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Tim Wise just wrote a great diary on right wing racism. As usual, though, in the comments some folks started claiming that white folks could be the victims of "racism" too.  Even though I thought, from Tim's article, that the impossibility of that was clear, it's a point that's very hard to get across.

Coincidentally, an ex-student of mine wrote to me last night and asked me to remind her of my explanation of the impossibility of "Reverse Racism" -- she's in an M.A. program and found herself in a heated argument with some of her peers.  So I wrote it down for her and sent it off.  I thought, though, that it might be a useful document to post on DailyKos, so here it is...

Tim Wise just wrote a great diary on right wing racism. As usual, though, in the comments some folks started claiming that white folks could be the victims of "racism" too.  Even though I thought, from Tim's article, that the impossibility of that was clear, it's a point that's very hard to get across.

Coincidentally, an ex-student of mine wrote to me last night and asked me to remind her of my explanation of the impossibility of "Reverse Racism" -- she's in an M.A. program and found herself in a heated argument with some of her peers.  So I wrote it down for her and sent it off.  I thought, though, that it might be a useful document to post on DailyKos, so here it is...

In any discussion of racism and it's alleged "Reverse," it's crucial to start with the definitions of prejudice and discrimination, to lay the foundation for understanding racism in context.  There's a reason these three terms exist, and a very good reason not to conflate them, as I'll demonstrate below.

Prejudice is an irrational feeling of dislike for a person or group of persons, usually based on stereotype.  Virtually everyone feels some sort of prejudice, whether it's for an ethnic group, or for a religious group, or for a type of person like blondes or fat people or tall people.  The important thing is they just don't like them -- in short, prejudice is a feeling, a belief.  You can be prejudiced, but still be a fair person if you're careful not to act on your irrational dislike.

Discrimination takes place the moment a person acts on prejudice.  This describes those moments when one individual decides not to give another individual a job because of, say, their race or their religious orientation.  Or even because of their looks (there's a lot of hiring discrimination against "unattractive" women, for example).  You can discriminate, individually, against any person or group, if you're in a position of power over the person you want to discriminate against.  White people can discriminate against black people, and black people can discriminate against white people if, for example, one is the interviewer and the other is the person being interviewed.

Racism, however, describes patterns of discrimination that are institutionalized as "normal" throughout an entire culture. It's based on an ideological belief that one "race" is somehow better than another "race".  It's not one person discriminating at this point, but a whole population operating in a social structure that actually makes it difficult for a person not to discriminate.  

A clear cut example is a slave-holding culture:  people are born into a society where one sort of person is "naturally" a master, and another sort of person is "naturally" a slave (and sometimes not considered a person at all, but a beast of burden).  In a culture like that, discrimination is built into the social, economic and political fabric, and individuals -- even "free" individuals -- don't really have a choice about whether they discriminate or not because even if they don't believe in slavery, they interact every day with slaves and the laws and rules that keep slaves bound.  

In a racist society, it takes a special act of courage and willingness to subject oneself to scandal or danger to step outside that system and become an abolitionist. It's not the "fault" of every member of the master class that slavery exists, and some might wish it was gone.  But the fact is that every single member of the master class benefits from the unpaid labor of slaves at every level of society because they simply can't avoid consuming the products that slavery produces, or benefiting from the exploitation of slave labor.  So unless members of the master class rise up and oppose the system and try to overthrow it (abolitionists, for example), they're going to be complicit in the slave system: even abolitionists will profit -- against their will -- in the slave system because they still have to wear clothes or use other things the system produced.

The above is an extreme, clear example, which I use to make it easier to see the fuzzier, more complex situations in which we operate today.  Despite the fact that slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation, and that the 14th Amendment gave African Americans voting rights, the institutional structures of racism were not overturned.  Even after the 14th was passed, white people still had the power to prevent black people from voting by instituting the poll tax, the grandfather clause, and the "understanding" clause which required blacks to recite any segment of the Constitution the registrar wanted them to recite.  In the Sixties, the Civil Rights Voting Acts were passed, which knocked down those obstacles to voting. But black Americans still do not have political power in proportion to their presence in the population (even though there's a black President).

If you look at important voting bodies like the Federal and the State senates and congresses, or at the Federal and State supreme courts, or at the CEO list of major corporations, or at any other body that wields substantial power in the U.S., you will count only a few black faces (and in some cases, none).  Out of the number of black faces you count, most of them will not be representing the views of the majority of black people in this country, but the views of the white majority.  On the other hand, if you count the number of black people in poverty, and in prisons, or the number of people who are unemployed or lack health care, there are far more black people in these categories than is proportionate to their numbers in the larger society.

Unless you are going to argue that blacks are "naturally" inferior to whites (which is an outright racist position), you have to admit that there is some mechanism that is limiting black opportunity. That's the mechanism we call "racism" -- the interacting social, political, and economic rule systems that all discriminate, either overtly (racial profiling, for example) or covertly (i.e., white majority governments redrawing district voting lines so that black majority areas are politically split up and don't have the electoral power to vote in black candidates; or, white-run banks using zip codes as a criteria for excluding people who apply for loans, and just "happening" to exclude all the majority black neighborhoods in a city, a practice called "red-lining").  One could go on for hours about these various mechanisms, and I'm sure you can think of plenty on your own which discriminate against blacks, Hispanics, "Arab-looking" people, Native Americans, & so on.

Now to "Reverse Racism."  It's crucial to maintain the distinction between the above three terms, because otherwise white people tend to redefine "Discrimination" as "Racism".  Their main argument is that because both blacks and white can discriminate against each other, that "Reverse Racism" is possible.  But the truth of the matter is that black people: 1) have far less opportunity to discriminate against whites than whites have to discriminate against blacks, overall; and 2) black people lack a system of institutionalized support that protect them when they discriminate against whites.  

It took black and white people working together for one hundred years to get programs like Affirmative Action installed in the U.S., but it took one white man (Alan Bakke) only a single Supreme Court case to get those programs dismantled because he felt he didn't gain entry into medical school based on his white race.  

"Reverse Racism" would only describe a society in which all the rules and roles were turned upside down. That has not happened in the U.S., however much white right wing ideologues want to complain that they're being victimized by the few points of equality that minorities and women have managed to claim.  White people who complain about "Reverse Racism" are actually complaining about being denied their privileges, rather than being denied their rights.  They feel entitled to be hired and not to be discriminated against, even though the norm is white people discriminating against blacks. If, in a rare instance, a black employer discriminates against a white job applicant, that's not "reverse" anything -- it's simple discrimination.  It's to be condemned on principle, but it's not evidence of some systematic program by which whites are being deprived of their rights.  

The right wing popularized the term "Reverse Racism" because they were really angry at having their white privileges challenged. Anyone who uses that phrase, whether they are right wing or not, furthers the right wing's cause.  This is what I tell Democrats and progressives who I hear using the term -- not only are they being inaccurate, but they're helping out their opponents.

The above arguments can be applied to any institutionalized structure of oppression, affecting any race, ethnic or religious group, and can be used to to oppose claims of "Reverse Sexism" too.

I hope that clarifies things a bit.

Originally posted to Hepshiba's Pad on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 01:53 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos Classics.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I believe... (6+ / 0-)

    the best remedy for racism is to judge all people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin...and that includes for economic and educational opportunities...

    We should have affirmative action that is color blind based on the circumstances of the individual and the immediate family (socio-economic conditions) which helps all currently oppressed underclasses of people regardless of color...

    Then and only then can we get away from racism and reverse racism...and get back all the votes of the lower and middle class.../peace

    Obama - Change I still believe in

    by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:01:02 PM PDT

    •  And how do we do that (9+ / 0-)

      within the structure of a racist society?

      •  Very simply... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Psyche, Hey BB, pragprogress, stunvegas

        if for example we took college admissions and used the same criteria we use today for affirmative action but instead said in a color blind way:

        Any institution of higher learning that receives federal money must accept a minimum of xx% of persons with the following characteristics:

        1. Family income is no greater than 4x FPL
        1. Nobody in their immediate family or grandparents have ever graduated college
        1. Graduated from a HS that receives at least 40% free or subsidized lunches
        1. Lives in a zip code that has a median income of no more than 80% of the state average
        1. The contents of an essay in the theme, "How I overcame adversity in my life".

        By this definition, (and others if needed) the same minority neighborhoods and majority white neighborhoods in poor regions of the country would all have affirmative action opportunities to attend an institution of higher learning without considering the color of one's skin as a factor.

        It would then make socieoeconomic conditions the driver and not skin color.

        Obama - Change I still believe in

        by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:23:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Nice ideal, but (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          allep10, foufou, coquiero, Aji

          it ignores the fact that African American communities have had special disdvantages that even the poorest of white communities haven't. Put more simply, I can grow up in a devastated community in Upper New York State (with no shoes), move to Manhattan and be "white" with all the privileges that affords. Including, but not limited to, the privilege of not being followed around in FAO Schwartz. A black man, no matter where he grows up and under what circumstances, can't do that.

        •  A recent immigrant of any color... (0+ / 0-)

          might write about how she had nobody in her house who spoke english and learned it herself at night

          Obama - Change I still believe in

          by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:40:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  It's a great idea, but it wouldn't change... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Psyche, allep10, foufou

          the systematic discrimination experienced by black students, faculty and staff.  It wouldn't shift the power in departments to minorities or women. And it wouldn't remove the bias of the people who read the essays.

          I'm all for for color-blind affirmative action programs (in large measure because they assist many people who would otherwise be discriminated against), but class-based programs aren't going to solve the problem of racism.

          •  Actually I would disagree... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Psyche, SetaSan

            it would go a long way to solving the problem of racism by proving to the racists that we are indeed a color-blind society dedicated to giving a hand up to all who need it regardless of the color of their skin based on actual socioeconomic circumstances...and face it many of the same people who get affirmative action today based on the color of their skin would get that same treatment under a color-blind system...

            Much of the racism by poor and middle class white people is driven by what they see as an unfair advantage to a person based on the color of their skin where the actual adversities faced are no more severe than theirs...

            But the children of the Obama's would get no special treatment over the children of the GWB's and they shouldn't...

