Sunday, September 26, 2010

Are white people more racist than everyone else?

The answer to this question is... no. Or yes. It depends on what you think "racist" means.

It may seem like a provocative question, but I ask it not because I necessarily believe it to be true, but because it is an issue many people think about.

There are plenty of white people who ask questions like, "How come it's only racist if white people do it?"

Likewise, many non-white people, surveying the historical legacy of white people on the world, have wondered, "What is it about white people that makes them do so much f***ed-up racist sh*t?"

Before we start this discussion, we need to first ask: what do "racist" and "racism" actually mean? You may think this is a stupid question with an obvious answer, but exact definitions are disputed.

* The basic definition of racism is the belief that racial groups have inherent differences that make them superior or inferior to others.
* The most common, man-in-the-street definition of racism is probably technically closer to racial prejudice; in other words, having negative views of others due to their ethnicity.
* The sociological definition of racism (which you'll often come across in anti-racist circles) is that it equals racial prejudice plus power.

You could also take issue with the terms I am using here such as "white", "non-white", and "race"; indeed all are problematic, but I'm going to use them as they are generally understood.


So back to the main question: Are white people more racist than everyone else?

If we follow the sociological definition of racism, we can answer that question easily: yes. Under that definition, as it applies to Western countries, white people are the dominant group who control the bulk of social, political and economic power. Non-white people in these countries can certainly have prejudice; however, since they do not have the same degree of power, these prejudices do not systematically impact on the lives of those they are prejudiced against. Thus, going by this definition, a non-white minority in a white-dominated country cannot be racist; it follows that white people are obviously going to be more racist than everyone else.

Case closed?

Not really, because while I'm not going to say that such a definition is wrong, I do feel nonetheless that there are problems with it. Firstly, while it may have currency in academic circles, it is not the definition of racism that is understood by the average person. Try to tell the average person in the West that only white people can be racist, and they'll think you are bullsh*tting them; it just does not ring true. Many would see it as an idea propagated by educated elites to disempower the common man. And this is extremely significant because the battle against racism is primarily fought in the world of the average person, not in academia.

The other problem I have with "racism = prejudice + power" is that power is not just insitutional, but situational. A POC (person of colour) operating in a white system may not have much institutional power; but if a group of POC decide to attack a lone white person because they are prejudiced against whites, their numbers give them significantly greater power to cause harm than the white person.


So let's assume instead, for the sake of this discussion, that we are talking about racial prejudice, which is what most people seem to understand racism to be.

Are white people more racially prejudiced than other races of people?

You could certainly find plenty of evidence to prove that they must be. The histories of Africa, the Americas, Asia and Australia have been irrevocably shaped by the racism of European powers (primarily England, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands) in the colonial era until today. Nations like Australia and the US are founded on the racist notion that indigenous peoples had no claim to the land that was worth respecting. The same people whose Bible clearly instructed "Thou shalt not steal" and "Thou shalt not kill" had few qualms about stealing land and resources and killing anyone who tried to stop them; because racism allowed them to see non-Europeans as not sufficiently worthy of such respect. Even into the 20th century, a white nation systematically executed 6 million of its inhabitants who were white, but somehow not white enough.

If we were to compare the impact of white racism over the last few hundred years with the impacts of East Asian racism, or black African racism, or indigenous American racism, there would be no contest. If we base our judgement solely on a body count, then white people are far more racist than anyone else.

But is that the best way to judge these things? Some would say yes; however there is a major problem with such an analysis. If the impacts of the racial prejudices of non-Europeans did not have such a major effect on world history as that of the Europeans, why was that? Are non-white people intrinsically less hateful to others on the basis of their race?

There are some who say yes. But if we look at history, including modern day events, it is clear that white people certainly have no monopoly on cruelty, barbarism and hatred. While the legacy of colonialism cannot be overlooked, it was not Europeans who practised the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Burundi that led to almost 2 million people being murdered. Neither was it Europeans who massacred the ethnic Chinese minority in Indonesia in 1965, or who participated in the Rape of Nanjing.

If we look beyond horrific ethnic conflicts and think about personal prejudices, whites and non-whites are little different. It may have been white Americans and not the Chinese who enslaved Africans and treated them as third-class citizens for several hundred years; but today the average Chinese person is probably just as prejudiced towards black people as the average American, if not more. I personally know a great many people of a variety of ethnicities who have dated Asian people (be they Cambodian, Indian, Chinese or whatever), only to fall foul of the deep-seated prejudices of that Asian's parents.

This is not to let white people off the hook for their legacy. As heinous as the effects of racism by non-whites can often be, white racism is simply more of a problem, at least in the Western world. And it comes back to power. A non-white person may have power in a particular situation, sure. But looking at the bigger picture, Western nations are dominated by white people in terms of population, in terms of wealth, in terms of political leadership, in terms of status and influence. A Barack Obama may be able to achieve the highest office in the USA, but while the political and legal decision makers, media players and CEOs remain overwhelmingly white, non-whites lack real power. So white racism has effects that are much more far-reaching than say, Indian racism or African-American racism.

I mentioned earlier about the historical legacies of colonialism and how white racism has been one of the major forces to shape the world in the last several hundred years. This is because whites had the means and opportunity. But what if the tides of history had turned out differently?

While the empires of Western Europe (Britain, Spain, France, etc) dominated the world's landscape since the 15th century, there were other empires that flourished during and before that time. At various times the Turks, Mongols, Chinese, Persians and Arabs (among others) have controlled large chunks of the world map, primarily through violence. No doubt racism was a factor in those conquests as well. Had fate dealt Sub-Saharan Africa a different hand, we could have seen Europe overrun and conquered by armies of Zulus or Somalis. Were that to happen, I do not doubt that they would be capable of just as much brutality and racism as Europeans have shown themselves capable of.

