Prejudice plus power

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"Prejudice plus power" is a (re)definition of "racism"[1][2] or "sexism"[3] or other bigotry. While a common definition of "racism" is something like "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race",[4][5] some reject this definition and require an additional condition of " someone in a position of power over them".[6] Obviously, the majority of sexism is still against women by men, and the majority of racism in the US is against minorities by whites,[7] but this definition makes the converse categorically impossible, rather than just less frequent and/or less harmful.

The term is primarily used by academics and social justice... enthusiasts.

The conventional definition of "racism" isn't inherently treated as a power imbalance, but as an ignorant and tribal expression of fear and hate. It is something anyone is theoretically capable of, and a level which any sufficiently frightened or angry human risks stooping to. In this view, the phenomenon of racism is seen as the collective problem of society and mankind, something that each and every human being has a responsibility to remain vigilant against. Power imbalance only factors into the extent of the consequences. The narrower definition of "prejudice plus power" posits that the addition of a power imbalance to prejudice leads to a qualitatively different phenomenon. In particular, the unambiguous term institutional racism, which requires neither fear nor hate but is a systemic consequence of old prejudices, fits more neatly into the 'prejudice plus power' paradigm.

It is important to note that, whether you agree or disagree with the definition, words can have many meanings at the same time. The use of racism to mean "prejudice plus power" by however many academics does not disqualify other definitions of the term any more than psychiatrists defining the term "Depression" as a specific disorder disqualifies using it to mean being extremely sad. "Prejudice plus power" as used by some academics is what is called a stipulative definition[wp], used primarily for academic research to simplify discussions and text, not to "replace" other definitions of the word in common usage. Thus, to evoke it as the "only correct definition" is ridiculous. This is an important point to make considering the many people using the definition to derail arguments and for the emotional stigma it has to silence dissent and to excuse whatever bigotry they themselves have.


[edit] Etymology

The word "racism" originated around 1936, "when a new word was required to describe the theories on which the Nazis based their persecution of the Jews".[8] Earlier, this was called "racialism", "race hatred", or "race prejudice".[9] The word "sexism" was coined in 1968 by Caroline Bird,[10][11] with the definition:

There is recognition abroad that we are in many ways a sexist country. Sexism is judging people by their sex when sex doesn’t matter.

Sexism is intended to rhyme with racism. Both have been used to keep the powers that be in power. Women are sexists as often as men.

Notably, both of the original definitions defy the prejudice plus power definition — that came later: The phrase "prejudice plus power" was created in 1970 by Pat Bidol[12] and popularized by Judith H. Katz in her 1978 book White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training:[13]

It is important to push for the understanding that racism is 'prejudice plus power' and therefore people of color cannot be racist against whites in the United States. People of color can be prejudiced against whites but clearly do not have the power as a group to enforce that prejudice.

[edit] Criticisms of the definition

Hating people because of their color is wrong, and it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong.
—Muhammad Ali

[edit] Disempowered whites and antiblack racism

David Pilgrim, curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, has this to say on the conflicting definitions of racism:[14]

Can blacks be racist? The answer, of course, will depend on how you define racism. If you define it as “prejudice against or hatred toward another race,” then the answer is yes. If you define racism as “the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” the answer is yes. And if you define racism as “prejudice and discrimination rooted in race-based loathing,” then the answer is, again, yes. However, if you define racism as “a system of group privilege by those who have a disproportionate share of society’s power, prestige, property, and privilege,” then the answer is no. In the end, it is my opinion that individual blacks can be and sometimes are racists. However, collectively, blacks are neither the primary creators nor beneficiaries of the racism that permeates society today.

Obviously this would apply to any racial group that happens to be disadvantaged in a given area. Some of the more obvious examples in the world would include Indians living in Uganda during the rule of Idi Amin, white people currently living under the rule of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, or the Ainu people of Japan.