            Obama - Change I still believe in

            by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:54:59 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You're assuming that racists (0+ / 0-)

              are people you can "prove" things to.  Racism is a very powerful ideology, and its adherents tend to see what they want to see. Letting black kids into public schools didn't fix the public schools.  Letting a large number of black students into college won't fix the colleges either.  Like capitalism, racism is extremely flexible and adaptive.

              •  Partially agree... (0+ / 0-)

                letting large number of black students into colleges will not fix colleges (definitey agree) and we already let a lot of black children into colleges...

                In fact I am arguing that we should level the playing field for all disadvantaged children and get as many of them into colleges as possible...

                It is a powerful message to send to people that we treat all disadvantaged individuals the same regardless of the color of their skin...will it change the ardent racist but the ones on the fence will be affected...

                Obama - Change I still believe in

                by dvogel001 on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 05:33:13 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

            •  People who can't write coherent essays (0+ / 0-)

              usually need help, too.

              "Too big to fail" is not too big to jail.

              by Angela Quattrano on Tue Jul 20, 2010 at 09:26:11 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  In fact the essays would work both ways... (0+ / 0-)

            those schools who wanted to attract more minority students would pick adversity of that type (without explicitly knowing the color of the student's skin) and others would choose those with other adversities and still other schools would allocate the xx% across a wide variety of adversities...and all would be helped and not discriminated against...

            Obama - Change I still believe in

            by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:57:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  You are exactly right (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I've been on committees where we established admissions criteria that were built along those lines, and at the end of the day, we ended up with roughly the same kind of diversity that we would've had with simple race-based criteria. It just takes the admissions committee a bit longer to go through the applicants. Kind of like SAT/GPA vs. essays and interviews.

      •  Not sure short term, but I don't think it (0+ / 0-)

        involves NAFTA, CAFTA, and world trade regulatory structures as we know them now. No hope of equality without the widespread ability to earn a living wage.

        I also think it must necessarily also involve a Constitutional amendment prohibiting corporations, NGOs, unions, churches, etc., from contributing to federal political campaigns.

        My guess is the only way we can hope to accomplish these ends is from the grassroots (I rather doubt Congress will suddenly begin listening to us have-nots), and that includes the don't-tread-on-me feathers of the right wing, who are our natural allies in these fights (no matter how discouraging that thought might be).

        Insanely rich people are handy to have around when it's time to build nation- or world-scale technologies, but they have caused far more devastation throughout history than have nuclear weapons. It's my belief that substantive progress in social justice will require reimposing limits on them. (So sorry, rich people, all us "small people" out here provide one of the world's most stable platforms for commerce, invention, and profit, and you are not sharing the profits and benefits with us as you should.)

        •  What comment are you answering... (0+ / 0-)

          I am really confused....???

          Obama - Change I still believe in

          by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 03:24:50 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Affirmative action is ultimately only as good (0+ / 0-)

            as the jobs you can get, unless you simply want to argue that better educated un-/under-employed parents raise better educated un-/under-employed children (one of the arguments, when I was young, for sending girls to college -- because even if all we did was get our Mrs. degree and stay home with the kids, we'd be better mothers what all with that nice bachelor's degree).

            Frankly, I don't think we should be aiming for equal access to burger-flipping, lawn-mowing, and highway-flagging jobs. We have to set our sights higher and broader, and it is not going to be easy.

            Sorry I wasn't more explicit in my 1st comment.

            •  On average... (0+ / 0-)

              college educated people earn double what their counterparts earn over their lifetime...sure there are exceptions to the averages, but in general a college education is a great equalizer of opportunity...


              Obama - Change I still believe in

              by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 03:39:06 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  Better educated people (0+ / 0-)

              make better citizens. At least this is what the Founders thought, and why public school systems were created.  A high school education is great for teaching you specific things and some very basic concepts -- the building blocks upon which more sophisticated and complex thought is built.  There are indeed organic intellectuals who can achieve this level of critique without even finishing a high school education, but most of us need more school. (And college is even more necessary now that most high schools only educate kids up to what used to be a 9th grade level, standards have dropped so far.) Republicans understand the importance of education, and that is the reason that they have gutted the public school systems and made it so expensive for kids to go to college, at the same time that they work so hard to undermine the authority of American intellectuals (except for their right wing pseudo-intellectual hacks).

              It's important for liberals and progressive to separate the value of an education for citizens from the question of whether it gets you a job or not.  It's conservatives who tied a college education to "the workforce" and we shouldn't fall for it.

        •  I think what you're describing as a goal here (0+ / 0-)

          is simple justice. And I agree -- we can't eradicate racism without powerfully shifting the social, economic,and political structure. Successful progressive grass roots organizing certainly needs to be at heart of such an effort.

    •  To some extent this is true (0+ / 0-)

      It certainly would help the classism problem. But a problem with this particular approach is that such programs are perpetually extremely underfunded, and services are always rationed to a lucky few. This would require free (or at least affordably cheap) higher education to all who can qualify, and we know that will never happen.

      "Too big to fail" is not too big to jail.

      by Angela Quattrano on Tue Jul 20, 2010 at 09:24:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Nice! (8+ / 0-)

    Thank you, that's a very helpful diary I'll be bookmarking.  

    It's important that the terms be understood clearly, as you said.  Otherwise arguing about the subject is an exercise in futility.  

    :: Not so hopeful now ::

    by Rick Aucoin on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:01:27 PM PDT

    •  PS (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      william shipley

      The problem with the debate is, as I said above, definitions.  You'd do your diary great justice by giving some cites.  I can't quote you as an authoritative voice in and of yourself.  :)

      Miriam Webster:
      Main Entry: rac·ism
      Pronunciation: \ˈrā-ˌsi-zəm also -ˌshi-\
      Function: noun
      Date: 1933

      1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

      Not quite what this diary says "racism" is, unfortunately.  And so the argument goes round and round.

      :: Not so hopeful now ::

      by Rick Aucoin on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 03:35:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You seriously need me (0+ / 0-)

        to help you sort this out? Even Wikipedia confirms that what I use is the standard sociological definition of racism. Most of the social sciences embrace it as well -- including almost all liberal and progressive scholars in the social sciences.

        This dictionary chasing thing is a distraction.  You wouldn't do it if a physicist was using the word "quantum" in a way you didn't understand.  You'd assume a physicist's definition of "quantum" was probably better than a random pop dictionary's definition. You actually can take me as an authoritative voice -- plenty of folks can and do, from colleagues to over a generation of students. But if you want to reassure yourself that I'm not making all this up out of whole cloth, start with Omi & Winant, and the scholars Wikipedia mentions.  I'm sure you can branch out from there if you're really interested.

        •  Well. (0+ / 0-)

          If you define 'racism' in a way that is different from the way Miriam Webster defines 'racism' and that definition is the core of your entire statement, yes, some cites and references to help validate your thesis would be sort of handy.  

          And since you yourself stated:

's crucial to start with the definitions of prejudice and discrimination, to lay the foundation for understanding racism in context.  There's a reason these three terms exist, and a very good reason not to conflate them, as I'll demonstrate below.

          I must admit I'm surprised to see "dictionary chasing thing is a distraction" as your reply to a request for some cites and sources to back up your definitions.  But you reply that you yourself are the voice of authority on the definitions of these words?  



          That sort of arrogance is why so many hold the halls of academia in contempt.

          :: Not so hopeful now ::

          by Rick Aucoin on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 03:56:58 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I gave you scholars (0+ / 0-)

            and a reference.  You can't flip to a Wikipedia page and do your own reading?  Why should I "back up" a generally accepted definition, widely used in the social sciences?

            As for "arrogance," the criteria for judging scholars is specifically their ability to do original work. (You can't hand in a dissertation and get a Ph.D. if you haven't done original work.)  Work, in short, for which there is no citation except the scholar's authority.  We use citations to back up our arguments with evidence, but our arguments themselves are designed to produce new thought and new ideas, and other scholars will cite them.  So, yes, I'm a voice of authority. That's what my degree says, and that's what my publishing record says, and that's what the citation index says, and that's what the academic system that certifies scholars says. I earned the ability to be called an authority. People who label that "arrogance" tend to have a chip on their shoulders, and a generally anti-intellectual attitude, holding "the halls of academia in contempt."

            I make no apology for the fact that I believe in expertise acquired through decades of study and rigorous thought.

            •  Your expertise... (0+ / 0-)

              ... doesn't give you the right to establish definitions of commonly used words that fly in the face of the common usage of those words... in order to found your thesis!

              My god, look, if your academic standards won't meet the critical expectations of a friggin' HIGH SCHOOL DROPOUT like myself, maybe you should consider another line of work.  

              Done with this conversation, gah.

              :: Not so hopeful now ::

              by Rick Aucoin on Sat Jul 17, 2010 at 06:51:45 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  You can stipulate those definitions (14+ / 0-)
    all you want, but definitions arise out of the culture in which they're used.  You no more control the definition of "racism" than I control the wind.
    •  But the wind is an objective thing (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burrow owl, susanw, A Voice

      Just like the word "racism" describes multiple objective things.  One of those things is an individual's feelings and belief's, another is the net collective effect of those feelings and beliefs in society and its institutions.

      I think it's a valid point to say that there's no such thing as reverse-racism, but there is reverse-prejudice.  That sentence describes an objective truth, no matter what words you use to define it.

      Snarka Snarka Snarka!

      by Hunter Huxley on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:05:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  yup (6+ / 0-)

      saying "reverse racism" doesn't exist only makes sense using one definition of racism....when people actually use the word in a variety of ways -- just like they use pretty much every word in the language

      PLEASE donate to a global children's PEACE project: Chalk 4 Peace

      by RumsfeldResign on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:07:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So there's no point (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        GN1927, susanw

        in defining anything?

        •  In stipulatively defining things (4+ / 0-)

          in a way tangential to their historical usage?

          You'll have to provide the point yourself.

          The question is not whether the chickens needed replacing, the question is whether the fox should have been guarding them in the first place.

          by happymisanthropy on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:12:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's far from tangential. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dsb, susanw

            Racism is an ideology (hence the "ism"). A racist is a believer in the ideology. A racist society is one that embodies the ideal of one race being superior to another (or all others).  That's, by definition, institutional.  That's why "institutional racism" is redundant.

            •  Thanks, that comment made it click for me. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I too have been confused by definitions.

