What is Racism?
Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus defines racism as, “the practice of racial discrimination, segregation, etc.” Google Dictionary defines racism as, “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, an organization that teaches people to un-do racism by conducting anti-racism courses, seminars and workshops, all over the world, defines racism as, “race prejudice + power = racism”. I agree with each of these definitions. But for a second I’d like to focus on the definition used by ‘The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’, especially the use of the word ‘power’. Power is a very important term within their definition. Without “power” racism can only perpetrate a shadow of its purpose. I want to take defining racism a step further, but at the same time please remember “power” is also an important element of the racism, I’m about to introduce. But first, I want to explain racism this way.
The year is 2019 and racism has yet to be undone in America. The curiosity in regard to why racism hasn’t been undone has been a constant echo ringing in the minds of the victims of racial injustice, since the taking of American soil from the Native people and the promise of forty acres and a mule to former negro slaves. Since Native Indians will not be getting their land back anytime soon and since reparation for descendants of Africa slaves has yet to come to fruition, we must focus on dealing with and eliminating racism and its manifestations. When I say we, I mean the victims of racism. At the same time, we must show an American society which will not allow the stench of racism to evanesce into a time that once was; that racism has an internal negative effect on the perpetrators, as well as on the recipients. This negative effect causes a void in the souls and conscience of racist people; a void which they feel can be filled by seeing themselves better that people from other ethnic groups.
However, in order to adequately address this country’s racial dilemma, one must identify and agree upon, a working definition of racism. The definition of racism must include elements which will explain how racism works. The elements within the definition of racism must also be varied and interchangeable. At the same time the elements within the definition of racism must be so succinct, that any missing and defined element, renders the definition and any given racist act, impotent.
Neither racism nor the effects of racism are constant. This means, racism is not perpetrated and received in the same way, in each racist situation or system. This is because each racist situation or system is different and consists of different, but identifiable elements. Together, all the defined elements of racism make each particular racist situation effective. Therefore, undoing racism isn’t about eliminating any single element within a racist situation or system. Undoing racism is about recognizing which element(s) are currently being used in the current racist situation or system and eliminating said element(s). There is no single miracle blanket that can be thrown over a racist situation or system that will totally smother its effects. Again, the most effective way to deal with racism, whether it is perpetrated systemically or individually, is to identify, confront and curtail the elements racist systems and racist people use. There are several systemic and individual varieties of racism which allow racism to continue and during certain times in society flourish.
Do you remember Smokey Bear?
According to Smokeybear.com there are three elements needed for a fire to occur. And if Smokey Bear doesn’t know the elements of a fire, no one does. Heat – A heat source is responsible for the initial ignition of fire and is also needed to maintain the fire and enable it to spread. Heat allows fire to spread by drying out and preheating nearby fuel and warming surrounding air. Fuel – Fuel is any kind of combustible material. It’s characterized by its moisture content, size, shape, quantity and the arrangement in which it is spread over the landscape. The moisture content determines how easily it will burn. Oxygen – Air contains about 21 percent oxygen, and most fires require at least 16 percent oxygen content to burn. Oxygen supports the chemical processes that occur during fire. When fuel burns, it reacts with oxygen from the surrounding air, releasing heat and generating combustion products (gases, smoke, embers, etc.). This process is known as oxidation.
Like the elements needed to start a fire, there are also elements needed for racism to exist. According to the definitions of racism we mentioned earlier, the elements of racism must be ignited by those with power. And like the elements needed for fire, those with power must control certain elements for racism to be perpetrated successfully and continued on an ongoing basis. Contrary to popular belief, racism isn’t caused by hatred. Hatred is a manifestation of racism and can be used as fuel to sustain racism. The act of racism is caused by one powerful group of people using their access to certain elements, to control another group of people with less or no power. So, what are the elements of racism?
Introducing the Anderson Hypothesis of Explaining Racism
The Anderson Hypothesis of Explaining Racism states: When a nation’s more economically, politically powerful and entitled race or culture assigns and attaches internal superiority, un-true history, while deleting the use of sound reasoning based on scientific knowledge, historical fact and meaningful communication; to the politically and economically powerless people within its society, racism will occur and remain constant.
