Why I Can’t Be Racist: Understanding Oppression.

One phrase I can’t stand to see or hear is “that’s racist towards white people,” because it’s a complete misnomer. “What do you mean?” you ask. “Anyone can be a racist. Look at the definition.” I did. According to Dictionary.com:

racism: a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.

This would be racism in its simplest terms: the belief that one race is better than others, and this definition would suffice if we were still in the fifth grade. However, a key component is left out of this definition: power, and this distinction makes all the difference in the world. Literally.

From a sociological standpoint, racism goes beyond just a belief that a race is better. Racism implements and perpetuates systems to keep other races at a disadvantage. For racism to exist, there must be oppressors–a dominant group, which I discussed in yesterday’s post–and an oppressed group. One does not have to actively seek to oppress people to be an oppressor (a common argument). If you are acquiescent to and benefit from systems that oppress, you are, in effect, an oppressor. A black person cannot be racist in America currently–or anywhere, to be completely honest–because they have no power by which to oppress a white person. Or anybody, for that matter. They can hold prejudices. They can even be a bigot, but a black person can’t be a racist.

Similarly, you never hear of  women being sexist toward men, because it can’t happen. Men are the dominant group. Systems are in place to keep women at a disadvantage. You never hear of  LGBTQ people being “heterophobic” or “cisphobic.” It doesn’t exist. These words don’t even exist. Cisgender heterosexuals are the dominant group. LGBTQ people have no power to exercise over them. Power is the factor you must consider when discussing inequities, and if I don’t have the power to oppress you, I can’t be racist toward you.

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