              Still, I think most white Americans have the same confusion -- justifiably since the words "racism" and "racist" have often been used in different ways -- and I don't see the prospect of much useful discourse outside of a relatively small group of white people, as long as the words mean different things to different people. Maybe we need a new vocabulary. That's what Tim Wise's diary yesterday made me think anyway.

              •  Tim's diary this morning that is. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
              •  We don't need a "new" vocabulary (0+ / 0-)

                we just need to use the old words more precisely.  The three words -- prejudice, discrimination & racism -- do pretty well for us.  Mushing definitions and obscuring meaning is a favorite trick of right wingers. Maintaining solid definitions is the act of a rationalist, and a necessary precursor for, say, science, which demands agreed upon standards of measurement.  "Racism" is a powerful and important word (otherwise so many groups wouldn't be wrestling to define it), and we shouldn't cede it to the opposition, or allow it grow meaningless through the unwarranted expansion of its definitions.

                •  I see what you mean but (0+ / 0-)

                  the right wing didn't originate different definitions of the word "racism." You wrote yourself of its use to describe the ideology underpinning the Nazi persecution of Jews. Now you want to freeze the definition, but language doesn't work that way.

        •  Definition is a descriptive endeavor: (6+ / 0-)

          "how do people use the word?"  One can't just come down from on high with the "correct" definition.  Or, rather, one can, but should expect to be roundly ignored as people continue to use the term in line w/ common practice.

          •  Struggles over the meaning of words (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            mark many important historical moments.  Consider, for example, the Republican attempts (sadly, often successful) to redefine words like "Freedom" and "Patriot," etc.  If you don't understand that the struggle over the meaning of "Racism" is itself an ideological contest, then you're missing something important.

            Words are defined and redefined over time. Kwame Appiah points out:

            ...the word ''racism,'' in something like its modern sense, appears only in the 1930's, ''when a new word was required to describe the theories on which the Nazis based their persecution of the Jews.''

            So the focus has already shifted from Jews to African Americans.  It's a modern word, which means that its original definition is clear (and clearly both ideological and institutional), and that its redefinitions are not hard to trace.  It's also hard to argue that a word that really only came into common parlance in the last 50 years (post WWII) has some sort of time-honored "common" meaning.

            Far from being roundly ignored, discussions of the definition of racism are ongoing and vociferous.  The question is:  who do you want to win the definition war? The right wing (which is doing pretty well so far), or the people who actually study and understand racism?

            •  When I say "a dog is a four legged animal (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              that barks," it's a real stretch to say that's ideological.  OTOH, when someone says, "a dog is a tortured animal torn from its natural environment to become a slave of people," that redefinition is ideological.

              •  You're simply wrong (0+ / 0-)

                that defining "dog" as a "four-legged animal that barks" is somehow an act outside of ideology.  Semioticians, whose major discovery is that the sign (in this case "dog") is related to the meaning (in this case "four-legged animal that barks) in an arbitrary fashion, would all point out that your decision to use "dog" (or "chien" or "Hunde", etc.) is determined by the rules of your language the breadth of your experience, and your perspective.  For example, if you'd only seen one dog, "dog" might do as a descriptor.  But if you've seen 10000 dogs of many different breeds, all would be important and each breed would have a name. You might choose "dog" for its onomatopoeic qualities, but few words actually arise from that root.  More probably, you'd choose "dog" because it was related to some concept or object you already had a word for and, in that sense, you impose your existing ideological frame upon words choice.

                But "dog" or "chair" are not good words to pick because their definitions are rarely contested outside of dog breeding circles or antique collectors.  (For example, there's a huge argument in dog breeding circles about whether or not the term "dog" includes wolf hybrids or not, and that battle is mainly political and ideological.)

                "Racism" is what semioticians would call a "traumatic floating signifier."  It's a word like "Freedom" or "Holocaust."  Because it represents a cultural fracture, different groups with different ideological perspectives, are all going to be busily going about trying to claim the word for their particular definition.  The winner will be the group that can muster the most resources to enforce their definition in the most totalizing manner.  At this point, the right wing has certainly demonstrated its understanding of how to win "the definition war", to the constantly voiced chagrin of many progressives. Republican ideology is made more powerful, the more important traumatic floating signifiers it can reduce to non-traumatic, "simple" words like "dog" -- i.e., words whose meanings we no longer question.

                So arguing over definitions of important words is, at heart, an ideological battle, and one progressives would do well to learn to win.  Progressives, in fact, did once own the term "Racism" (which then meant what I say it should still mean) and we lost it in the 1980s during the Culture Wars.  We need to get it (and dozens of other words, including "Freedom" and "Patriot") back.

        •  Saith the Red Queen (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Rick Aucoin, Mother Shipper

          "Words mean what I say they mean."

          "Clark, we need Superman's help in the Gulf." "Right on it Mr. President, soon as I can find a phone booth."

          by ben masel on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:48:56 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  these are the academic definitions, (0+ / 0-)

      the definitions used by people who study such things and teach them to further generations.  

      Toyota: Proof US Union Labor Still Does it Better

      by VelvetElvis on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 03:57:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What do you call it when, in an African (4+ / 0-)

    nation (Ghana specifically) a white kid who was born there (of foreign parents) is denied citizenship when a black kid born under similar circumstances is not?

    •  That happens to me all the time! (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      burrow owl, Roadbed Guy
      •  Really? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dvogel001, Sychotic1

        Actually I've only heard of this happening once ever, from a former colleague who lived there for several years on some type of "Peace Corp" type (it wasn't actually the Peace Corps itself) mission.

        After coming back to the USA he spent an entire lunch telling me of his (ultimately unsuccessful) efforts to get Ghanian citizenship for his daughter.  I was mostly interested in why he possibly cared whether she had it or not  . . ..  but it seemed to be the principle involved (since one of his African American coworkers *was* able to get citizenship for *his* child . . .. )

    •  That's racism (6+ / 0-)

      racism (as defined by this diarist and mentioned as one of the types of racism by wise) is majority culture imposing apon minority ones - How would you compare the racism practiced by the japanese against the koreans and vice versa? In Korea and in Japan?

      •  So that's just regular racism, not (0+ / 0-)

        reverse racism?

        Suppose that could be so . . .

        •  No, I think that could be called reverse racism (0+ / 0-)

          And if the African Americans in this country ever rose up, seized power, and stripped all white landowners of their property, then yes, you would win the argument.  

          But so far, nothing like that has happened.

          Snarka Snarka Snarka!

          by Hunter Huxley on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:16:55 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Even that wouldn't be "reverse racism." (0+ / 0-)

            It would be revolution. And if the new African American rulers set up a system in which anti-white racism was institutionalized, that would be "racism" pure and simple, rather than "reverse racism."  "Racism" is only nominally about race, in the way that "Sexism" is only nominally about sex.  Both describe strategies used by powerful groups to abridge the rights of less powerful groups based on their allegedly "natural" characteristics (i.e., skin color or sex organs). The reason the two have evolved as separate and important terms is that both race-based and sex-based exclusion practices span much of human civilization, in almost all eras about which we have knowledge.

      •  How do we define "the culture?" (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Hunter Huxley, theatre goon

        What about a predominantly black neighborhood; isn't there a certain amount of power that can be wielded against others in that neighborhood? (be it social norms or whatever)

        You want to say that there's this objective, cleanly delineated space called culture, but that's simply not the case.  Power is always fluid and there are islands of difference w/in larger entities.

        •  That's mob mentality (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          burrow owl

          I wouldn't ascribe any political power to that, it's a momentary thing.

          I was thinking of the example of a white person who hits a black kid with his car in a black neighborhood.  If a mob rose up and beat the guy brutally, that would kind of be a reverse racism.  But that's transient, that power exists only in the moment.

          That's not the same as having a racist police force, racist justice system, racist schools, racist businesses, and a history of white supremacy.

          Snarka Snarka Snarka!

          by Hunter Huxley on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:19:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  How about if you have an institution (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            burrow owl

            that's predominantly black? For the sake of argument, say BET actively discriminated against white applicants. I lean toward thinking that it still wouldn't be racism (discimination, yes) since BET is still existing within the constraints of the larger entertainment world which is white controlled.

            What do you think?

          •  It's not like there aren't (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            burrow owl

            neighorhood, cities, counties and nations where blacks hold the balance of power politically.

            •  Again, I'd point to the problems of inner-cities (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              lightshine, Aji

              where blacks are only ceded territory after it's been stripped of resources and its power diminished to the point it no longer threatens whites.  I'm speaking of the U.S. of course.  The issues surrounding African nations are complicated by a heritage of colonialism as well as racism and are far too complex to deal with in these comments. There are excellent post-colonialists writers who address this, however, from Aime Cesaire to Asad Ismi...

              •  But the point is that you can be a white person (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                burrow owl, dvogel001, Sychotic1

                living in a polity where blacks are in power politically, and you can be racially discriminated against, systematically and institutionally.

                I have a good friend who is white in Oakland, and his former landlord blatantly and systematically discriminates against all non-Ethiopians. He rents only to Ethiopians, he gave space to an Ethiopian cultural center on the ground floor, and he did everything in his power to get all non-Ethiopians out of the building, even illegal things.

                My friend appealed to all of the relevant city agencies, and Oakland does have a black power structure that more or less runs the city. There was no interest in following up on his case.

                I'm reasonable sure that there if there had been a white landlord blatantly and systematically discriminating against blacks, there would have been a different response.

              •  What about the minority... (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                burrow owl

                of poor non-black children who go to the same schools, live in the same neighborhoods as their black counterparts in cities like Patterson, NJ...they should receive affirmative action as well...

                Obama - Change I still believe in

                by dvogel001 on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:43:50 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  If the quality of the schools (0+ / 0-)

                  in black neighborhoods was raised, the education of all children (including white children) would be improved.  The individuals who go to these schools can't possibly all receive "affirmative action." That's an individual corrective to what is essentially a race and class problem.  

                  You've brought up a perfect example of a situation in which racism has a negative impact on lower-class white children.  Remove the racist under-funding of majority black public schools and you also remove the boot from the neck of the poor white kids.

                  •  Don't disagree with the problem... (0+ / 0-)

                    and that schools should be funded in poor neighborhoods the same as in wealthy neighborhoods...

                    But still disagree that it is a racial issue...all disadvantaged children should get affirmative action regardless of the color of thier skin...

