Even if you don’t call it ‘racism,’ it’s still bad, writer argues
A student columnist at Princeton is advising his classmates to stop acting prejudiced toward white people, writing that even if it is not “racist” to do so, it is still deeply negative “on a fundamental level.”
In his column at The Daily Princetonian, Jae-Kyung Sim addresses a persistent question often raised by progressives: Can people of color be racist? Many hardline racial activists claim that the answer is “no.” That belief rests on a little-used, obscure definition of racism that claims one must have “power” or “institutional power” in order to be a racist; without such power, one can only be “prejudiced.” This definition is often used to shield racial minorities from accusations of racist behavior.
Yet, writes Sim, “distinctions between ‘prejudice’ and ‘racism’ towards white people are often irrelevant, at least on an individual level. Such labels do not change the content of what we say — and the content of ‘prejudiced’ comments, such as ‘I hate white people,’ is something we should still try to avoid.”
Taking a practical look at the issue, Sim writes: “If, by making such comments, we gain some kind of political benefit, such as obtaining more rights for minority groups, perhaps one could argue that offending white people is ‘worth it’.”
“But this is not the case — more frequently, we say such comments out of frustration, and they rarely advance productive political purposes,” he points out:
As someone who is interested in social movements and hears anti-white rhetoric frequently, I believe that such comments significantly harm, rather than benefit, social justice movements. They unnecessarily drive many white people, especially those who could have been potential allies, away from the movement. Logically, people would not be willing to join a movement that perceptually shuns them, and that is exactly what we are doing. We cannot expect those in power to wholeheartedly support a movement that hurls personal attacks at them — it’s simply unrealistic.
Moreover, regardless of the pragmatic benefits of abandoning the practice, distinguishing “prejudice” from racism, at least on an individual level, is merely rhetorical play. Many who disagree with this notion often claim that only white people can be “racist,” because only they have the institutional power to tangibly impact other racial groups. I partially endorse this view; on an institutional level, American society is heavily tainted by white supremacy, and we must criticize it.
But what difference does that make in everyday interactions? Just because you believe that someone can only be “prejudiced” against white people does not mean that you can use this justification to attack white individuals in everyday contexts. There is no identifiable link between that fact that white people are institutionally in power and attempts to interpersonally justify generalized comments against white people.
“We can all condemn racism. But more broadly, we also know that stereotyping groups of people and identifying individuals with those stereotypes is also a bad thing,” Sim writes.
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