Definitions

The feminist definition of sexism is ‘discrimination based upon sex + power’. In other words, the more powerful of the sexes is the only one which can be ever be sexist. Just the same, this definition is appropriated for racism: a power asymmetry is key in determining what is and is not racist. This means that in looking at the US as a whole, only white people can be racist. But this opens up some questions about more specific interactions.

Let’s say we’re in the US southwest. Most of the residents are Hispanic. The city council is Hispanic. The mayor is Hispanic. Most businesses are Hispanic-owned. In this area, the local power is undeniably in favor of Hispanic people. Does that mean a white/black/Asian person cannot be racist here? If not, and if they can be racist a few miles away, what happens in the gray areas? That is, if they can’t be racist in neighborhood A because they aren’t part of the powerful group, but they can be racist in neighborhood C where they are part of the powerful group, what happens in the middle in neighborhood B? Do we defer to national socioeconomics?

And what of minority interactions? If, say, Asian people have greater power as a group than, say, black people, can black people not be racist towards Asian people?

This all seems like a major problem to me. An anonymous statement simply written on a piece of paper apparently may or may not be racist. We can’t know until we’ve found out the skin color and power dynamics of where we are. And then that same statement said by someone of a different skin color suddenly becomes non-racist. I guess I don’t entirely get it. There’s certainly context in statements, but saying “This racial group is less intelligent than that racial group” strikes me as racist no matter who says it.

It seems as though it would be easier to just say sexism is discrimination on the basis of sex, racism is discrimination on the basis of race, and mindsets which force us to view people not as people but as segregated groups defined by their outward characteristics are fundamentally toxic and simply a reverse of the problem, not a fix.

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