What’s the good word?
(aka “STFU 101”)
In the past, I had dived into books and documentaries about race and racism, but when I first started reading up about the subject on the internet some years back, “The Angry Black Woman” (now at her own domain instead of wordpress, theangryblackwoman.com) was the first to make an impression on me about a definition of racism that was new to me.
Angry Black Woman:
Here’s something you need to understand before engaging me in any debate:
Racism = Prejudice + Power
By definition, Blacks and other minorities cannot be racist because they do not have insitutional, systemic power. The term Minority doesn’t even refer to a minority of numbers any more (after all, minorities outnumber whites in many places, now), but instead to a minority of power.
So, again: Racism = Prejudice + Power
Reverse racism does not exist. It just doesn’t.
I thought I knew what the word meant, and the dictionary backed me up. But I came to discover that dictionaries, like human beings, are not infallible.
For instance, yes, looking at the root words of “homophobia” might lead one to believe the term means “being afraid of homosexuals,” but we understand the word to mean “bigotry against homosexuals.” For me, the second definition feels more accurate than the first.
The “N” word, a racial epithet almost always targeting black people, came from the original word for “black” in many different languages. This word became a pejorative by the 1900s. Today, a new generation uses the word jokingly or ironically or even intending to be friendly, but with little understanding of the historical connotation of the word. For me, the original definition still applies, which is why I don’t think white people should use the word.
“Illegal” is an adjective used to describe something that is unlawful. However, it has been used to describe human beings, whether in the phrase “illegal immigrant,” or being used as a noun to call an undocumented immigrant an “illegal.” For me, the word shouldn’t be used to describe human beings - it’s dehumanizing and demonizing.
We know what we mean by “color” when we refer to crayons or clothing. We know what we mean by “race” when we refer to a starting line, runners, and a finish line. But when we juxtapose “color” and “race,” we’re talking about social constructs based on bunk anthropology from way back when. We use the phrase “people of color” to describe all those groups affected negatively as a result of racism - people who are not white. (It shouldn’t be confused with the archaic “colored people” or the pejorative “coloreds.”) Even though we see “black” as the opposite of “white” in the spectrum of visual color, to speak of color as it pertains to race in just black-and-white terms is a false dichotomy, since there are also many groups besides black people who are not coded as “white.”
There are many phrases we have used to describe many different groups of people: Latinos and Latinas; Native Americans; Inuit, Yupik, and Aleut; Asians; Indians; Arab people; Jewish people (ethnically if not always religiously), and more. And even those terms are not universally agreed upon: some people prefer “brown” or “Chicano” or “Hispanic”; some people prefer “Eskimo”; some people prefer to be noted by nationality, such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.; “Middle Eastern” is a term in circulation, but is not always accurately used, and is Eurocentric. (I try my best, often rotating terms and using them interchangeably as I feel appropriate, until I find better information which leads me to stick with some and drop others.)
We used to describe white people as “Caucasian,” but that really only refers to people who live near the Caucasus Mountains. We used to describe black people as “Negro,” and some black people still describe themselves that way on the U.S. Census, but it’s fallen out of favor. Some people use the word “African-American” to describe black people, but not all people we see as black live in America or have roots in Africa (such as those who have their roots in the Caribbean).
“Privilege” is often used to describe monetary wealth. “White” is a color. But “white people” are not “people of color,” and “whiteness” refers to a social construct which sees “white people” as normative, dominant, and superior. ”White privilege” does not describe being rich, it describes having undue advantages based on race in a society whose power dynamics favor “whiteness” (that is, even if you’re a white person who has other problems in your life, none of those problems are BECAUSE you are white, they are DESPITE the fact you are white).
“Bigotry” is basically defined by the dictionary as being stubborn about one’s opinions. To “discriminate” is basically defined by the dictionary as recognizing the differences in people, places, and/or things. “Prejudice” means to judge something before one has really interacted with it, such as declaring a music or rap act’s new record to be horrible because you didn’t like their previous album. But when we discuss the oppression of people, we link bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination to everything from calling people names to refusing to associate with people, to actively denying people goods and services to suppressing their freedoms and rights, to attacking and killing people. When we discuss these things in the context of race (though we can discuss them in the context of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.), we often call it “racism.”
However, if you adhere to the definition of racism that Angry Black Woman discusses above, then we would refer to the oppression of people of color by white people as racism, the bigotry, discrimination, and prejudices of white people as racism. If it’s committed by people of color, whether against each other or against white people, we can still condemn it as bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice, but not as “racism.” To do so ignores the power dynamic, the privilege at hand, and both the longest lasting and most urgent problems as it pertains to race and racism today. (Similarly: some males are “sexist,” but not women; some heterosexuals are “homophobic,” but there’s no real crisis with gays and lesbians being “heterophobic”; some cisgendered people are “transphobic,” but there’s no concern needed about transgendered people oppressing cisgendered people; able-bodied people aren’t struggling in a world that is geared more towards the differently abled.)