Pilgrim goes on to describe how, as an adolescent attending a previously all-white junior high school in the seventies, he was pelted with stones by white passers-by. He points out that many of these bigoted whites were poverty-stricken and so lacked power: "To argue that one must have power in order to be racist is to suggest that the man in Prichard, Alabama who called me a 'red nigger' and threw a rock at me was not a racist. A different explanation is that his poverty and lack of power made him susceptible to anti-black racism." He goes on to relate how facing this prejudice caused him and his fellow black youth at the school to hate the poor whites in a similar capacity:

The quirky part of this story is that there were two groups of people, both desperately poor and treated as outcasts, who used their hatred of the Other as bonding mechanisms. I want it said loudly and clearly that we can define racism in many ways, but it is, in my opinion, intellectually disingenuous to define it in a way that trivializes the role that racial hatred plays. Certainly, not all racism is hate-driven, but to ignore the connection between racial hate and racism is to reduce the concept of racism to a useless theoretical abstraction.[14]

In The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse,[6] Carlos Hoyt, Jr. argues that the revised definition "charges white people with being de facto racists ... while providing an exemption to black people from being held accountable for racist beliefs". He advises that teachers use more specific, nuanced terms, such as "Race-based Oppression" or "Institutional Race-based Oppression":

To be prejudiced, one need only harbor preconceived opinions (positive or negative) not based on reason. To be a racist, one need only believe in race and in the inferiority or superiority of races. To oppress, one must have power over the target of one’s oppression.

He similarly recounts his youthful prejudices, considering them racism:

When I was a (black) teenager in the grips of false beliefs about the inferiority of white people (due in great part to the conviction that their presumed racist attitudes rendered them brutish, stupid, and dangerous), my belief constituted racism. And when I translated those beliefs into malicious actions (taunting, excluding, fighting), it was behavioral expression of racism. And when I was in a group of like-minded young racists, and we chose to take over the back of a public transportation bus and become openly hostile and threatening toward white riders—often to the point that they felt so unsafe that they disembarked before their desired destination had been reached, it was an exercise of power that adds up to race-based oppression.

[edit] Multiple forms of oppression

Other groups have suggested that instead of painting all oppression in terms of "prejudice plus power", both can be problems simultaneously. For example, the Institute of Race Relations writes:[15]

Racism [is] the belief or ideology that ‘races’ have distinctive characteristics which gives some superiority over others. Also refers to discriminatory and abusive behaviour based on such a belief or ideology. In the UK, denying people access to good and services on the basis of their colour, nationality, ethnicity, religion etc is illegal and called racial discrimination. Institutional racism (a term coined by US Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael) occurs when a whole organisation’s procedures and policies disadvantage BME people. State racism refers to the way that racism can be enshrined in laws (such as immigration legislation), in procedures (such as police stops and searches) and programmes (such as those on political extremism).

The IRR's definition suggests that racism can be a problem in all of four areas (individual people's beliefs, individual people's actions, organizational actions, and state actions) all at once. In turn, this suggests that prejudice can be a problem at all levels of power -- meaning that one need not be the most powerful, or even more powerful, to be and cause harmful prejudice.

[edit] As a divisive term

Almost everyone's on the same page when it comes to saying that prejudice is a bad thing, and that certain expressions of prejudice have more direct negative consequences than others. The problem with the prejudice-plus-power equation, however, is that it inherently shifts responsibility towards and from certain individuals as defined by very broad groupings (such as being "white" or "black"), based on simple variables. In this way, it is a divisive definition that breeds resentment between racial groups, rather than bringing them together to fight a common enemy. Fred Hampton writes:[16]

We've got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don't fight racism with racism. We're gonna fight racism with solidarity.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Definitions - "Racism is race prejudice plus power"
  2. TransGriot: Racism= Prejudice Plus Power
  3. Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog FAQ: What is “sexism”? - "an important, but often overlooked, part of the term is that sexism is prejudice plus power. Thus feminists reject the notion that women can be sexist towards men because women lack the institutional power that men have."
  4. Oxford Dictionaries definition of "racism" in English
  5. WordNet definition: (n) sexism (discriminatory or abusive behavior towards members of the opposite sex)
  6. 6.0 6.1 The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse - Carlos Hoyt Jr.
  7. FBI hate crime statistics 2012
  8. Fredrickson, G. M. (2002). Racism: A short history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  9. The Online Etymology Dictionary: racist
  10. Caroline Bird’s “On Being Born Female”, published on November 15, 1968 in Vital Speeches of the Day (p. 6).
  11. Feminism Friday: The origins of the word "sexism"
  12. Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level, Pat A. Bidol
  13. White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-racism Training By Judy H. Katz, 2003 edition, 1978 edition
  14. 14.0 14.1 Jim Crow Museum Question of the Month: Can Blacks Be Racist? March 2009
  16. Power Anywhere Where There's People
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