                    Obama - Change I still believe in

                    by dvogel001 on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 05:28:54 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  Also disagree... (0+ / 0-)

                    that the underfunding is racist in nature...there are plenty of white children in poverty who do not get adequate funding for education...

                    Obama - Change I still believe in

                    by dvogel001 on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 05:29:42 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  There are a lot of studies (0+ / 0-)

                      that show African American districts are the poorest even in areas where there are poor white communities. Here are some recent statistics that show that underfunding is indeed racist in nature.

                      •  So what... (0+ / 0-)

                        poor...poorest...we should not discriminate...lets treat all the poor and poorest based on their needs not their color of their skin...

                        Clearly the studies, if accurate would end up with more focus on predominantly AA communities...but that should not be the goal...

                        Obama - Change I still believe in

                        by dvogel001 on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 06:09:22 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

                      •  Let me ask you a question... (0+ / 0-)

                        what did the equivalent white person do wrong in being as poor as a poor person of color other than being born of 2 white parents?

                        I see absolutely no reason to treat them differently...poor is poor...

                        Obama - Change I still believe in

                        by dvogel001 on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 06:10:54 AM PDT

                        [ Parent ]

          •  That's an interesting example... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Hunter Huxley

            and I'll have to think about it.  It brings to mind Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ), which are spontaneously organized social spaces that lie outside the boundaries of mainstream society.  They coalesce and then they disperse.  In that sense, it's hard to argue for institutions existing within them, but something interesting is certainly happening.

            What you describe is an act of rage, certainly -- a riot, a mob.  And it's definitely racially motivated.  But it's not really comparable to whites calling up a posse in Georgia in the 1920s and lynching black people because, as you mention, the larger social structure won't support black people who do that.  Like Nat Turner, they'll hang.

            •  Speaking of Nat Turner, (0+ / 0-)

              If you've never read the forbidden history of the Black Seminoles, do yourself a favor and set aside a couple hours to visit this web site:


              It tells the amazing history of black seminoles in Florida, how they were attacked twice by Andrew Jackson, how they conspired with Florida slaves in the largest and most successful slave revolt in American history - over a dozen large sugar plantations were completely overthrown in a couple days - and how they defeated the American army and won their emancipation, setting the precedent that Lincoln would later use in 1863.

              Plus, unlike Nat Turner, there is no record of any slave involved in the revolt ever being so much as disciplined.  

              Snarka Snarka Snarka!

              by Hunter Huxley on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 03:20:46 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm familiar with Black Seminole history (0+ / 0-)

                and while I appreciate J.B. Bird's work, I disagree with some of his conclusions.  I think that he redefines "maroon" to serve his own ideological ends -- maroon cultures didn't get to be "maroon" without a relatively constant influx of escaped or freed slaves. In that sense Black Seminole culture is not exceptional. Also, I do understand his desire to reclaim Black Seminole history, and I fully accept that their resistance was long and, for a time, largely successful. But, as he himself points out, many black ex-slaves returned to the plantations because they found slavery preferable to life with the Seminoles, who often treated them badly. There was a component that went West with the Seminoles, but that is hardly to be considered a victory given the treatment of Native Americans by the Americans.

                Also, you're wrong on the lack of punishment. The site itself states that in the 1835-38 black & maroon rebellion: "500 emigrated west with Indians, 90 or more caught & re-enslaved, hundreds more surrendered to slavery, casualties unknown." Personally, I consider re-enslavement a severe punishment, and I would wager, based on my knowledge of the Florida plantation system at that period in time, that many of these were brutally punished, and possibly even killed.  The site doesn't track what happened to these blacks after they were reinslaved.

                •  I would love to talk more about this. (0+ / 0-)

                  My only exposure to this event was that web site, but I think I have to quibble with some of your points.

                  First of all, I think you're imposing racial lines that didn't exist in the same way in Seminole culture.  The impression I got was that Seminoles were all runaways, they were groups of Native American tribes, runaway slaves, and African Floridians.  I think the inter-personal lines in those groups were more important than the racial lines, so you might have black seminoles and native american seminoles using runaway slaves as pawns in their war, but not allowing them to be part of the battle.

                  I also think you don't give enough credit to what they accomplished.  For one, I'm sure slaves make lousy soldiers.  These black seminoles were warriors - after they headed west, they eventually ended up in Mexico working as hired guns.  They had fighting and survival skills that plantations slaves didn't.  So I don't think it's as simple as saying the runaway slaves "found slavery preferable to life with the seminoles."  They were living in the Everglades with no access to food.  Maybe it was just the harsh realities of war.

                  I also wanted to ask what you thought of Osceola.  Personally, I think he was black.  He's always hanging out with black tribes, and all history says is that his father was English and his mother was seminole.  But his tribes were always black, and his wives were black.  Maybe history conveniently forgot that Osceola was also black.  Some of the stories, like the 50 "slaves" of his that the U.S. army under Jessup captured, I wonder what their relationship was?  

                  You know, a lot of relationships, even among free men, were much more master-servant and class stratified back then.  

                  At the same time, a lot of sailors had very advanced ideas about racial harmony and equality.  Like those two guys, Arbuthnot and Abernathy who Andrew Jackson executed.  I wonder if they were like Osceola's dad, sailors with a Seminole girlfriend they were trying to protect.

                  Anyway, sorry to talk your eyes off.

                  Snarka Snarka Snarka!

                  by Hunter Huxley on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 08:09:18 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I'm not an expert (0+ / 0-)

                    in this area, though I've got a lot of training in the history of slavery in North America. When I was studying the subject, Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom was the book to read for a theory of "maroons" and I think it still holds up quite well, even though it left a lot of room for expanded research. All you need to do is go to Google scholar and type in "seminole maroon rebellion" and you'll get 500 hits, so there's clearly a field of study there.  I do know Bird's work, generally, and he's a careful researcher, if not a professional historian, so I've no reason to doubt his material. But he's on a self-avowed mission to recover Seminoles as American heroes (not an unworthy goal), and that does shape his interpretations.  I'm less interested in looking for heroes (hence my lack of focus on "accomplishments") and more interested at looking at the structures within which resistance takes place.  That's a disciplinary bias, as well as a personal preference, and of course that shapes my interpretations. In history (and particularly in complex histories) no single disciplinary view will provide "the answer" -- we need a variety of them to create a densely layered understanding.

                    At any rate, if you pursue your research in this area, I'll be interested to hear what you find.

        •  Predominantly black neighborhoods (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Hunter Huxley

          don't exist outside racist America, as we can see from the slate of problems facing black mayors in the inner-cities.  They may protect those blacks who dwell in them from some of the less pleasant aspects of dealing with white in a racist society, but the society still exists and exerts pressure (as the black neighborhoods of Detroit experienced, for example, when the city broke them up by claiming eminent domain and running freeways through).  One of the huge problems with fighting racism is that, in America, there is no outside, no more than there was for abolitionists and slaves in slavery days.

          •  I'm a little confused by this post. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            burrow owl, Psyche

            Could you expand on this a bit? What do you mean that predominately black neighborhoods don't exist outside the racist US? Are you leaving aside the existence of predominately Jewish, Italian, Irish, etc., neighborhoods as outside this discussion?

            •  I'm not sure (0+ / 0-)

              what Jewish Italian, Irish, etc. neighborhoods have to do with this discussion.  In the U.S., all of those groups have been assimilated into the category of "white" (though this was not always the case historically).  Can you rephrase your question?  I'd like to answer but I'm not sure what you mean.

      •  The definition of racism is NOT (3+ / 0-)

        "majority culture imposing upon minority ones." It's not the imposition of one culture upon another that makes it racism, but the specific ideology of racial superiority that justifies and codifies the imposition.

        •  That was presumed (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          burrow owl

          since we were talking about racism. The majority culture thinks it's better than the minority for whatever chosen reason. Wise listed several that could 'justify' the racism.

          •  so are we saying (0+ / 0-)

            that the american melting pot is the source of racism? is the only way not to be a racist society is to be a multicultural society? I don't buy that for one minute. Culture has nothing to do with racism. Race is inheriently a discussion of the superiority of one's own genome to anothers, usually based on the color of one's skin. The american melting pot allows for all peoples of any color to integrate into society but don't have their traditions totally destroyed. The more pronounced a certain group is in the pot the more of it's features show up. Tex-Mex food is one great example of the melting pot in action.

            Entry Level .NET programmer looking for work

            by SetaSan on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 04:34:31 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I disagree (0+ / 0-)

              with your characterization of perceived genetic superiority being the sole basis of racism. list several others (which aren't original he's just compiling).

            •  You just invented a straw man: (0+ / 0-)

              "the american melting pot is the source of racism," which nobody said.  And it's not defensible to argue that "culture has nothing to do with racism," since in racist societies culture reflects, reproduces and reinforces racism.  If you think Tex-Mex food is an example of the kind of "American melting pot" that will solve our racial problems, I think you're seriously mistaken.

              Tex-Mex food is better described as an "appropriation" than an assimilation.  

      •  I'm an African American studies scholar (0+ / 0-)

        so I can't speak directly to Japanese racism.  What I can say is that racism in Japan has the same attributes (though not individual characteristics) as racism anywhere else: it is supported by political power elites in Japan, refined and codified in Japan's social and economic institutions, and reinforced in Japan's cultural products.

  •  The complaint regarding reverse racism (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dvogel001, Samulayo, Rick Aucoin

    involves two people competing for a position, and the less qualified minority candidate is chosen to meet quotas or laws or whatever.

    This is the complaint.  Whether it is valid or not is another issue.

    It seems you might be discussing something else.

  •  By your definition (8+ / 0-)

    No individual, not even a white-sheet-wearing Ku Kluxer, could be racist; only "society" can be racist.

    But that's not how the word is used at all.  We talk about individual racists and individual acts of racism all the time.

  •  This is an interesting diary, (6+ / 0-)

    but I don't entirely agree with your definitions. I think institutional racism is specific while racism is more general.

    My definition of racism is the belief that people of certain races are inferior to others. It could be a belief that specific races are inferior to others, or it could be a belief that one race is superior to all others. In either case, people who hold such beliefs are racists.

    Except for this definition, I pretty much agree with what you have to say about prejudice, discrimination, and [institutional] racism.

