Racism is the belief that one race is naturally better than another. Not merely different but better. And not just better through some accident of history or the current balance of power, but better naturally, better because they are just born that way.
That is the dictionary meaning, the one I use here. In America there are two other common meanings:
- The White American meaning: racism = prejudice + hate.
- The anti-racist meaning: racism = prejudice + power.
The first I call Jim Crow racism; the second, institutional racism. The racism that most White Americans practise is neither of those but colour-blind racism. That is the kind where white people say they do not see colour – until you want to marry their daughter. They do not hate blacks so much as look down on them. They see them through stereotypes, most of which go back to slave times. Like how it is all right to overwork black women, not respect them and think they are oversexed. All that comes straight from when they were slaves.
Some important points to keep in mind about the racism of White Americans against blacks (and, more generally, whites against people of colour anywhere in the English-speaking world):
- Race is social. It is a fiction of society that made keeping slaves seem right and good, one that is still used to excuse white privilege – the unfair advantages that whites enjoy, like better schools and safer neighbourhoods.
- Racism is not natural but learned. Some societies divide the world by race, but most do not. Religion, language and nation are far more common.
- Racism is the air that American culture breathes. America was built on racism, having robbed the natives of their land and blacks of their labour. It has become built into its culture – into its schoolbooks and television shows and jokes. It is hard to escape or unlearn.
- Whites are still racist and it still matters. Their racism, while not as bad as it once was, still has measurable effects on unemployment, income, health, education, etc.
- Whites are largely blind to racism. Because it does not affect them directly; because they do not want to admit they are racist since they are taught it is a bad thing.
- Blacks are racist too. But their racism is mainly directed against themselves – internalized racism.
- White racism affects American society way more than black racism. Because whites hold most of the positions of power.
- Blacks in America cannot afford to be colour-blind. Because they live in a white racist society.
- Shutting up about racism will not make it go away. It will only allow it to live on in people’s hearts and minds unexamined.
- White people use certain stock arguments about race. Most of them shift blame and attention away from their sins. Or they make it about their feelings, as if their feelings are more important than the truth.
- Saying bad things about white people is not the same thing as hating them. Their errors need to be pointed out.