It seems there is a lot of misunderstanding, particularly among Trump supporters, about what does and does not constitute racism. “We are tired of being called racists,” they say, and “It’s not us who are the racists. It’s Black Lives Matter and Obama and people like Rev. Jesse Jackson who are the real racists.” It’s very obvious have they no understanding of the distinction between small r racism and big R Racism.
It’s well past time that someone, namely me, explained the difference to them.
Small r racism is what happens whenever someone from one race hates or negatively stereotypes the members of another race. Anyone can be a small r racist. White people, black people, Hispanic people, can all be small r racists as long as they dislike any other racial group. Sometimes people from India really hate people from Pakistan. That is small r racism.
Big R Racism, on the other hand, is something completely different. Big R Racism is systemic and institutional. Only those with a significant power advantage over another group can be big R Racists. The power advantage is a necessary component and without this advantage, even if someone wildly despises someone from another racial grouping, their behavior can only be classified as regular, run-of-the-mill, garden variety, small r racism. Big R Racism is evident when, say, prisons in a given country are disproportionally filled by members of one race over members of another. In America, only white people can be big R Racists. I’m sorry, I know you don’t like it, Trump supporters, but that is just the way it is. African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans have not now and, in fact, have never had, the necessary power to be big R Racists when it comes to white people. So when you say that black people or Hispanic people are every bit as racist as white people, it simply isn’t so. Because of the definition of big R Racism, it isn’t even possible.
Now, I know you think that people calling you on your racism is every bit as oppressive as being torn from your family and country, kidnapped and dragged across the ocean in slave ships and then forced to work the rest of your life in brutal, back breaking conditions and then, after half the country has gone to war with the other half for the right to keep you as property, you are still regularly beaten, raped and murdered when you have the temerity to want to drink from the same fountain or ride in the same section of the bus as other people. Maybe it is, for you. Maybe you are spineless, pathetic weaklings and cannot handle even the tiniest amount of criticism and reproach. It isn’t Racism, though. Not big R Racism. A black person who dislikes a white person just doesn’t have the same historical weight as a white person who dislikes a black person. It’s the power imbalance. Some anger that African-Americans have towards white people is justified, even. We’ve never attempted to pay them back in any way for the disgusting treatment at our hands. We’ve never even said, in any kind of organized way, that we’re sorry. We usually just say that black people should just be grateful we let them have anything at all.
Now, here’s the thing. Intelligent white people know that, on one level or another, all white people in America are racists. Sure, we may be nice to black people. We may not openly discriminate against African-Americans or Hispanic-Americans when we are hiring for jobs or trying to rent apartments. Not one of us has done enough in this country, however, to fight the appalling treatment of minorities.
We know there is a power imbalance.
We see it when African-Americans get murdered on a regular basis by the police. We see it when an opioid crisis among white, middle class young people is considered a national emergency but a comparable crack cocaine crisis in inner cities a generation before passes without comment or notice. We see it in the aforementioned disparity between racial representation in our nation’s prisons. Intelligent white people know that we can and should have done more. Intelligent white people know that we haven’t because the situation benefits us and we haven’t wanted to give that up. We know that we have white privilege. We know that if we are ever going to truly address the problem of race in America, we are going to have to all roll up our sleeves, get to work and do a whole hell of a lot more.
We realize that you Trump supporters don’t like being called racists and like to swear up and down that you aren’t. The problem is that you don’t get to make that call. It’s like the decision on whether you are a good employee or not. You can think you are all you want but if your boss thinks you suck, then you get fired. You can’t give yourself a raise because you think you deserve it. Likewise, it is the rest of humanity who get do decide if you are a racist or not. And we see through your explanations and justifications.
Look, if it makes you happy, we’ll all agree to stop calling you racists. Will that make you feel better? Of course it won’t really make any difference.
We’ll all still know exactly who you are.