    I agree that reverse racism doesn't really exist, but my reason is because there is nothing in the term "racism" that provides for a specific race being the oppressed or oppressor. But reverse racism has become shorthand (in the US) for non-whites oppressing whites. Similar to your point, I think Rush Limbaugh (and Republicans in general) tend to cry "reverse racism" at any opportunity because they like to play the victim. That doesn't mean what they say has anything to do with reality.

    I support a trickle-up economic model. Put the unemployed to work and see what happens!

    by DreamyAJ on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:12:44 PM PDT

  •  thanks for this! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GN1927, susanw, TomP

    I have explain this to my students all the time. Mostly to counter the argument that "everyone is racist" and therefore racism is somehow justified and a law of nature.

    Can I quote your definitions in my next lecture? : )

  •  Important diary-- thank you for writing this (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GN1927, susanw, TomP, lightshine

    Blacks are about 12% of the population-- whites are about two-thirds.  Racism by the majority to such a small minority (in terms of percentage) is a threat to their livelihood and well-being.

    Also, seeing how whites enslaved blacks, treated them as inferiors, kept them out of the best jobs, used police brutality and racist media images against them during various periods of American history, I can understand if some blacks might tend to think of whites negatively.

    If a black is called a racist it's usually because he or she has brought up white racism.  White racists like calling other people racists.

    Blacks might tend to fight harder against racism toward whites because it's already tough enough in America to get by-- and I'm not talking economic status but just dealing with the BS-- and letting those negative feelings eat away at you is just a waste of your life.

    Also, I think it's a good thing when a black person is proud to be black.  It's not like white pride.  What is "white"?  Are you German, Irish, British?  It's just based on skin color, not heritage.  Blacks were robbed of their heritage and had to create a new one in America.  So being black is their heritage and it's something to be proud of, in every respect.

    It's a great thing, actually, and because of this I think whites can feel left out.  But we can't be or have everything.

  •  Good explanation. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GN1927, susanw, Predictor, Hunter Huxley


    Pooties and Woozles unite; you have nothing to lose but your leashes!

    by TomP on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:18:31 PM PDT

  •  It's always much easier to win an argument (7+ / 0-)

    when you get to make up your own definition of the relevant terms.

    Here's your definition of racism:

    Racism, however, describes patterns of discrimination that are institutionalized as "normal" throughout an entire culture.

    Here's the actual dictionary definition of racism:


    1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
    1. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
    1. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

    So, of the three definitions, none directly mentions "institutionalized" as being a key factor. Arguably, the second definition relates, but it's focused on government and policy, not culture.

    In any event, clearly a black person can be racist against whites under definitions (1) and (3), and theoretically, it's entirely possible that a black person or group in government could perpetrate racism against whites along the lines of (2), e.g. if it were in fact true as alleged that the Holder/Obama DOJ has a policy of not prosecuting voting rights cases if the victims are white and the defendants are black (not saying that it is true, but if it were, it would clearly qualify as racism under the second definition).

    •  I think you need to reread your own definition... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      #2 describes institutions specifically:  "policy," "system of government".  In short, it takes an institutional agency (large or small) to effect racism.  

      Without the institution, it's just an ideology that espouses the institutional enforcement of racial superiority (from #1: "the right to rule others")

      •  Definitions of that sort are not (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        burrow owl, theatre goon

        "and", they are "or". For examples, here's the definition of "cat"


        1. a small domesticated carnivore, Felis domestica  or F. catus,  bred in a number of varieties.
        1. any of several carnivores of the family Felidae, as the lion, tiger, leopard or jaguar, etc.
        1. Slang .

        a. a person, esp. a man.
        b. a devotee of jazz.

        1. a woman given to spiteful or malicious gossip.

        See, you don't have to both be a small domesticated carnivore, a lion, a man, or devotee of jazz and a gossipy woman. If you are any of those terms, you are a cat.

        •  Institutions are the foundation (0+ / 0-)

          of the first 2 out of the 3 definitions.

          Dictionary definitions are prioritized and listed in order of most common usage.  Your favorite definition is the last, so you are representing the least common definition.

          •  I don't have a "favorite" definition (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            burrow owl, theatre goon

            but I do believe that the first definition is the most common, and it does not require an institutional foundation. It's a belief system, and if you subscribe to it personally, then you are a racist, regardless of how much power you do or do not have.

            •  The first is a strictly ideological definition (0+ / 0-)

              and describes a doctrine, and the doctrine is rooted in an institutional premise: "has the right to rule others."  This doesn't mean that one white racist feels he has the right to boss around one black person.  It means that he feels that all white people, institutionally and systemically, have the right to rule all black people. I have repeatedly defined a "racist" as a person who believes definition #1.

              The second definition describes the implementation of the first definition: "a policy, system of government, etc." Without the ideology there would be no impulse to implementation.  Definitions are not always (or even often) either/or propositions, as you would have them be.  Virtually every race scholar in the country works with the first two definitions.

              •  Virtually every "race scholar" in this country (0+ / 0-)

                is full of chit, actually. They twist themselves into elaborate pretzels trying to find racism in every nook and cranny of white America, while figuring out ways to deny its very existence when it shows up blatantly amongst and between people of color.

      •  And as stated above, it's perfectly (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        burrow owl, theatre goon

        within the realm of possibility for an agency to be under the control of blacks and discriminate against whites, even in America, much less abroad.

        •  But that reality undercuts the thesis, (0+ / 0-)

          so, clearly, being reality-based is racist.  That's the only explanation.

        •  Racism in the U.S. (0+ / 0-)

          was the focus of both Tim Wise's diary and mine. As I addressed in another comment, it is possible for isolated minority institutions within a larger racist culture to develop internal structures that discriminate against whites.  But those discriminatory practices are not supported by the larger culture, and if a white person challenges them they generally have more recourse than a black person would if the situation happened in reverse. (They could go to Fox News with it, for example, and it would become a Republican crusade.)

          I never claimed that black people can't be racist.  Any person, no matter how oppressed, can embrace an ideology of racial superiority.  However, the institutional backing that allows such ideologies to flower into racism is largely lacking in the black community, and is an exceptional rarity rather than the rule.

          What I think is interesting is the way that some people want to create the impression that there's a parity between blacks and whites when it comes to the ability to oppress each other -- usually summed up in the cry "Blacks can be racist too!"  The same people tend to brush the immensity of black/white inequality in other areas under the rug, as if it has nothing to do with the power of each group to oppress the other. This is a distraction, and doesn't help us to address the central problem, which is racism.

          •  Well there are significant sectors of our (0+ / 0-)

            society that are functionally controlled by black people, including the political world of some of our major cities, and, currently the executive branch of the federal government.

            I've personally witnessed institutional discrimination against white people in situations where blacks were in control.

            Of course, it doesn't occur at nearly the same scale and effect as discrimination against blacks, but I don't think it contributes to the fight against racism to alienate white people from that fight by pretending that it does not or cannot exist in any significant way.

            •  We would have to debate the meaning of (0+ / 0-)

              "significant sectors."  And of "black control."  If you call the gutted cities of our nations, abandoned by white people and white capital, "black controlled" you're being disingenous.  There's very little power there to go around (as city mayors all know when they try to affect national politics).  And if you call the presence of black executive "black control" of the nation, you're so far off base that there's little point discussing the issue.  Being nominally in control of what you call the "political world" turns out not to translate into real power on the American political scene -- otherwise, why would we have so many black mayors (with so few resources) and so few black senators?

              Why are white people so easily alienated anyway?  Does it make them "feel bad" to have it pointed out that they control the bulk of the resources (social, economic, and political) of America?  If hurt feelings and a sense of being blamed is what underlies white rejection of a description of racism that is in proportion to their representation, I'm not sure why I should be all about making them "feel better," especially if soothing their ruffled feathers includes downplaying the fact that in the U.S. virtually all racism is white racism.

              •  You need to update yourself (0+ / 0-)

                Places like Oakland, Atlanta, Washington, D.C. are  thriving, relative to other parts of the nation right now. Are you not aware of the "back to the city" movement of the past 20 years?

                And I never said that a black President means "black control of the nation". I said that a black President means black control of the Executive branch of the federal government. Everybody who works in the Executive branch of the federal government ultimately reports to Barack Obama. That's a far cry from controlling the whole nation, it's one branch of the government.

                But if, for example, there is an allegation that the DOJ does not prosecute voting rights violations where there is a black defendent and a white victim, then we're talking about the possibility of black institutional racism becuase lawyers in the Justice Department report to the Attorney General, who is black, who reports to the President, who is black.

                The point about alienating white people is that if you are serious about making progress on the question of race in the United States, I don't see how you do that without involving white people in that effort. What do you think the purpose of nonviolent civil rights activism was:

                ...we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.

                ...we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding.

       is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

                ...The darkness of racial injustice will be dispelled only by the light of forgiving love.

                ...While abhorring segregation, we shall love the segregationist.

                ...One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.

                - Martin Luther King, 1957


                •  I'm pretty updated (0+ / 0-)

                  and you're bringing up Republican talking points. You're also simply making up things, like Oakland's economic health. Check out poverty statistics in Oakland, relative to white communities in the surrounding areas. Thriving? I don't think so. Unless you mean that unemployment in Oakland was always so high that, on a percentage basis, it fell less than in surrounding communities. King would not be thrilled at your appropriation of his words -- no more than he'd be thrilled at Glen Beck speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of his "I Have a Dream Speech."

                  At a moment in which racist rhetoric is being trumpeted by tea party shills, and is becoming more fashionable in mainstream culture all the time -- at a point when the Republicans are demonstrating their propaganda and hatred machine is frighteningly effective in rousing the racial antipathy of their base -- is that really a moment when a progressive wants to be standing up there claiming -- along with the right wingers -- that somehow blacks have transcended racial prejudice to the point where they can be as guilty of racism as white people?  Seriously, what's your investment in pushing the term "Reverse Racism"?

                  •  I have not used that term (0+ / 0-)

                    You started this diary by using that term. I don't call anything reverse racism. Either something is racist or it is not.

                    I lived in Oakland for eight years, and I did work in some of the most poverty-stricken areas of town. I know that there is poverty in Oakland. But Oakland has also had incredible forces of gentrification, across North Oakland, West Oakland, downtown, by the lake, and at Jack London Square. Even in areas where there's not a gentrification issue, there is a lot of overcrowding. Oakland is far from "gutted and abandoned by white people and white capital". That is just not the case anywhere in the city.

