Some progressives have started to define racism as “prejudice plus power.” According to this understanding, only the race in power–that is, whites–can be guilty of racism. Members of oppressed races might be prejudiced, but that’s not so bad. Thus, black people cannot be racist.
We Americans do have some consensus, despite our polarization. Most Americans agree that “racism is bad.” This is why the charges of racism that we blogged about yesterday have their force. Progressives say that conservatives are racist, but conservatives deny that they are. Yes, we continue to have racial problems and we differ on their nature and what to do about them, but very few Americans embrace racism as something good. But complicating the efforts to resolve our racial problems is that Americans have different definitions of what racism is.
Some say that racism is prejudice against other human beings because of their race. Under that assumption, the goal of anti-racism is a “color-blind” society, one in which the color of a person’s skin simply does not matter. This was the view put forward in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, as in Martin Luther King‘s “dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
But some progressives have started to define racism as “prejudice plus power.” According to this understanding, only the race in power–that is, whites–can be guilty of racism. Members of oppressed races might be prejudiced, but that’s not so bad. Thus, black people cannot be racist.
Will Shetterly in an article on the subject, gives this account of how the term acquired this new meaning:
In 1970, Pat Bidol redefined racism when she wrote in Developing New Perspectives on Race that “racism = prejudice + power”. Judith H. Katz popularized the equation in White Awareness: Handbook for Anti-Racism Training. The theory is that everyone is prejudiced, but only white people can be racist because racism requires prejudice plus power, and people of color do not have power in a racist society.
This explains how the major progressive efforts to be “anti-racist” end up judging people by the color of their skin instead of by the content of their character.