“That’s Racist Against White People!” A Discussion on Power and Privilege

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of White people screaming about racism.

I wish these were anti-racist ally White people who were speaking about the prison industrial complex or about systems of privilege and oppression, but no.

These are White folks who are claiming that the Obamacare tax on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming thataffirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of Color.

And every time I hear these folks cry racism, I can’t help but think:

And it’s not just people of racial privilege who are doing this!

Certain Christians claim they are being religiously oppressed because the rights of Lesbian and Gay people are now being recognized at federal and state levels. The entire Men’s Rights Movement is basically predicated on the idea that men are far more oppressed than women (or transgender people or genderqueer people or really anyone who isn’t a cisgender man).

Now aside from the mountains of evidence that makes someone look a little silly when they claim that those with seemingly endless identity privilege are widely oppressed in society, I am realizing more and more that we have a problem of language precision.

Too often, when people are talking about racism or sexism or heterosexism or any other form of oppression, they’re simply referring to when a person was made to feel bad for or about their identity.

There is absolutely no acknowledgement of wider systems of oppression and power.

And this is no accident.

There has been a concerted effort made by a small but loud group (like theLimbaughsZimmermans, or Robertsonsto coopt language and shift the discussion so that things stay just the way they are.

But whenever we say things like “Well, sometimes women can be just as sexist as men,” we are contributing to the problem.

Precision of Language

Yes. Any person of any identity can be an asshole to any person of any other identity. But that doesn’t make it oppression. It doesn’t even make it racism or sexism or heterosexim or any other -ism.

There is a profound danger in watering down our discussion of identity by removing any mention of societal power, oppression, and privilege.

Doing so ensures that the conversation remains about interpersonal slights rather than about the larger systems of oppression that are the true problem.

Racism is Prejudice plus Social PowerRead the rest at Everyday Feminism.

 

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11 thoughts on ““That’s Racist Against White People!” A Discussion on Power and Privilege

  1. what do you expect? those in positions of privilege are not going to gladly see the opressed gain benefits at their expense or perceived expense

  2. “Precision of Language” I Love that term. However, it is incredibly ironic that you end your article with a pic that says

    “Racism=Prejudice + Power”. That is the opposite of precision of language.
    Racism=hatred or intolerance of another race or other races. That is precision of language.

    You cannot cry foul when others try to change the definition of words to support their argument and then immediately put up a false definition of a word that supports your argument.
    For shame sir, for shame.

    • That is precise: institutionalized hatred and intolerance requires power. I’m not seeing where you didn’t get this one…

      Modern racism doesn’t resemble Jim Crow era racism fyi. Additionally, loss of privilege isn’t oppression. For an example, look at white attitudes toward increasing minority admittance in schools:
      http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8935434

      Cheers

    • Did you follow the link and read the rest of the article? Because I feel like you missed my point. I am calling for precision of language around “isms” that brings into consideration the wider systems of oppression at play. Thus, I am being tremendously precise with what I am taking about when I say “racism.”

  3. I did read it. It seemed to me that your main point was to redefine the word “Racism”. No matter how precise you are you cannot create a new definition of a word and call it Precision of language. Now when you use the word racism(Prejudice + Power) and someone else uses the word racism(hatred or intolerance of another race) you are talking about different things. Literally speaking a different language. That does not foster “A World of Change”, but a world of conflict through misunderstanding.
    I hope you understand my point. Sorry if I am not being Precise. I am better with the spoken word than the written word.

    • No, my main point was to say that the current, common definitions of “isms” like “racism” are vague and were created by those who hold power to ensure that power is left out of any discussion of “isms.” It is not I who am redefining these words. I have heard countless women-identified people discuss the need for more precision of language when talking about “sexism” because current definitions serve to reinforce the current power structures. I have heard countless people of Color discuss the need for more precision of language when talking about “racism” because current definitions remove all acknowledgement of power and water down the conversation.

      The point here is that the commonly-accepted definitions of these “isms” (or at least commonly accepted by people in power and with privilege) are imprecise and vague and are not defined that way by accident. To define them in vague ways ensures that we leave power and privilege out of the conversation and never talk about systems.

      Again, whether it causes confusion for people or privilege or not, it is still far more precise to bring discussion of power into the discourse.

  4. Jamie,
    the question remains, what is the definition of “has social power”?
    Let us say I discover an unknown island and on this island I find a society of humans. How would I find out whether the set of all men from this society has social power in said society or not?
    What would be minimal requirements for me to be able to say confidently: “The set of all men has social power on this island.”?
    What would be minimal requirements for me to be able to say confidently: “The set of all men doesn’t have social power on this island.”?

  5. Right, then the entire definition becomes subjective.
    Unless you are talking about “Institutionalized racism”. But even that is too vague. An institution can be a gang or a coalition of governments.
    Precision of Language would have to be something like, American Institutionalized racism towards minorities in the early 21st century.
    You cannot cram all of that under the term racism. I am Hispanic and have dealt with racism from Asians in the San Francisco Bay Area. What do you call that?
    In your effort to be concise you are redefining a word.

  6. Bigotry based on race is racism.

  7. […] My coordinator, who has a lot of formal and informal education and experience within the field of social justice, cited this article: https://changefromwithin.org/2013/08/20/thats-racist-against-white-people-a-discussion-on-power-and-p… […]

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