                    You failed to address the substance of my quotation of King: that the purpose of nonviolence is to convert an enemy to your side, which goes directly against your rejection of any attempt to make white people "feel better". If MLK can seek to convert Bull Conner to his side, surely you can look to convert the Tea Party.

                    The reason that I reject the "blacks can't be racist" argument is because it's not true. Only truth can light a path to freedom; lies can only lead to more pain and suffering. On a practical level, I don't personally think that we're not doing ourselves any favors by alienating white poeple from being sympathetic to the plight of black people -- not critical race theory academics who have jobs and houses and food on the table, but the rest of our community who may not.

                    •  I never made (0+ / 0-)

                      "a blacks can't be racist" argument.  I said that there's no such thing as "Reverse Racism."  I've said repeatedly, in the original diary and throughout the comments that black can and (rarely) do discriminate against whites, and that black people can (though rarely do) embrace a racist ideology.  So you're arguing with something I never said.

                      As for King, white people love to freeze him in time, but by the end of his life King was painfully aware that racist white people were not about to be "converted".  (And if you think Bull Connor was "converted" you've got a strange idea of what the term means.) If you read King's speeches and writings during the Poor People's Campaign, you'll see that your idea of his positions are outdated, and that he was far more cynical.  White folks freeze King at his "I Have A Dream" speech, and Malcolm at his "Autobiography" period, and rarely have any idea that the two were a lot closer in ideology by the end of their lives. In addition, the "purpose of nonviolence" is specifically to achieve the goal one seeks. Conversion is only one tactic. Shaming people (as King and Ghandi did, expecially in the eyes of the world) doesn't rely on conversion at all.

                      As for the slam at "critical race theory academics," it's just part of a dangerous trend towards anti-intellectualism (something the right loves).  Most critical race theory academics are in part time, non-tenure positions, or unemployed.  It's only a very few who have cushy academic jobs. The rest of us do scholarly work because we feel that thinking is important. Intellectuals have their role in progressive change, too. We're not just some troop of professional-class folks skating on the surface -- most of us repeatedly put our jobs and livelihoods at risk by standing up for what we believe in.

                      It's sanctimonious to reprimand with "only truth can light a path to freedom," and let your "logic" imply that I'm "lying" when I say that "Reverse Racism" is a term invented by the right to diminish the importance of racism, which, in America, is virtually always anti-black (or other minority) racism. You don't have a lock on the truth, and if you weren't so wedded to disproving the (never stated) claim that "blacks can't be racist" maybe you could see the actual argument in the diary and comments in front of you.

                      •  Oh, I see (0+ / 0-)

                        Your whole argument depends on me buying that racial discrimination is not "racism" -- it's just prejudice. Which is where we started the whole discussion, back to the dictionary definition of racism, which includes racial discrimination and prejudice. But of course, the dictionary is . . .

                        King never backed down from nonviolent philosophy. In his later years he applied it to other contexts outside of civil rights, namely war and poverty, and for that he was pilloried by whites, blacks and everyone else. But his commitment to converting his enemies to his side through nonviolent direct action never wavered.

                        Your statement that the purpose of nonviolence is to achieve "the goal that one seeks" -- that "conversion is just a tactic" -- could not possibly be more wrong. And since you think I'm stuck in 1963, here's King less than a year before his death:

                        One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren't important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

                        So, if you're seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.


                        And I never argued that Bull Conner was converted; only that the movement tried to.

                        I'm not "anti-intellectual". I just intellectually disagree with what critical race theory academics are trying to do, which is to find 1001 ways to prove that white people in America are racist. If you all took 10% of that intellectual firepower and directed it toward figuring out how to solve black poverty, we might start getting somewhere (hint: we already know that it's origins are in racism, next question).

                        I do appreciate the retreat to a semantic, political argument about the term "Reverse Racism" as opposed to elaborate proof that blacks can't be racist that was the import of the diary. We both know what we're talking about here, but if you want to pretend this is all just about the political usage of a term, as opposed to the underlying dynamic, great. I see that as a step forward.

                        I mean it's rather ridiculous:

                        White guy: That's reverse racism!

                        Critical Race Theory Academic: No, it's not. There's no such thing as Reverse Racism.

                        White guy: What are you talking about? I was just denied a job by a black guy because of my race!

                        CRTA: That's racial discrimination, not racism. Reverse Racism is just a term made up by the right-wing to diminish the importance of true racism -- which is institutional discrimination against black people and other people of color.

                        You don't see the ridiculousness of that? Your focus on the label is just a distraction from the substance of the discussion, which is racial discrimination, which is racial prejudice, which is racism, and which has to be called something in order for it to be addressed.

                        •  Your intense focus on the incredibly rare (1+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:

                          moments in which black people might be able to exercise discrimination tells me all I need to know about your agenda, as does your weird summary of the work of critical race scholars. I mean, we wouldn't want to deprive all those poor, oppressed white people of the right to express their rage at the system that oppressed them.  Owait... what system?

                          You can quote King all you want, but that doesn't make him your guy.  (It amazes me how many people want to appropriate King. Even Glenn Beck wants to steal his thunder.)

                          BTW, you wrote your fictional conversation to make your own point.  Fiction's nice that way.  Here's mine:

                          White guy: This totally sucks! I think I didn't get hired for that job just because I was white!

                          Me: Wow, I'm sorry you didn't get the job. What do you think happened?

                          White guy: I think it was Reverse Racism!

                          Me: Really? Do you think you're oppressed because you're white?

                          White guy: Well, I think he didn't pick me because I was white, so yeah.

                          Me: Does that happen to you a lot?  Not getting picked for jobs because you're white? Does that happen to your other white friends too?

                          White guy: Well it happened to me this time! And I've heard it happens to some other people! But not usually, no. In fact, it never happened to me before. Usually the people who interview me are white.

                          Me: I think you ran into one black guy who doesn't like white guys, and he didn't hire you. He discriminated against you because you're white.  And that definitely sucks. But I wouldn't call it "Reverse Racism." This jerk isn't supported by a whole system that oppresses white people.  Do you know when a black person applies to a job, and the person doing the hiring is white, the black person is six times less likely to get the job than the white person, even if they both have the same resume? Seriously, six times! Based on the statistics, you've got a much higher chance of getting a job than a black guy exactly like you.  Bad luck that you got screwed this time, but with odds like that, you'll find something else.

                          White guy: But it's not fair!

                          Me: I totally agree. And I'm sorry it happened to you. But there's no conspiracy to blame -- no "Reverse Racism." What there is is a guy in an office with some power and he exercised it badly.  He might not have hired you because you're short.  Or because he didn't like the sound of your voice. He had the power to make the decision, and you think he made a bad one. But you can pick yourself up and apply to the next job because there's no system like racism oppressing you. So go get 'em, tiger.

                          I've actually had variations of this conversation with white men, and you'd be surprised how well they go. Most people can actually understand the difference between social structure that's set up to oppress a specific group of people, and a few instances in which the roles have briefly been reversed.

                          Blurring the meaning of words never helped us sort out a single thing.  Racial prejudice, racial discrimination and racism are three  different, though related, terms and no matter how many times you insist they're the same thing, they simply are not. The incident you refer to can be called "racial discrimination", it isn't, and doesn't need to be called "racism."

                          •  King is absolutely "my guy" (0+ / 0-)

                            I've been studying him since I was a little kid. Rather than dispute the validity of my point, you just pull a Glenn Back out of your bag-o-tricks. Wow, that's a great contribution to the conversation.

                            You're fixation of the term "Reverse Racism" shows that it's you that has the "agenda". I never used the term. My original comment just noted that your definition of racism was at odds with the one found in the dictionary, and common usage.

                          •  Why is it so hard (0+ / 0-)

                            for you to get it through your head that my definition is the standard definition in sociology and other social sciences? Of course, that would kill your argument. Love your Truth Reversal, too -- comparing me to Glenn Beck.  Keep up with the King studies -- maybe one day it'll take.

    •  Webster was white (0+ / 0-)

      John Webster (1580-1625) who wrote The White Devil but of course I'm talking about Noah Webster.

      My point being-- every definition is made up.  Somebody had to make it up.

      Samuel Johnson made up this definition of "oats"--

      "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

      And I seem to recall a passage in The Autobiography of Malcolm X where he was reading a dictionary in prison and he saw how certain definitions had a racist slant.

      •  OK, so how is the definition of racism (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        burrow owl

        that I cited, itself racist?

        •  I'm just saying dictionaries can vary (0+ / 0-)

          and some have even been known to have racist definitions.  Every lexicographer had to "make up" the definition at some point, and it wouldn't surprise me if race, region, class, gender and sexual orientation influenced how that person defined words.  The diarist created a plausible definition for a word that means many different things to different people.  And even so, the act of "redefining" or "de-defining" (removing the limits) is how we sometimes come to understand things.

          •  Why dodge the question? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            dvogel001, theatre goon

            We're talking about the definition of racism, and the diarist finds the one in the dictionary so lacking as to necessitate her making up another one. But I don't personally see anything lacking in the dictionary one, which roughly corresponds to how I see people using it in the real world, which is what it's supposed to do right?

            If we can't accept common definitions of things it becomes very difficult to have productive conversations. One person is literally speaking a different language.

            •  I didn't realize I was dodging the question (0+ / 0-)

              Maybe my definition of "dodge" is different!

              No-- your definition was not racist.  Question answered.

              But using a definition from one dictionary to counter a person's discussion of a topic is sort of like shutting down the discussion.  Specifically with a word like "racism."  It's about the most loaded word in the language.  So to say the diarist was just making it up is unfair.

              If I ask you to define "progressive" you can turn to Heritage (not Foundation!) and copy-and-paste but I'd like to hear how you define it.

              •  Fair enough (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                dvogel001, Rick Aucoin, theatre goon

                But the way that the diarist was re-defining is not fair. She's saying that there's no such thing as reverse racism because under her definition of racism, there's no such thing as reverse racism.

                I mean I could say that I'm not a male chauvanist because under my definition of male chauvanist, anyone who doesn't beat their wife is not a male chauvanist, but it wouldn't make it true, would it?

                I mean a world where people deny things are true by simply changing the definition of words would not be a place we would want to live. What if I say that under my definition of murder, you have to hate the person that you killed, so if I killed someone randomnly, it's not murder?

