that for the most part it appears to me, from the outside of the social circles where such ideas have currency, to be little more than a self-serving rhetorical tactic of petite bourgeois academics seeking, out of narcissism, to claim for themselves and certain of their peers some of the political currency owed to the working class and won by them through hard graft during the civil rights movements of the fifties and sixties. The basic tactic as I see it is that Theorist A looks on the problems of some segment of the proletariat to whom he is peripherally related via an essentialized category established by historical capitalist precedent and claims that rather than the disadvantages owing to an oppressive economic system, the actual oppressive system is something else which is specifically in place to target whatever group the Theorist can make a case for membership of. Out of this argument falls various alleged systems, the most commonly referenced being "The Patriarchy" and "Institutional Racism." These systems are then used as watch words whereby the theorist gains attention for his or her segment of the proletariat and by association co-opts a little of their plight for him or herself.

As I said, I largely ignore such ideas because their influence in the world is largely limited to academia. The rhetoric of these folks has no real tactical impact on the world because their narcissism more or less limits their view of the world to their own slice of it, and their slice being universities their opinions don't shape much policy-wise beyond the rather childish realm of academic micropolitics...

It remains as a sort of gospel despite the fact that as far as I can tell, the arguments for it are either very thin or even non-existent. In the Katz book, for example, it is purely stipulated and the only argument given for it is that without the component of power, any definition of racism looks exactly like prejudice. Why the formulation "racism = racial prejudice," which is much more consistent with the general usage of the term, is problematic is left unexplored by Katz and by all the theorists I have found who take this tactic...

1.) The sloppiness of the definition and the arguments in their favor give ammunition to the right to attack leftist criticisms of racism;
2.) It excuses racism between racial minorities;
3.) It is divisive between working class whites and working class racial minorities because it creates the false impression that their disadvantages are something other than economic and saying to working class whites that combatting inequality is not something that benefits them and therefore disenfranchises them as a group;
4.) It obfuscates the locus of power attributing to race what can only be attributed to class regardless of race...

So what does "racism" mean? Wittgenstein would counsel that the right thing to do would be to look at how the word is used, to construct cases. Several pertinent ones follow:

1.) "That guy is a racist because he only hires whites."
2.) "That guy is a racist because he only hires blacks."
3.) "The killer was a racist who believed that whites are superior to blacks, and that his white superiority justified his killing of a black man."
4.) "Saying that all white people are racist is racist."
5.) "The Nation of Yahweh promotes racism."
6.) "The Ku Klux Klan are a bunch of racists."

The argument here is that all of the above uses of the word racist are meaningful and that most speakers of English have no trouble understanding what these sentences mean and would agree that they are accurate uses of the word. The reason that "Racism = Prejudice + Power" is an incorrect definition is that if it were true, only sentences 1, 3, and 6 are correct and that the other sentences are incorrect uses of the term...

The use of prescriptive language has a long history as a tool of political oppression. In particular it is a weapon of the upper classes to identify and marginalize lower social classes. As such no such argument can be value neutral, it is in fact an example of political maneuvering and as such collapses in its attempt to defend the indefensible marginalization of some groups in favor of others because of race. As such, the argument itself is racist. Which is another correct usage of the term...

People rarely act as a group and in the vast majority of contests, it is individuals pitted against individuals. As such, there are circumstances where an individual member of a minority group does in fact have much more power than a member of another group, or even many such members. Oprah Winfrey, for example, is the wealthiest black woman in America, possibly in the world. She wields a tremendous amount of power as a result. In most contests, were Oprah Winfrey to be confronted with an overtly racist organization such as the Christian Identity Church, Oprah Winfrey would mop the floor with those scumbags because she's more powerful than they are. This mismatch of power doesn't make the Christian Identity Church any less than they are, nor does it make Oprah Winfrey racist herself. It simply shows that power is much more fluid and individualized than the racism formula acknowledges."
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