Tag Archives: power

Racism 101: Prejudice vs. Power

Any time a white person uses their own personal experience of prejudice (or a fabricated one) to demonstrate how whites suffer from racism, there is an underlying tendency to believe individual experience reflects broader social and structural realities. This is not the case. Just as one white person who was harassed by a person of color does not prove “reverse” racism, one Black president does not prove the end of racism. For the few white folks with hurt pride, there are thousands more with staggering social comfort who make hurt pride an exception to the status quo; for the few POC with class/political privilege, there are thousands more with staggering social oppression who make this privilege an exception to the status quo. How much white privilege does it require to think one painful confrontation is equally damaging as living with the daily reality of racism? And how much white privilege does it require to think one isolated incident, or even several isolated incidents, are equivalent to the constant violence of racism?

Part of the problem in this case is the assumption that individuals are representative of entire groups, whether they are white or of color. Malcolm X attacked as an “extremist” and depicted/blamed as the symbol of Black “violence” ignores and erases the diverse complexities of identity and thought within Black communities. Making a case for reverse racism based on that one white girl down the street who got called a “cracker b*tch” or a “gringa” that one time ignores and erases the systemic and social power of having white skin. The fact that our whiteness protects us from racial violence and hatred 99% of the time facilitates our unjustified outrage when POC don’t value us for being white. We are so used to being valued for being white that we are quick to cry ‘injustice’ when anyone challenges the longstanding positive construction of whiteness. But don’t get it twisted: prejudice does not equal power. When white folks have legacies of social, structural, and racial power in our favor, prejudice against us is completely inconsequential and certainly not identical. Interpersonal conflict does not threaten the power of whiteness or render the suffering of racism equal along lines of race.

Until the majority of white folks have been retroactively written out of the US constitution, enslaved on the basis of being less than human, imported to work in agribusiness and industry then deported as disposable labor, and have been overwhelmingly colonized, displaced, raped, and tortured, then maybe we can talk about racism against whites. Once the majority of white folks are segregated to neighborhoods next to industrial plants and sewage refineries, have their social and political opportunities limited because of their racial identity, are discriminated against in employment and education, and have to live with constant dehumanization based on their race, then maybe we can talk about racism against whites. Stereotyping and lumping all POC under one identity by misinterpreting individual actions is racist; white folks losing their privilege because individual white people have hurt feelings is impossible.

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