For the same reasons, “reverse racism” does not make sense. Besides, in the same way that the phrase “white trash” makes people of color out to be “trash” and implies that white people being trashy is a special case for which we need to make a separate designation, calling something “reverse racism” only reinforces the idea that the default position should be white people on top. (This is also why I don’t accept the idea that “ghetto” isn’t racist. The very definition of “ghetto” deals with poor people being segregated by race - the word isn’t only racist, it’s classist.)
I think a dictionary can be a good guideline and it’s interesting to me to look up words and see all their definitions and uses, and their etymology. But I don’t rely on it as the final word about… well, WORDS. Language evolves or degenerates, and our perspective on which one it’s doing depends on our point-of-view. (For instance, I can read leetspeak, I can understand it, but I wouldn’t use it.)
Some may write all of this off as “political correctness,” or “being PC.” Those people might not understand that the phrase came from the 18th century and meant in line with the prevailing political thought. Now, it’s just used by people who want to dismiss the rights of others to be recognized for their humanity and their equality. It is not Orwellian doublespeak to refer to other people by the terms they would prefer to be described as rather than offensive insults.
You may either subscribe to or disagree with the above definitions, concepts, and positions as I see them, and that’s your prerogative. These ideas are not mine alone and not my original creation, I just made the effort to get informed about them. I am not confident in being recognized as an authority, only a blogger giving my point-of-view and putting my editorial slant on submissions that come through this site.
But… this is still MY blog. And I’m through debating the concepts laid out above, particularly about the “power plus prejudice” definition of racism (or “privilege plus prejudice,” or even “power plus privilege plus prejudice”), “people of color” as an appropriate phrase, the “N” word as an inappropriate phrase, the non-existence of “reverse racism,” and the existence of white privilege. There is no argument against my position that I haven’t heard yet or that could sway me, so don’t even bother. Don’t waste my time or yours writing to me about it or posting a comment about how you think I’m wrong, because it’s old hat.
I am a white person who was born in, grew up in, and lives in America (presume what you want about my biological sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation - those aren’t things I’ll disclose here). The blog is going to be U.S.-centric most of the time, especially since most of the readers who submit posts to the blog are also in the U.S. But more importantly than all that, I want to make sure it’s understood - I don’t claim to speak on behalf of people of color. I can’t even speak on behalf of white people, since there are racist ones who disagree with me, and even white people who disagree with certain things I believe in, but who aren’t necessarily racist themselves. I will never lecture people of color on what they need to do differently as it pertains to race, because as a member of the historically oppressive class, that would make me a hypocrite (of course, if a person of color is sexist or homophobic or transphobic or ableist or bigoted in some other way not related to race, I don’t have any qualms about saying something about those matters). But I have no problem calling out white people who are saying or doing something racist.
This blog is here to help anybody, whether white or a person of color, phrase their arguments or have examples to point towards while debating people or even to help enlighten a friend, relative, or loved one who could use more awareness on these topics. It’s also here to shame racists and let them know we will not accept their racism. Do I want to change their minds? That would be nice, but I don’t have to be nice about it. As I’ve said before, don’t expect to get anywhere hugging a person who wants to put their boot on your throat. (It’s not “hypocritical” to condemn racists for their racism, it’s not “bigotry against racists,” it’s not “prejudice” against a racist who has already let you know they’re racist through their speech and/or actions. It’s not even bigotry against white people - to acknowledge that there are white people who are racist, and even that white people have white privilege, is no more “racist” against any and all white people than acknowledging the existence of sexism and male privilege is “sexist’ against men.)
I don’t claim to be perfect or superior to anyone else - I think every person has equally inherent value as a human being, that nobody is better or worse than anyone else. I’ve written before about what my views on race were growing up - it’s not like I was ever an unrepentant racist nationalist, but I was as uninformed and unaware as any other person who grows up white in America. It’s not until I was out in the world that I made the choice to examine these things. I am not looking for approval for that, it’s something every white person should do. But it was a choice that my privilege grants me. If you’re not white, you have to deal with racism as a part of your life. My blog shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for seeking out people of color who are bloggers, theorists, poets, authors, and speakers, and other voices of people of color, who experience racism firsthand as targets.
In that spirit, I recommend everybody check out The Angry Black Woman, starting with her page called Required Reading, and all the articles linked there. In future entries, I will recommend other reading that I enjoy and that I feel has important insight.
In the meantime, let this be the final warning as far as disagreeing with me about everything listed in this post. No more arguments, no more debates, no more trolls, no more insulting comments. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m not obligated to give you a forum here for it, nor inclined to engage you in a dialogue about it.
In other words… STFU.