'Power + prejudice = racism' equals an inadequate definition

by Carolyn Davids

Staff Writer

Recently, the Multicultural Student Advisory Board (MSAB) held an anti-racism week with the campaign slogan ``Unlearn.'' While I acknowledge the need for such educational movements within our own community, I am afraid that the education being given is not proper or fitting for a Christian campus. I was distraught at the literature distributed and the seminars held primarily because Calvin is ascribing to an flawed definition of ``racism.''

The college has chosen to operate with the definition of racism that says, ``Any attitude, action or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of their color. ... Racism is not just a matter of attitudes: actions and institutional structures can also be a form of racism'' (taken from the ``Definitions of Racism'' handout distributed by the MSAB). This statement is a wonderful, all-encompassing definition that captures the issue very well.

However, the pamphlet continues: ``Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred or discrimination. Racism involves having the power to carry out systematic discriminatory practices through the major institutions.'' It follows, then, that only white people in the United States can be racist because they are the only group with the power.

This is the first problem. It is not necessary to have power to be racist. Racism (or being a racist), as pointed out by the first part of the definition, includes attitudes as well as actions and institutional structures. Granted, power is necessary for racism on an institutional level; however, for attitudes or actions to be racist does not require power.

Racism is a form of prejudice, not a concept beyond prejudice. There are scores of differences people pick up on that can be used to form a prejudice. Much like sexism (in which one gender is preferred over another), racism is a subset of the concept of prejudice. The word ``racism'' is merely a modifier to specify a type of prejudice.

Perhaps the biggest problem with this definition, however, is the consequences of accepting it. First, including power as a necessary element in the racism equation completely absolves any minority from any accountability for racist actions. It is a myth that only white people carry out hateful, racist actions. The classic picture of a racist is a KKK member in bed sheets burning crosses, but does this picture continue to permeate our national consciousness because that is the true reflection of reality or because this is the only picture painted for us?

Proportional to the population, there are more black-on-white crimes than white-on-black crimes. According to U.S. Department of Justice figures, 85 percent of interracial crimes across the nation are committed by blacks against whites (David Horowitz, ``Hating Whitey'' 28). However, we never hear about these because with this definition, it is not considered a racist action, and therefore it is not as newsworthy.

Even when awful crimes are committed that were obviously racially motivated, it is not titled a ``hate crime.'' By the definition that Calvin too is buying into, these black men cannot be held accountable as racists because they are not white and they do not have power.

Second, absolution of responsibility also perpetuates what some have deemed a ``victim'' mentality. Only white people can be racist, and black people (or other minorities) can only be victims.

``When you cast people utterly as victims, you destroy their sense of self-determination. You make them passive, you make them waiters instead of actors. And you become the problem. If you keep asking white people to view blacks as helpless victims, what filters through their consciousness often comes out the other end as `nigger' (``Defining the problem,'' Mother Jones; v.18 no.1 pg. 6).

Third, this definition is unchristian because it judges instead of dialogues and raises racial barriers rather than breaking them down. This is an inherently flawed definition and many people know it, making the finger-pointing in Calvin's literature more offensive.

In the infamous story of Jesus addressing judgment of others, Jesus says, ``For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay not attention to the plank in your own eye?'' What is this definition if not looking for the speck of anti-black sawdust? It ignores the anti-white sentiments that are visible just as often in the black community.

The violation of Christ's principle has the same consequences in the realm of racism as on a personal level. In each case, pointing out the sins of another before humbling yourself incites resentment and anger. The judged perceives a ``holier than thou'' attitude, which only builds walls.