                The purpose of language is to communicate, and that's why we have commonly-accepted definitions of words, so that the speaker and the listener can both conjure up the same image or thought when the word is spoken. If we get away from that, there's no good that can come of it, IMHO.

                •  It is a conundrum I agree (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Rick Aucoin

                  I'm not even sure what "conundrum" means-- a dilemma, a pickle.

                  The purpose of language is to communicate, and that's why we have commonly-accepted definitions of words, so that the speaker and the listener can both conjure up the same image or thought when the word is spoken. If we get away from that, there's no good that can come of it, IMHO.

                  The fact is (as I see it): when you're having a discussion with someone, that person is bringing an experience to the discussion based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, region ... and ... I always leave one out.

                  So it's not one person holding a dictionary versus another person holding a dictionary, looking up "person," "holding, "dictionary" etc. to make sure each is on the same page.  It's about two experiences coming into contact.

                  It does make it more difficult, communicating, but neither Funk nor Wagnall is going to make that light come on when a person begins to understand what the other is saying.

                  I can see how the difference between "irony" and "coincidence" would be pointed out and other misused words.  But when it comes to defining racism, it is far less black and white.

                •  You're equating things that aren't equal (0+ / 0-)

                  I'm saying that there's no such thing as "reverse racism" because the term "racism" itself describes the phenomenon that some people (usually conservatives) label "Reverse Racism."  

                  Your example is invalid because there's no equivalence.  Saying that two words ("racism" and "reverse-racism") describe a single evil ("racism") is an entirely different proposition from saying: "under my definition of murder, you have to hate the person that you killed, so if I killed someone randomnly, it's not murder?"

                  My point, which you clearly have not gotten, is that the term "reverse-racism," was recently invented by conservatives, who use it as a smoke-screen to cover the real problem in America, which is "racism."  If you want to go around claiming that "reverse-racism" is "true," you're entitled to do that.  But you should realize whose line you are parroting.  If you're a progressive, I doubt you'd like the company you're keeping.

            •  Definitions evolve and change all the time (0+ / 0-)

              and unless you want to argue for some "natural" evolution of word meanings, they change because there is some sort of pressure on them. Often those pressures come from the academy, which is, after all, the way that "racism" even entered the American vocabulary. It was an academic term.

              If you can't understand the need to refine and correct definitions, you're missing the point of a whole lot of scholarship.

              It's sort of like claiming that a dictionary definition of PTSD somehow supersedes the ongoing discussion between psychologists. Yes, the term "PTSD" has entered popular discourse, but that doesn't mean everyone is using it correctly, or that psychologists haven't reached an understanding of PTSD that is more advanced than the "common definition."

              •  Sure, but when you twist the definition (0+ / 0-)

                to fit your own narrow, political, ethno-centric purposes, then you're just not playing fair, and are not really contributing much to the discussion.

                •  Gah this is boring... (0+ / 0-)

                  The definition I use is widely accepted by social scientists, and used by virtually all social scientists who actually study race.  If that's "twisting" then I guess the expertise of climate scientists who insist on the correct definition of and understanding of "global warming" are "twisting" too.  At least that's what Republicans would say, and you're using their tactics.

        •  Who said it was racist? (0+ / 0-)

          I wasn't challenging the first two definitions, which largely match up with my own. I might, if pushed, challenge the third definition for not being explicit enough.

          What I said was that your reading of the definitions was incorrect: you missed the institutional nature of racism as described in the definitions. And I stand by that.

  •  There are many phrases we white folks (5+ / 0-)

    have pressed into use, all aimed at quashing any accusations of racism.

    "reverse racism"
    "can't you take a joke"

    and so on.

    It's part of an entire linguistic structure we've made, to provide rhetorical defense against charges of racism, thus enabling racism to continue.

    We are crafty people, if not honest or noble.

    I'm gonna go eat a steak. And fuck my wife. And pray to GOD - hatemailapalooza, 052210

    by punditician on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:27:50 PM PDT

  •  So it is just the words? (0+ / 0-)

    That thing they call "Reverse racism" is really just reverse descrimination. Just a matter of bad definition?

    White people who complain about "Reverse Racism" are actually complaining about being denied their privileges, rather than being denied their rights.

    Over-all I would agree with you, but there are actually cases of reverse descrimination. White people are born into the system too. Are they responsible for the actions of their anscestors? Or even their parents? Should they be asked to sacrifice for their anscestors' sin?

    So the question really must be asked. Does leveling the playing field involve pulling down or lifting up? The problem is that there aren't enough affordable colleges for everyone. The problem is that anyone has to be turned away. IMO, this is what we need to be focusing on.

    Interesting read. Thanks.

    Heads in the clouds are just as detrimental as heads in the sand.

    by A Voice on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:28:35 PM PDT

    •  That thing they call "Reverse Racism" (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      susanw, PhilJD

      isn't "reverse discrimination." It's just discrimination.

      Leveling the playing field requires that those who are benefiting from unearned privilege sacrifice those privileges (or, in revolution, have them stripped away), so that the previously oppressed have their rights. Unless you've got some cool machine up your sleeve that ends scarcity of everything for all.  Which would certainly be nice!

  •  Racism is not a white man's (3+ / 0-)

    disease. It's a universal human failing.  That being said I'm very skeptical of white people claiming reverse racism in America.  I would be more sympathetic to the argument of reverse discrimination though I do believe the issue is more complicated than what the rightwingers complain about.  

    I don't belong to an organized party, I'm a democrat.

    by thestructureguy on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:37:32 PM PDT

  •  "reverse racism" is a stupid term (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    theatre goon

    Never mind getting all high-brow with the exact official definition of a word: just think about what reversing something means to pretty much anybody and you'll figure that if you reverse racism then you got a good thing going on.  Like reversing the job loss situation for example.

    But hey thanks for splitting hairs cuz yeah it's a technically valid point.

  •  if you bothered to read his article (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    The Raven, pragprogress

    it also outlines the difficulty of defining racism. In the U.S. systemic racism is only possible from white people but not all racism is systemic. Racism is also reflected in person attitudes towards other races independant of any system. There is black-on-white racism and bigotry in this country. It's not as pronounced as the opposite but it definently happens. Ignoring it will only make racial attitudes of whites become worse despite the gains we have made. If white people are going to be labeled racist for the rest of existance they might just give up on trying to not be racist. They might just stop trying to teach their children it's wrong. No one likes doing a pointless task that they can't win at, especially when stopping that task puts them and their children at a huge advantage.

    Entry Level .NET programmer looking for work

    by SetaSan on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 02:48:43 PM PDT

    •  I did read his article (0+ / 0-)

      but it doesn't mean I agree with every point he made.

      I never made the claim that every white person should be labeled racist.  If you read my article you would know that. What I said was that all white people benefit from racism, whether they want to or not, and, if they aren't fighting racism, they are (usually unintentionally) complicit with a racist system.

      And, yes, on a small scale (at a black-run institution, for example) a white person might experience racism. But again, that's not reverse racism.  It's just racism.  And it's important to remember that this black organization exists within a larger social structure in which it will lack the power and resources of similar white organizations.  This doesn't excuse the behavior of those in the institution who discriminate, but it does limit their power in a way that white organizations are often not limited.

      •  now you're just arguing about terms (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        theatre goon

        what is important is the meaning behind the terms.

        reverse racism = acting racist towards white people.

        you also seem to be hung up on systemic racism which almost implies that if this country were an anarchy there would be no racism since no structure exists.

        If you want to go chace systemic racism go ahead. It's a great thing to do. But don't downplay racism coming from minorities; doing so only increases majority racism and can undo the work we've done since the fall of segregation.

        Entry Level .NET programmer looking for work

        by SetaSan on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 03:46:11 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  If you look at who is playing UP alleged (0+ / 0-)

          racism by minorities, you might not like the company in which you find yourself.

          It's sort of like being a guy who keeps going on about the terrible problem of false accusations of rape, and how much men suffer from them, in a society where rape is so common that 1 out of 3-5 (statistics vary) women will suffer an attempt or a completed rape in her lifetime, and where even the FBI ranks rape as one of America's least reported crimes.

          Yes, individual instances of false accusation take place.  Yes, there are a (very few) American institutions where it is possible for blacks to discriminate against whites in a very limited fashion. And all cases of false accusations or discrimination are reprehensible. But... do we put our resources into changing the structure that oppresses the many, or do we concentrate on the exceptionally few cases in which members of the more powerful class are injured?  I'd like justice for all, but seriously, don't you think there's a reason the right raises the issue every single time as a distraction?

  •  Racism is racism. It can be found in (3+ / 0-)

    all races and all countries and does not depend on which race is the majority or minority race in the country. The ability of a society to act on racism by discriminating in favor or against one or more races depends on which race(s) controls the levers of power. But even those who are the victims of that discrimination can still be racists, they just lack the power to do anything about it.

    Putting the word "reverse" before "racism" is misleading and unhelpful.

  •  More simply, albeit less insightfully: (0+ / 0-)

    The term "reverse racism" implies that there's such a thing as "forward racism." Using the term "reverse racism" is actually an endorsement of racism.

    While I basically agree with the diarist, sometimes a blunter approach is more useful in the rough and tumble of everyday political conversation.

    Also, while the diarist accurately describes the structures and dynamics of true racism, I'm afraid that most (white?) people still just see racism as a synonym for racial discrimination.

    And that's not a crazy way to read it. Academics and other deep thinkers don't get to dictate the nuances of how ordinary people speak and listen. So I think it's best, when you're talking about racism in informal settings, to say something like "racist power" or "racially oppressive systems" to make clear you're talking about the systemic issues, not the more personalized issues of prejudice and discrimination.

    Because, yeah, persons of color can totally commit prejudice and discrimination. You don't want to get sucked into arguing against that reality, or appearing that you are. It's not the point.

    •  I agree that it's important (0+ / 0-)

      to use words in ways that people will understand when you're out in the world talking to folks and organizing and arguing, or even having dinner with your family.  I'm not arguing against that.  

      But I also think it's crucial to talk about concepts in academic and intellectual terms.  There's a whole field of African American Studies and Critical Race Studies, and these folks have been talking about race and "racism" since before the latter word even existed.  When I want to think about the complexities of race, I turn to Michael Omi & Howard Winant, or to Patricia Williams, or one of the dozens of other brilliant scholars who write about racism. Why are their definitions of race any less convincing than a physicist's definition of "quantum"?  But then, we're brought up to respect physicists....

