Racism in America is asymmetric. Many white arguments against racism assume a symmetry that just is not there. Being black in America is not the mirror image of being white. If only. It is a false symmetry because nearly all the power is on one side and not the other. Institutional white power makes it asymmetric.
Comparing black racism to white racism is like comparing a bicycle to a car.
Why this is so:
- The numbers: For every black person in America there are more than five whites. Even if everyone is equally racist, blacks will still experience five times more racism.
- The money: For every $1 of wealth that blacks as a whole have, whites have $53. In American society money and power pretty much go together.
In addition to greater numbers and greater wealth and the knock-on effects that has on government and business, whites by and large write most of the schoolbooks and create most of what is on television. They shape what blacks know and think about the world. They set society’s ideas about beauty, about proper English and so on. Even worse, they set society’s ideas about what black people are like – the power to stereotype.
Even something like hip hop is not as much of an exception as it might appear at first: once the music caught on among whites and started selling mainly to a white audience, its character changed markedly, playing to white stereotypes about blacks in a big way.
American society is so suited to whites that they mostly forget that they are even white! Some even think they speak English without an accent and have no culture!
One attempt to express this imbalance says that racism is more than just simple prejudice, it is prejudice together with power. That means blacks are incapable of racism.
I disagree with that. Blacks do have some amount of power and do hurt whites and Asians with it. And yet when whites are quick to point out cases of black racism as if that somehow balances things out, I want to roll my eyes.
If you are white or Asian and went to a high school that was mostly black, then you probably experienced black racism. But that was just your high school. For blacks it is the whole country.
The imbalance is not the only difference between black and white racism. There is not just a difference of degree, but also of kind.
Black racism is not mainly turned against whites or Asians or anyone else, but against other blacks, against one’s self. Black-on-black racism, internalized racism. Because blacks live in a white racist country they constantly hear white racist messages. At one level they know the messages are untrue, but at another level they hear this stuff so much a part of them believes it.
One other asymmetry that whites forget about is the One Drop Rule. Black people will have black children no matter who they marry. Not so for white people.