The observance of truth, through scientific knowledge, historical facts, the relinquishing of an internalized superiority complex and the attitude of entitlement, must replace, the dominant culture perpetuating an atmosphere of internal superiority and untrue history, which is being referred to these days as, “alternative facts”. Sound reasoning, based on scientific knowledge, historical fact and meaningful communication, must become the norm, or racism will continue to exist.
As I look at the history of racism in the United States, I am convinced my hypothesis on racism can be displayed as a social formula. I see the social formula for racism stated as such: If IS= internal superiority; UH= un-true history; EC&PPE=economic and political power and entitlement; is greater than KF= knowledge & facts; MCOM=Meaningful communication; R =racism will occur and remain constant. If (IS+UH)(EC&PPE) directed negatively towards a particular racial group > (KF +MCOM) R will occur and remain constant.
Reasoning for formula: If ((IS+UH)(EC&PPE)>(KF+MCOM))=R
If economic power, and a feeling of superiority, over people from a non-power race or group of people, disregarding accurate knowledge and facts about said non-power race or group of people occurs; racism will prevail and remain constant. Therefore, should the American people continue to not engage in meaningful, knowledgeable and factual communication about race and racism, racism will continue to exist.
If America continues to allow a group of people to practice internal superiority and untrue history, falsely produced because they are more economically and politically powerful, and they have the means to use their innate feelings of entitlement; over the economically and politically powerless races or groups of people, rather than using sound reasoning based on scientific knowledge, historical fact and meaningful communication; racism will prevail and remain constant.
If internal superiority and untrue history, about people from a particular race or group of people, by a race or group of people who are more economically, politically powerful and entitled, is greater than sound reasoning, based on knowledge, fact and meaningful communication; racism will occur and remain constant. Eliminate any part(s) of the (greater than, elements of this formula), systemic and individual acts of racism as we know them, cannot function and will eventually cease to exist. In other words, just like taking an element away from what causes a fire, extinguishes the fire, eliminate any part or parts of the elements of racism as it is defined above and it cannot logically survive.
Racism isn’t about hate:
As you can see racism does not need hatred in order to exist. People often perpetrate racism with a smile on their faces. Therefore, hatred isn’t the cause of racism. In fact, hate is merely one result produced by racism. Racism also produces internalized superiority complex, which applied correctly to powerless people, creates within the powerless an internalized inferiority complex. Being a victim of either of these conditions doesn’t necessarily create hatred. It does however create a lopedsided system in which the powerful always inflict pain and anguish onto the powerless.
So, what are we to do in our fight to rid America of its racism? We must stop allowing racist people to keep us fighting useless battles with Don Quixote’s windmills. We must rid the racist of the real elements which allow the manifestations of racism to systematically metastasize throughout educational, religious, political and economic systems, government and private institutions and, the mindset within cultures and individuals.
White People’s Role in Fighting Racism:
My knowledge and experience in teaching anti-racism is often discounted by Whites. It is discounted because of what Joseph Barndt says in ‘Understanding & Dismantling Racism: The twenty-first Century Challenge to White People’, “As White people who participate in multiracial coalitions and organizations, we must learn two hard lessons. One is the ability to follow the leadership of people of color. This is very hard for us, since it is at the very core of racism that whites should lead and people of color follow. Second, if we no longer lead, it is hard to avoid the opposite temptation: to stand on the sidelines and limit our participation to mere cheering. We are not just supporters of people of color, but co-participants in this struggle for the freedom of us all. Eliminating racism is an equal opportunity task that welcomes all participants (Barndt, 1991 p. 163; 2007 p. 228).”
My experiences in seminars and workshops have been overwhelmingly difficult. Because of Barndt’s statement above, trying to train white folk about racism and anti-racism continues to be a task not meant for people who are thin-skinned. Most of the time, the defensiveness in the room, is so thick, it could be cut with a knife. I often had to work extra hard to gain White people’s trust. Most do not like getting their bubble busted about their rights to their feelings and how I must value their opinions. For them it is difficult to replace feelings and opinions with historical facts and statistical truths. However, I have seen the lightbulb pop on over the heads of more than a few attendees. Seeing the light bulb pop on in someone is what gives trainers the motivation, desire and energy to continue anti-racism work.