December 7, 2002
Only whites can be racist
Yesterday I noted how the notion that only whites can be racist is gaining enormous currency on college campuses, where it fuels both diversity training programs and the curriculum. Case in point: Ethic Studies 1 at UC Riverside. "Introduction to Race and Ethnicity" promises to "introduce students to major concepts and controversial issues in the study of race and ethnicity and shall provide a general overview of topics to be covered in more specialized Ethnic Studies courses." Based on the course evaluation posted on NoIndoctrination.org, the main "major concepts" introduced in the course were the indisputable truths that racism is pervasive in American society, that institutionalized racism accounts for blacks' collective underachievement, and that only whites can be racist:
In an attempt to justify the uneven socio-economic conditions of African Americans in the United States today, the professor blamed the conditions on overt racism everyday by white people all across the nation. The professor essentially defined racism as an opinion or attitude of a white individual toward an individual of color. I then asked him, ìDoes this mean that an individual of color in America can not be racist?î He responded, telling me that was correct. Based on the oppression that African Americans experienced in America, they could not be racist. The professor was so excessive on this perspective that some of the black students in the class actually told me that he made them uncomfortable. White racism was absolutely the theme of every lecture. The class was consistent with the title of the course, ëRacism in America.í Since the professor believed only white people could be racist, naturally the whole course was about white racism.
...the TA also supported the professorís assertions about how only white people can be racist. She told us that people of color could be prejudiced toward whites or other people of color. However they were not in a position to be racist. It was really unusual, as if they were redefining these words for their course.
For those who are new to this particular ideological twilight zone, the rationale for this argument goes like this: only those who enjoy social power and privilege (i.e., whites) can be racist. The disenfranchised cannot, by definition, be racist because they lack the power to institutionalize any prejudices they may have. There is a corollary to this argument that goes like this: all whites are by definition racist. The privilege of white skin, the argument goes, makes this inevitable.
Jane Elliot, the famous diversity trainer, prides herself on her ability to get whites to recognize their racism during the course of her sessions. It's a painful process, and most whites are very resistant to it. But it's worth it to her and to the many, many Jane Elliot knockoffs out there on the diversity circuit. Why? Because this is about spiritual awakening and rebirth. Once recognized, racism can be repudiated, and the born-again counter-supremacist can begin to walk the path of multicultural salvation.
I use the religious imagery here deliberately. People who preach these ideas preach them. They believe them to be true, having accepted them on faith. That's one reason why this course on ethnic studies did not include alternative perspectives on race and presented an ideologically loaded theory as simple fact. For the professor and the T.A., most likely, the theory is fact.