WARNING: MORE CONTENT AND LESS PICTURES FOLLOWS
In a recent discussion with an elder, I was reminded of the difference between racism and prejudice–no matter how extreme the prejudice may be. Considering we have a biracial (yeah I said it) president and so much vitriol is being hurled against this man and his supporters, now is a good time to distinguish between racism and prejudice.
Beginning with prejudice, as I alluded to earlier, I was recently confronted with an extreme version of it. The gentleman was a retired older Black man (elder) running a small business. I asked him how he got into the business he was in, and he spoke briefly of his investment, and then he began to express the sincerest disdain for Latinos, or Mexicans, in particular. He complained that they were stealing from him regularly despite several different locks having been installed. I suggested that larceny was probably a top-down phenomenon, which included the White manager. He nodded in agreement, but his focus was on the “dirty,” “filthy,” sneaky,” “willing to fuck [read: “steal from”] their mother, their grandmother…” Mexicans whom he regarded as the mud in his eye. With a fiery boldness that slowly backed me against a wall, this 5’8″ elder made me nervous while listening to him recount a threat he gave to a Mexican man. He talked about how easy it is to kill Mexicans in Southern California, especially those with tattoos because the police would “take one look at all his tattoos and say, ‘Oh well. One less one'” (Actually, that summation is eerily true, but I’ll come back to that). This rather demure looking fellow dropped enough MF bombs to cause Bernie Mack to roll over in his grave! He talked about how he’d decided to stop killing back in 1965, but apparently, Mexicans were trying his patience.
And so I ask, is this man racist? The answer is no! No doubt, he is very prejudice against Latinos–as he lumps all Latinos under the umbrella of “Mexican,” which is like calling all Europeans “German.” He is definitely hateful, ignorant, and rude, but the fact his, however much hatred he has for Latinos or Mexicans, in particular, he has no real power over them, and therein lies the difference between racism and prejudice.
Prejudice is nothing more than the prejudging of others. Our prejudgments may be based upon an individual’s social categorization, organizational membership, or even something as simple as eye color; however, prejudice remains such until power puts one’s prejudice in play. By power, I mean the ability to impose one’s will against the will the of others–whether individually or collectively. On a micro level, we all have some power, but racism is largely a macro level social force with micro level implications. Racism is a system of socially and politically codified and institutionalized prejudices based upon race. It is the consolidation of bases of power for the purpose of regulating the very lives of a particular race or several racial groups. It is a system in that racism (the institution) is comprised of interrelated parts in which a change in one affects a change in another. This is exactly how our bodies work.
The human body is a system comprised of subsystems. A change in the respiratory system causes changes in the circulatory system; a change in the nervous system causes changes in the muscular system and so on. So it is so with racism. We may clearly see, throughout the history of this nation, that there has never been a U.S. institution that was not racist. Whether the change comes in law, polity, education, family/kinship, economy, or religion, a change in one causes changes in other, and in the case of racism, which permeates all of the six major human institutions, it is easy to see how a change in one can lead to a change in another.
Switching gears a bit in order to further illuminate the differences between prejudice and racism, let’s look at the issue of cultural nationalism. Cultural nationalism is defined here as preference for the cultural character of one’s racial or ethnic group (these are not the same). This may be simplified somewhat by trying to understand cultural nationalism as that most human of all phenomenona: in-group preference and out-group prejudice on the level of race and or ethnicity. This does not mean that one seeks to oppress, repress, or destroy counter-cultures–indeed one can have an appreciation of others, but a sincere desire to keep one’s culture uncontaminated by outside forces (although few cultures exist completely free of outside influence) is a staple of cultural nationalism.
Blacks have had many culturally nationalistic organizations, and from Garvey to Malcolm, in each case, we have sought to reclaim our culture (including our ancestral history) in order define ourselves for ourselves in our own terms. This is a basic human right in my view, and one which Blacks and Browns have been systematically denied.
While I cannot pretend to have followed it closely, I do know that there has been a wave of “Brown pride” amongst the Latino population in Southern California, and we see similar instances of Brown cultural nationalism in the Puerto Rican Day Parade. In both cases–“Black Power” and “Brown Pride”–there is no air of hate for the out-group or White people, as many of them may assume. Instead, cultural nationalism amongst Blacks and Latinos is largely a celebration of ourselves, and to be clear, “Black love” doesn’t mean Brown or White hate. The same is true for Brown pride not being equivalent to hate of any other group. However, we cannot say the same for the White Power Movement now can we?
No. We cannot say the same. In fact, “White power’ has come to be nothing more than the ideological or philosophical justification for racism. They go hand-in-hand. White privilege, the philosophy of White power, and worldview of Eurocentrism are inextricable from the six major human institutions in the U.S. This is true with such a degree of normality that most Whites are shocked to hear that they have privilege (lmao…I’ll debunk that in another post).
So what’s the difference between Black, Brown, and White pride? It is the difference between preference (or prejudice) and racism–power! I, like everyone else on Earth, have many prejudices; however, unlike even the lowliest White person in this nation, I have no power to create laws, policies, or social practices with any staying power–institutions–that would be able to hold sway over the lives of anyone I’m prejudiced against–EXCEPT FOR WOMEN!
Going back to the ease with which Black and Brown bodies are murdered, let’s never forget that there is a premium placed on the lives of Whites v. all other races. This is the philosophy of White power and the reality of White privilege in play. The murder of a Black or Brown person in the United States is as common as Tuesday. The murder of an equally situated White individual draws more attention, on average, and the reason is because White life is considered so much more precious.
In the outstanding book, Two Nations, Andrew Hacker recounts an illuminating truth about worth and race. When asked how much money it would cost for a White student to be Black in this country, the student’s opportunity cost for giving up his Whiteness was $50million!!! We need to understand what that means. On the one hand, we see that he values his White privilege so much that he would have to be compensated with an astronomically large amount of money in order to accept such a woeful state as being Black in the United States. With no more institutions moving for the greater good of him or those who look like him, he would require some serious pay to feel comfortable with such a change. On the other hand, this is how bad it is to be Black in this country. It is akin to being $50million dollars in debt, and your creditors will come a knockin’! In such a state, your prejudice is spitting in the wind. Your hatred means nothing. You hold no power even to determine your own life chances–let alone someone else’s–except for women.
You see, the fifty million dollars that the White student required is based upon how much more difficult it is to be Black in the United States v. being White. And that difficulty is based upon a system. That system is racism.