But at the end of the day, we must deal with reality. And in reality, no matter the potential for other races to inflict their racism on the world on a grand scale, it was white people who put it into action. It is their racism that effects everyone else the most.

But those who would claim that this is proof of the instrinsically racist or evil nature of whites, or claim that "the white man is the devil" (as some black radicals have done and continue to do) are way off base. That sort of thinking ignores the fundamentally flawed nature of human morality; we are all capable of great good and great evil, and the latter often happens when we think we are doing great good. If whites are guilty of doing some of those evil things more often, it is only because they have greater opportunity to do so.

White people are not really any more racist than anyone else. But given the context of the present and past, their racism simply matters far more than that of anyone else.

8 comments:

  1. This is a well written post. It's objective and reasonable. I can't disagree with any of it.

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  2. You raised some important points, if nothing else, how difficult is to discuss, or even define terms and issues when it comes to racism.

    I don't think whites, or any people for that matter, are born evil or with a high risk of being racist. It's not in anybody's DNA. However, culture is what shapes us, and people pick social cues pretty quickly, so even 4 year old kids can be racist.

    I think it's important to note here (as with any other race/privilege discussion) that there are always two levels: personal and group/collective level. It's not the same. Your privilege and identity can't be used to describe your personal life experience. Say you are a white heterosexual male who was attacked by non-whites. You belong to the most privileged group, but that doesn't mean much if, say, members of less privileged groups beat you up for being a white male.

    However, that's just an individual level- it doesn't change the fact your group is the most powerful one and that your group's racism affects people the most on a global level.

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    1. bullshit whites introduced capitalism class system and are racist

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  3. I'm Anonymous! Yay! Delete me...
    Racism is a problem when people with power abuse it. Corrupt police, governments, or even media sensations such as; Spike Lee, or Jesse Jackson. Colour does not dictate a person's actions. Being an A**hole does.In Australia i don't see much racism, as it is an extremely mixed country. Therefore my view of racism is confined to my environment, which is relatively non-existent (I realise we have had 'White Australia', and massacres of Aboriginals (alot due to flus brought from overseas). I also understand that if terra nullas wasn't invoked, massacres would have been worse in conquest). The word nigger, similar to the word cracker relate back to slavery in America. Both are equally racist. Anyone who says otherwise is ignorant, or bias. I also understand that slavery in America aswell as the prolonged prejudice after slavery was abolished went on for several centuries. I also understand that the jews enslaved by Egyptians (blacks), went on for a few thousand years.

    It may be interesting to why i had to identify that Egyptians are black. It is due to the few media monster Africans claiming that they are BLACK, and everyone else is brown. I call BullSh*t.

    African-Americans had/have it rough. Alot have had it rougher or just as rough. Jews, early anglo-saxons, greeks, japan (they got freakin nuked... twice), the list goes on. I think in this case, not calling specific nationality, but relating to colour. It would be hard-pressed to claim that whites are more racist then blacks. Jews vs. African-American slavery. Thousands of years vs. centuries. Say nigger on TV, your fired. Say dirty jew on TV, cracker, honkey, chink, spick... People laugh... Racism is kept alive by racists.. No-one alive today in common society is or has been a slave owner. No-one in common society is or has been a slave. If your pissed about what happened to you great great... Your a douche... If you a racist, your a douche... If your a douhce, your a douche.. Thats my 10 cents, and my rant. Have fun lol

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  4. if you want to see who the real racist are look at the justice dept. and F.B.I.crime statistics for black on white crime.

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  5. Racist? Come and live in Asia and see what true racism is.
    This is not meant as an anti-Asian rant as my wife is Chinese (from NZ, though) and we have worked in Singapore and now Malaysia for over ten years and our jobs take us to all parts of Asia.

    The Asian-Asian form of racism is quite despicable and very, very wide-spread . . . be is based on skin-colour or even skin-tone, country of origin, ethnicity (even inter-ethnic racism).

    Thankfully Caucasians are brought up - or should be - to not let their racism show, either intellectually or physically.

    (yes, racism can be replaced by many terms; prejudice, bigotry etc...)

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  6. @ Panama Hat:
    Interesting. I would argue that the reason white folks in the West are brought up to be more aware of the inappropriateness of racism is that historically, white people have a lot more to be ashamed of.
    Most people in Asia do not have a similar legacy that can be compared to say, white Australians or white Americans. Which ironically makes their prejudices often more overt than Westerners; the idea of "liberal guilt" has not really culturally evolved in Asia when it comes to racial matters.
    That said, for all the prejudice that exists in Asia these days, you don't see much of the virulent, potentially violent racism that a minority of white Westerners are capable of.

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  7. i find most of your discussions very well put together and very sensitive too. im from the Caribbean and even there we saw certain prejudices in who was fairer with thinner noses and such. we did not call it racism since we all were black except for those of the native race Carib Indian of which incidentally i am half of from my mothers side of the family. but i truly experienced racism when i arrived in Canada when a white person told me go back to Africa. it was rather shocking since all the white people i had met before when they were visiting my island were so very nice. I got followed in stores,i was basically treated like some sort of lower class citizen . this has changed me drastically. i don't trust white people at all. i find them very deceitful and two-faced , very dishonest.i think all cultures have their prejudices towards each other but the underlying factor of most seems to favor features that are closer to those of white people . no wonder then the white people feel superior to all other races.i dont understand it since they tend to wrinkle and look older than all other races at a much faster rate, they are the ones who use the most cosmetics to make themselves feel beautiful ,they are the ones doing the most surgeries to change body parts . its time everyone else realizes that we have been brainwashed for too long and take a good look at ourselves and appreciate the natural beauty in all races.

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