By Mia Moody-Ramirez, Editor
“Mia Moody- Black Woman and Racist.” I cringed when I first saw these words during a keyword search of my name and an article that I wrote about President Barack Obama and Facebook hate groups. This post on the cincinnati.craigslist.org website has been removed. However, it left a lasting impression on me. I do not want my good intentions to be misunderstood.
First I thought that this slanderous statement could not be further from the truth. After all, in my writings, I often try to expose racism and encourage civility and social equality in the areas of gender, race, culture, class and other areas. However, the bold statement left the question in the back of my mind of whether I, as a black person, could actually be racist? I decided to explore this person’s statements a little deeper.
To answer my question, I began with the most basic source, Merriam Webster Dictionary, which offers this simple definition of racism, “The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. It also includes the idea that “discrimination or prejudice is based on race.
”Drinnon traced racism back to pre-colonial days and provides this useful definition of racism:
Racism consists in habitual practice by a people of treating, feeling, and viewing physically dissimilar people, identified as such by skin color and other hereditary characteristics – as “less than people.”
My article pointed out comments that framed the U.S. President and first lady in a racist and stereotypical manner. Maybe the author of the column transferred some of these findings onto me?
I continued my search. Next, I found this definition by Helmreich, 1982. “racism is, in part, an effort to explain the behavior and abilities of people on the basis of their color. One of the most common applications of this in the United States is the attempt to demonstrate that Black people are inherently inferior because of their genetic makeup (p. 73). Yin’s (2006) study also provided some insight into the basic definitions of “racism.” The scholar concluded many definitions of “racism” focus on the detrimental effects of racism for non-White racial groups, while only a few also highlighting the privileges accrued through racism for Whites. Similarly, racism was generally attributed to an ideology of inferiority or superiority rather than both.
Can Blacks be racist?
These definitions were a good starting point, however, they did not specifically address my question of whether people of color can be racist. I continued looking. Next, I turned to scholarly literature on the topic. D’Souza (1995, p. 27) defined “racism” as “an ideology of intellectual or moral superiority based upon the biological characteristics of race.” Other scholars include examples to explore the term. For instance, Carrington and McDonald (2001), enhances the definition with the idea that racial exclusion creates a form of institutional racism that serves to limit access to socially valued opportunities.
The article that came closest to answering my question was Pilgrim’s (2009) essay, which specifically addresses the question of whether blacks can be racist. The author concluded that the answer depends on how one defines racism:
If you define it as “prejudice against or hatred toward another race,” then the answer is yes. If you define racism as “the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” the answer is yes. And if you define racism as “prejudice and discrimination rooted in race-based loathing,” then the answer is, again, yes.
However, if you define racism as “a system of group privilege by those who have a disproportionate share of society’s power, prestige, property, and privilege,” then the answer is no. In the end, it is my opinion that individual blacks can be and sometimes are racists. However, collectively, blacks are neither the primary creators nor beneficiaries of the racism that permeates society today (n.d).
Pilgrim’s statements are partially supported by Feagin and Vera (1995) who argue that racism is inseparable from white power and white privilege; and therefore, blacks cannot be racist. They supplement the idea that inequality is one of the criteria that sociologists use to define “minority.” This does not mean that minorities cannot be racist, though. It means, rather, that a person of color does not have the same or as many opportunities to hurt or discriminate against a member of the majority group. The two add:
Racism is more than a matter of individual prejudice and scattered episodes of discrimination designed by African Americans to exclude White Americans from full participation in the rights, privileges, and benefits of this society. Black (or other minority) racism would require not only a widely accepted racist ideology directed at whites but also the power to systematically exclude whites from opportunities and rewards in major economic, cultural, and political institutions.
While there are Black Americans with anti-white prejudices, and there are instances of black discrimination against whites, these examples are not central to the core operations of U.S. society and are not an entrenched structure of institutionalized racism.”
In other words, these scholars attach to racism the element of power and the unintentional and intentional race-based privileges that pervade a culture. Which brings me to my question; can people of color be racist? Yes, people of all races, ethnicities, etc. can be racist; however, it is not viewed as serious because racial minorities do not have a proportionate share of “power, prestige, property, and privilege.” In other words, while there are Black Americans with anti-white prejudices, and there are instances of black discrimination against whites, these examples are not central to the core operations of U.S. society and are not an entrenched structure of institutionalized racism.”
Am I racist?
Blum (2002) also helped me address this question of racism. She includes with the definition of racism, the idea that “not every instance of racial conflict, insensitivity, discomfort, miscommunication, exclusion, injustice, or ignorance should be called ‘racist.’”
“Instead of the current practice of referring to any problems concerning race ‘racism,’ society should recognize a much broader moral vocabulary for characterizing racial ills – “racial insensitivity, racial ignorance, racial injustice, racial discomfort, racial exclusion” (Blum, 2002).
Blum adds that not all forms of racism are equal. The scholar explores two basic, and distinct, forms of racism: antipathy and inferiorizing:
“Some superiority racists do not hate the target of their beliefs. They may have a paternalistic concern and feelings of kindness for persons they regard as their human inferiors. This form of racism was prevalent among slave owners, and characterized many whites’ views of blacks during the segregation era in the United States. The concern and kindness are misdirected, and demeaning, because the other is not seen as an equal, or even as a full human being; it is a racist form of concern. Nevertheless such attitudes are distinct from antipathy and hatred.”
I agree with Blum’s idea that society must utilize more varied and nuanced moral vocabulary to explore themes of “racist” and “racism.” While all forms of racial ills should elicit concern from responsible citizens, if a person displays racial insensitivity, but not racism, people should be able to see distinguish between the two (Long and McNamee, 2004).
My study findings that caused this person to characterize me as “racist” indicated that images depicting the Obamas as apes, monkeys, and buffoons are prominently displayed on the walls of hundreds of Facebook pages.
Instead of characterizing me as racist, perhaps the person meant to imply that I am analytical? Yes, I am critical of media stereotypes. My body of research includes media representations of women, minorities and other underrepresented groups. I also study new media, politics and pedagogy.
My goal is to empower members of underrepresented groups–not to degrade them. Without traditional gatekeepers to moderate such messages, I believe the watchdog role is left to scholars. People must acknowledge that not all racially objectionable actions or the people who discuss them are racist.
My conclusion: It is illogical to accuse a person who identifies and defines stereotypes as being “racist.”
Building on the thoughts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., until citizens are judged by the content of their character and not by their gender, class or race, etc., such studies will continue to be important.
- “Anti-Racist” @DavidSirota ‘s New Poster Campaign Against Racism (themadjewess.com)
- Talking About Race With Racists (caitlinreilly16.wordpress.com)
- Dems Are Ignoring Their Own Racism (newser.com)
- You may be more racist than you think, study says (azzamhassan12.wordpress.com)
- On the Word ‘Racism’ and Some of its Definitions (maverickphilosopher.typepad.com)
- Let’s kick racism out of sport … forever! (fieldoo.com)
- Racism. Are we teaching it? (brysonwigent.wordpress.com)
- Let’s Admit it: We’re all Racist (whitemailbox.wordpress.com)