April 11, 2008

'Racism' does not require power

It would be helpful, if we're going to have a discussion about race and racism, particularly a 'Big Conversation', if some of those placed with leading the discussions actually understood the terminology and concepts.

Consider the following exchange:

Meanwhile, panelist and president of CURB, Lynne Winfield, was challenged by a white audience member on her views that black people cannot be racist because "racism comes with power".

She responded this way: "By definition blacks cannot be racist because as a group, even though there is a black political party in power now, as a group that do not have the power of the whites have over blacks."

Setting aside the rather confusing final sentence, either a poor transcription or a clumsy spoken response, the audience member was correct - Ms. Winfield is misusing the term racism.

Racism is not an action, but a belief system. Racial discrimination would involve power, racism in itself does not. It is quite simply a belief in a racial group's intrinsic superiority over another (or others).

The term racism seems to be being expanded lately, with it common in Europe to hear acts against Muslims for example described as racist. Religions span races.

By definition, power is not required to hold a belief.

There is a continuum that begins with prejudice and ends with discrimination, racism lies somewhere in between and is certainly not exclusive to one racial group.

Everyone prejudges things in their lives (not just racial), but not everyone translates that into racist beliefs and not all racists engage in active discrimination (or hold the power to do that).

The idea that a whole racial group cannot have members who are racist is a very destructive concept to float around as it excuses or encourages racist acts or statements by members of that group and actually promotes a lack of tolerance through a feeling of immunity. In fact, believing a racial group cannot itself be racist IS racist.

And, as a final note, racism is about individual acts as much as group actions - if not more so.

If Ms. Winfield doesn't believe that a 'black political party' (whatever that means) has power to engage in racial discrimination against whites for example, may I suggest she have a chat with Jim Butterfield - who through the exertion of Government power against him because of his race - had his business forcibly taken from him and ironically handed to a white ally of the 'black government' (or at least the Premier of that 'black Government'), a Government that immediately dropped the previously non-negotiable terms.

Constructive dismissal is probably the best characterisation of what occurred.

Posted by Christian S. Dunleavy