  •  it does clear it up (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    william shipley, theatre goon

    that is how YOU see things.  It does not clear up the argument, and is this not just about words now?  I care about racism or whatever word you want to call it, I don't care that much for worrying over terms.

    There is nothing new in the argument that, for example, blacks can not be racist because they don't have power.  I think Malcom X among others discussed this.  The idea is only those on top can be racist.

    But if you look at dictionary definitions and you stand back from the keyboard and just think about reality, you will see what racism means to most people, hatred/fear of a group of people based on race.

    The problem with saying there is "no such thing as reverse racism", is that line makes most people think you are saying black people can not be bigoted or hate other races.  This is patently false and can not be argued, all humans are susceptible to racism and other hatreds.

    The other problem with the reasoning that a certain group should never be called out for sins because of prior sins against them is that is just what happens in the I/P debates.  Some say the Israelis get more leeway because of the Holocaust.  See what I am getting at?  I bet you agree the Israelis DO get away with things because they are Jews and people feel sorry for their past suffering.

    This is why I am here to make the uber controversial point that anyone can be racist.

    •  It just muddies things up (0+ / 0-)

      when you claim there's only one definition for a complex phenomenon.  I stand back from the keyboard and think about reality a lot.  I've been an anti-racist activist as well as a scholar for 30 years, and I have a lot of experience working with people -- and not just people inside an academy.  What I found, when I talk to people, is that clarifying definitions is incredibly helpful to all parties.  It means we can say what we want to say more clearly and more comprehensibly, since we're all on the same page.  

      "Popular" definitions tend to smoosh a lot of concepts all together, and they tend to be fuzzy and not to hold up when you start to push against them.  This isn't a "bad" thing -- it's just the way language works.  What I've found, in decades of doing this work, is that un-smooshing those definitions opens people's eyes and allows them to re-think words they used and positions they took previously.

      As a (very successful) teacher of young college students who certainly had nothing to do with setting up any system of oppression, whatever their race, my goal has been to teach history with an eye on the present.  In other words, my white students aren't slaveholders but there are still material and economic ways many white people benefit from slavery. (Dawson's wonderful Behind the Mule details them in real economic terms.) I focus on current inequalities and explain their histories -- it is up to my white students (just like it is up to my black students) to determine what interventions they are going to make (if any) to make the society more equitable. Guilt is not a constructive emotion, and when my white students express it I ask, simply, if they've oppressed anyone lately. I focus on them, and not on their ancestors. It's not their fault they begin with the unearned privileges bestowed by a racist society.  But it is their responsibility to decide whether they will perpetuate that system or work against it.

      This has, by the way, been an extremely successful strategy even with very conservative and even Christian fundamentalist students, many who whom eagerly signed up for my classes again and again, and some of whom made enormous personal shifts in ideology over time, without ever feeling that their personal integrity was threatened.

  •  Ditto with sexism (0+ / 0-)

    the element of institution power has to be addressed.  Women can't be sexist towards men.

    Toyota: Proof US Union Labor Still Does it Better

    by VelvetElvis on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 03:55:22 PM PDT

    •  yeah. (1+ / 1-)
      Recommended by:
      Rick Aucoin
      Hidden by:

      that's why 70% of women gain custody of children in court or most alimony payments are towards women. I think there is plenty of structure in place for women.

      Entry Level .NET programmer looking for work

      by SetaSan on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 04:48:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Uprated for HR abuse. `nt` (0+ / 0-)

        :: Not so hopeful now ::

        by Rick Aucoin on Fri Jul 16, 2010 at 04:15:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It makes sense (0+ / 0-)

        that you would promote both the idea of "Reverse Racism" and "Reverse Sexism".

        What you don't deal with is the sexism of a system that automatically remands children to the custody of their mother, while at the same time it reduces their income level, fails to provide child care, and makes them dependent on financial resources which are often withheld. There's a reason that the majority of people in poverty in the U.S. are single women with children. But that doesn't seem to concern you.

        Do 50% of men actually want custody of their children? Can you demonstrate that?

  •  This is such semantic bullshit. (7+ / 0-)

    For one thing, "discrimination", despite the common mis-usage of the word is a good thing.  You want to be able to discriminate between things-it's a fundamental thought process.  The key is to eliminate prejudices and false assumptions from HOW you discriminate among your options in life.

    And the idea that racism has to be institutionalized is a knee-jerk creation of academics who are loathe to contemplate that the particular group they empathize with can ever be guilty of the magic word that they reflexively attach to every single action taken by the group that they do NOT empathize with.  It's crap.  

    In the history of this country, racism has overwhelmingly hurt black folks more than white.  But that doesn't mean that an individual black person is incapable of racism.  Think of the truck driver that was beaten nearly to death during the LA Riots of 1992.  Why was he beaten? Because he was white.  The people who did that to him?  Racists.  If you can't see really need to spend some time in the real world.

    "They don't think it be like it is, but it do. " Oscar Gamble, circa 1980

    by Spider Stumbled on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 04:31:37 PM PDT

    •  holy fuck (4+ / 0-)

      You said everything I wanted to say but couldn't find the words half as eloquently as you.

      Entry Level .NET programmer looking for work

      by SetaSan on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 04:56:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Semantic bullshit is (0+ / 0-)

      swapping the definition of "discrimination" and then using it as the basis of your claim to undermine my argument. You're using the neutral version of "discriminate", as in "choosing one thing over another" ostensibly because it's "better."

      Racial discrimination, however, is "discrimination on the basis of race" -- meaning, you think one race is better than another.  That's.... racism. And that's what racists do.

      I never said (and I have repeated this throughout the comments section) that black people can't embrace racist ideology -- that they can't "be racists."  But they have limited venues for expression of racism (the few all-black institutions, perhaps, or liminal moments like the L.A. riots), and those actions don't imply any systemic support of anti-white racism in the larger culture.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Those moments of what we could call "black racist eruptions" are so heavily scrutinized in this culture, and become so famous, that they take on a proportion, in popular culture, that is much larger than they deserve given the percentage of racist events or institutions they represent.

      Again, I'll underline that these eruptions don't prove any sort of "Reverse-Racism."  What they are is isolated moments of racism where whites are the target instead of blacks.  If you persist in thinking of this as "Reverse" as opposed to "regular" racism, you're embracing the conservative rhetorical tactic and claiming all racisms are equal, and that the moments in which black racism erupts are somehow equivalent to the whole measure of the cultural, political, and economic machinery that white racist America brings to bear on its black residents.

      This doesn't excuse the actions of the black Americans who vented their rage on innocent white people in the L.A. riots.  Those actions, and all actions of (let me help you here, "racial") discrimination are also to be condemned.  But the term Reverse Racism was invented by conservatives specifically to convince us that white people are "equally" victims of black racism.

  •  The very term "reverse racism" is a tacit (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sberel, hepshiba, lol chikinburd

    admission by those who use it that white society benefits from racism. It presupposes that racism is the normal state of American society.

    When you triangulate everything, you can't even roll downhill...

    by PhilJD on Thu Jul 15, 2010 at 04:46:56 PM PDT

  •  Pretending blacks can not be racist is stupid (3+ / 0-)

    Every race has stupid people, African Americans are no more holy than any other race.

    We are all people... and every group of people has saints and sinners.

    •  Nobody is pretending black people can't be racist (0+ / 0-)

      You're just making that up. Just like you stuck the word "holy" in there, when nobody but you is using it. Nor is racism the same thing as "stupidity" -- a lot of racists are really, really smart.  Rhetorically, your comment is geared to shut down discussion by claiming that everyone is already equal, but they're not.

      All groups of people have saints and sinners, but not all of them are allowed to develop themselves to their full potential.

  •  This is the racist (0+ / 0-)

    racism argument which is commonly made to excuse non-white racism.  The definition of racism is clear and anyone who treats people of another race differently solely on the basis of their race is racist.  It's a bad thing no matter who does it.

    Thus, the author is speaking in a racist manner because according to their definition a white man who beats a black man because of his race is racist but a black man who beats a white man because of his race is excused.

    •  What I love is the way (0+ / 0-)

      that folks committed to insisting "everyone can be racist" keep focusing on how bad individual racial discrimination is, while entirely ignoring the larger structural problem.

      Also, these folks keep circling around to the same arguments, over and over again, and have to keep repeating the same inaccurate claims. Despite the fact that neither "the author," nor a single other person has excused any black people for racially discriminating against white people, or for injuring white people, they keep repeating that lie.

      I'll say it one more time for the hard of hearing:  Any person, black or white, can be a racist -- i.e., believe in the ideology of racial superiority.  But in the U.S. only white people have realized their vision of instituting a racist society, in which eruptions of black racism are the rarest exception, rather than the general rule. Black people simply do not have the tools or institutional support to impose their racist visions (if they have one) on the larger white society. The exceptions, in this sense, prove the rule, since retaliation for perceived "Reverse Discrimination" is far more intense and powerful than reaction to racial discrimination against black people, which is considered "business as usual."

      •  By what definition is the society racist? (0+ / 0-)

        All of our legal structures are racially blind although we do have some legal support for affirmative action which could be considered racist (reverse racism), but otherwise our society is officially racist.

        The problem is that there are still quite a few individuals who are racist and are making decisions based on race.  Unless you can point to some law or official position which biases on the basis of race, then it's individual racism you must actually complain against.

        And, there are many areas of this society where blacks have generated racist limits -- a black student who excells is often accused of 'acting white' which is a racist view by black society, or at least a significant segment.

        Any view that attempts to focus the racism debate on white on black racism is going to necessarily miss all of the other racist attitudes and thought that hold us back.  In the aftermath of the Rodney King beating trial, African Americans burned out Asian stores because of racial resentment.  Which was, as near as I can tell, two way.

        •  Trolling, trolling.... (0+ / 0-)

          Seriously, if you're going to argue that all of our legal structures are "racially blind", there's simply no ground for discussion here.  If you can't see the disproportionate representative of African Americans at every level of the justice system -- if you can't see the crack vs. powder cocaine sentencing guideliness, as a blatant example -- as racist, then it's just hopeless to attempt conversation. Because if it's not "racist" then the other option is somehow it's black people's "fault" that they're at the bottom of the society, and I'm just not going there.

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