Volume Ten: Can Minorities Be Racist?

Posted on 07/26/2009


I’m baaaaaaaaccccck! Man, how time flies. I just realized that it’s been over a month since my last post. I know you have been starving for good, insightful and thought provoking blogs. This is not one of them (LOL). I’ve told y’all before that I only post when something inspires me (and when I have the time). Well, I’ve been inspired again to set the record straight. After the confirmation hearings for Sonya Sotomayor, and especially after the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, I’ve been having some curious conversations that continually includes one word: Racism. And, as the conversations evolved, the question came up, “Can Black people be racist?” I’ve expanded that question and made it inclusive for all (as well as the title of this post). More specifically, “In America, can minorities be racist?”

What is Racism?

To start, I’d like to get an understanding of what racism is. I mean, we have an idea or inkling of what we think racism is – and we know we can point out the more blatant examples – but do we understand (at its simplest level) what constitutes racism? Dictionary.com defines racism in two parts. Part one describes the ideology of racism by stating it is “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others. Wow! Deep stuff. For my point I could stop there, but I believe that part two of the definition is just as important for our purposes here. Part two states that racism is “a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination”. It gets deeper… I even looked up the suffix “-ism” and found that the first definition for -ism is “act: practice: process”.

It’s Defined. Now What?

Following the above definition and, consequently, the rules of jurisprudence in this country, being or becoming a racist suggests that both motive and opportunity are necessary to enact racist doctrine. Whew! (Take a minute to let that sink in. Mark said read it twice if you need to.) Last I checked, only one group in the history of this country has had both the motive and opportunity to enact racist doctrine. I don’t have the time, energy or space to list all the racist doctrine enacted in this country (nor will I insult your intelligence by doing so). Needless to say, minorities may possess one of the necessary elements, but never have we had the opportunity to enact doctrine. Bottom line: Minorities are not capable of being racist or employing racism.

I know that that statement in the post-Jim Crow, post-Segregation, integrated, Obama-loving era in which we live is not politically correct. In fact, I have had more minorities argue with me about that statement than I’ve had whites. It’s hard for the liberal mind to wrap itself around statements that are not inclusive of all people. And, I know it’s become real sexy to say that minorities are being racist. It’s the old “Johnny did it too”argument that children employ when confronted with their misdeeds.  When you add that to our love of inflammatory language used primarily to incite emotion and conflict, rather than frank and thoughtful discussion, you create social chaos, which is like a Red Bull cocaine cocktail to television ratings (You can turn your TV to Fox News if you need an example).

If not Racist, what then?

Let me say this before I go any further. I believe that there are only a few true racists in this country: Black, White, or otherwise. There are several words that can be used to describe questionable behavior besides racist. The word racist incites so much emotion because it suggests that you believe one race is superior to, and should rule over, other races ( definition part one, aka, the motive behind racism). If I was called a racist, I’d be angry too. I definitely don’t believe that to be true. Yet, time and time again, we hear people using that term when there is an interracial argument. Calling someone a racist is the quickest way to elevate the argument while at the same time losing any reasonable chance of settling the matter appropriately. It implies you’ve made a  judgement about their character and belief system, not just their behavior. It is an ugly term and should only be used in the extreme cases.

Words that can and should be used are prejudicial, stereotypical, bigoted, discriminatory, biased, etc. These words are more indicative of behavior, rather than character. And, they may or may not be made by conscious choice – as racism is. For example, in the Henry Louis Gates situation, I don’t believe the officer was a racist. I do believe that the racist practices of the past shaped his perspective and perception of the event. Statements he’s made in subsequent interviews prove my point. He said he was “surprised” to learn about Mr. Gates’ education and occupation. Why? Because the racist practices of the past have altered the perception of Black people so much that the immediate assumption is uneducated, or even worse, criminal. Yet, that statement alone does not make him racist. It makes him prejudicial and stereotypical, but not racist.

I could go on and on, but I feel I’ve made my point. And, I know you’re going to stop reading soon. I know that the people that read my blog are both intelligent and rational. Please pleaseuse caution before dropping the word racist indiscriminately. Find the appropriate moniker and apply it cautiously. Despite our history, we are here today and must coexist. I’m the first one to call a spade a spade, but not just to be hurtful or incendiary. I still don’t believe that minorities can be racist, but I do believe we can all be stupid. I’m working hard to limit my displays of stupidity.

That’s just my three cents…


“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act…”