Talking the Talk: White Privilege, People of Color, and Racism

I am really new to the world and words of anti-racism. So new, in fact, that I sometimes forget the language common to anti-racist discussions isn’t necessarily known and understood by everyone. From discussions I have had with friends today about my post yesterday, I realize that there are three terms in particular that I would like to provide clarity around.

The first is white privilege. This is a term used to describe the advantages white people have based solely on the fact that they are white. It’s not earned or asked for, and it is not about consciously claiming or asserting superiority. It’s simply the result of having the same color of skin as the people who hold the institutional power and who are considered the “norm.” Often, part of white privilege is not being aware that you have it.

Second is people of color. A brief, informal poll on twitter today revealed to me that lots of white people seem to think this is a euphemism for Black people. It’s not. The term people of color, in discussions about race, refers to anyone who is not white.

Finally, racism. Racism is often used and defined as any sort of racial prejudice. For purposes of anti-racism discussions, it is specifically prejudice plus institutional power. In that framework, people of color cannot be racist, because they simply don’t hold institutional power.

All of these terms as I have described them apply to anti-racist discussions in the United States.

All of these definitions are from my understanding of a subject I am pretty new to. Please let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed or bungled.

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9 Responses to “Talking the Talk: White Privilege, People of Color, and Racism”

  1. MHA Says:

    I have trouble with a definition of racism that, for the purposes of anti-racism discussions, explicitly discounts the idea of racism practiced by people of color. That seems to go beyond the plausible idea of white privilege and verges on blatant anti-white sentiment.

  2. syrval Says:

    I’m more used to discussions of sexism. For any purpose racism and sexism depend on the use of power: social, political, or economic. Because people who are not male do not have the power to discriminate socially, politically, or economically against the group in power, they can not be sexist. The same is true for racism. Your anti-white remark reminds me of the man-hater slur tossed at women like my grandmother who walked in her underwear down Wall Street in NYC to get the right to vote.
    So man-up, acknowledge you’re in the power group, that’s real white of you.

  3. Diana Says:

    That therefore “people of color can’t be racist” is well…..no. Here’s why:
    1. in the United States, there are also whites who do not hold institutional power who are also actively kept from power. To the degree of people of color? Sometimes. Yes, there are some active and conscious situations where it’s directed at people of color, but there are also plenty of situations where the qualifier is actually and simply “poor” and/or “uneducated.” Those qualifiers may not even be true of the person they are directed at, but those are the excuses made.

    2. People of color elsewhere in the world DO hold institutional power. Lots of it. And they abuse it, with prejudice. Some of them direct their hostility at white people, too. Not all those situations are the result of imperialism. White Polish people, for example, have taken hordes of crap they didn’t deserve, too.

    3. No one is excused from racism. Period. If you are a jerk to someone, and MAKE ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT THAT PERSON based solely on the color of their skin, you are being racist. Institutional power is NOT the only kind of power there is.

    • dcmazzie Says:

      There are no whites in the United States who do not hold institutional power.

      There are other kinds of power and oppression which often come up in discussions of privilege, including class.

      The claim is not that white people in the US are not oppressed in any way or that people of color don’t have biases and prejudices that they act upon.

      However, using the definition of racism (or any “ism”) = prejudice plus institutional power means that the group not in power does not have the ability practice it.

      Certainly people of color elsewhere in the world hold institutional power. That’s why I said, above, that these terms as I have described them apply to anti-racist discussions in the United States.

  4. Diana Says:

    Qualifier: I do not think every person of color with institutional power abuses it. But I will state there’s a whole lot of corruption out there, and not all of the fault lies at the feet of the history of imperialism.

  5. Henry Says:

    There are so many types of racism these days that the average white person certainly has numerous choices.
    Shucks, during the good old days that was just one type of racist but it’s difficult to know how racist this old white man is: there is just plain racist, institutional racist, situational racist, sub-conscious racist, pre-conscious racist, cultural racism and probably others. One trend of the white privilege movement is to claim that white children are carefully taught to be racist from an early age and, another writer claims that anti-black racism is the result of potty training that white children receive-nothing is said about the potty training of black children!

  6. Henry Says:

    The first is white privilege. This is a term used to describe the advantages white people have based solely on the fact that they are white. It’s not earned or asked for, and it is not about consciously claiming or asserting superiority. It’s simply the result of having the same color of skin as the people who hold the institutional power and who are considered the “norm.” Often, part of white privilege is not being aware that you have it.

    So you would agree that a black man in the Congo has Black privilege, a Chinese person has Chinsese privilege (determined more by his/her ethnic group) and, of course a muslim male in Arabia has brown muslim privilege.
    By the way-white is a color-so white people are people of color. I think that there are still white crayons in the crayola box!!!

    • Alison Says:

      Really? You think it’s a valid comparison to put people up against CRAYONS?

      That bothers me on so many levels, the least of all is how incredibly dehumanizing and condescending it is.

  7. John Plantaganent Says:

    White people are the real people of color. Whites are the race that exhibits the unique genetic characteristics which produce blond, red, auburn, brown, and black hair colors, shades of skin from pale to bronze, and eyes from blue to green to brown and everything in between.

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