Why We Must Be “Anti-Racism”, Not Simply “Non-Prejudice”

“Anti-racism” or “non-prejudice”? Do the two really mean something different? Or is it just a matter of semantics that don’t really amount to much? And if they do mean something different, then why is important to be “anti-racism”, rather than simply “non-prejudice”? These are a lot of question that really do need to be answered. Contrary to popular thought, racism still exists in the world today, not least here in America. Part of the problem is that we have settled for being “non-prejudice”, but have not gone to the lengths to be “anti-racism”.

First of all, what is racism and prejudice? It’s a big question, but I’ll try to explain it as briefly as possible. First of all, let me explain that there are different ways that people are talking about these issues. What I call “racism”, some people refer to as “institutional or systemic racism”. What I call “prejudice”, some people simply refer to as “personal racism”. Either way, there’s a something to distinguish here and we need to utilize effective ways to communicate the distinction. I choose to use the terms “racism” and “prejudice”, but if others use different terms, that’s okay. As long as they’re hitting the same issues, I could care less what terms they use. However, let me continue.

“Racism” is the institutional oppression of a certain group of people based on their skin color, ethnicity, or race. It’s important to define it this way, as being systemic, rather than a personal matter. Such a thing exists and is called “prejudice”, which a big problem, but something distinct. Racism occurs at a macro level, where prejudice occurs on an interpersonal level. For example,  American slavery was a racist institution. Why? Because it was a system that revolved around the oppression of black people based on nothing more than the fact that their skin was black.

Even after slaves were freed through the Emancipation Proclamation, there still existed a huge chunk systemic racism against black people. They were paid less than white people (if paid at all), forced to be separated (segregation and Jim Crow laws), and a number of other injustices. The same kind of racism existed against Indians, Asians, and basically anyone who was a non-white person in society. White people held the power and wielded that power so that it worked to their advantage and to the disadvantage of non-white people.

Here’s an example distinguishing the two, racism and prejudice. Let’s say that a black person came up to me, called me a “whitey” and acted very rude and hateful toward me simply because I’m white. That’s prejudice and that’s wrong, but it is not racist. Why? Because, historically, black people have not systematically oppressed white people. Now, let’s say that I, as a white person, called a black person the “N word” and were hateful toward him or her just because they were black. Now, not only this prejudice, but it is also racist. Why? Because in my acting hateful toward this black person, not only am I being prejudice, but I am unlocking an entire history of white people oppressing black people as a result of my action. And the “N word” especially was used by white people as a sign of that oppression. This is why being ignorant of history or simply being “color blind” is so misguided. We have to keep those things in mind, because if not, we’ll perpetuating this racist ideology that we need to get rid of.

Of course, there has been progress since the time of slavery and such, but to an big extent, there still exist a lot of systemic racism in America today. The problem is, a lot of white people (who are still more privileged, and also of whom I am a part) don’t fight against it. Why? Because it doesn’t affect us. That doesn’t mean that white people don’t struggle or that they aren’t subject to injustices. They are. My great-grandparents were extremely poor and struggled to supply for their kids. So white people can struggle and experience injustice, but it isn’t because of their color. It may be because of a vast number of reason, which may be partly their own fault or the result of another unjust institution or system outside of racism.

The point is that racism does not affect us as white people. Right here, it’s also important to remember the distinction between racism and prejudice. To say that white people cannot be victims of racism is not to say that they cannot be victims of prejudice. That certainly is not the case. A person could hate a white person simply because they are white. Is this right? No. Is it prejudice? Yes. But is it racist? Absolutely not. Because, again, racism is systemic and institutional. And the overriding ideology in American culture at large is that white people are more privileged than people of color.

So what must we do about this? At this point, most people would say, “Well, I’m not racist. I love people of color. I have friends who are black, Mexican, Asian, etc. Therefore, I’m not part of the problem. Nothing needs to be done.” And this is why it’s so important to not settle for being “non-prejudice”. We all need to be “anti-racism”. Why? Because something does have to be done. Racism still exists whether you’re prejudice or not. The fact that a white person isn’t affected by racism doesn’t mean that there isn’t a problem. There is a problem.

There’s a problem when 45% of black youth live below the poverty line, compared to 16% of white youth. There’s a problem when the number of unemployed among black adults is twice as much as white adults. Something needs to be done when black professors make up less than 5% of colleges across the nations, along with less than 5% of teachers of grades K-12 being black as well. Not to mention that 85% of that group of black professors and teachers are working in urban areas. Something needs to be done when there are more black men in jail than in college. [1]

And I know that some reading this will be inclined to think, “Well that proves that black people are inferior, at least in some capacities. Just look at the stats!” And maybe you wouldn’t be quite that bold to say that, but it was something that was going through your mind as you read it. And that mindset only further proves the racist mentality that fills the systems throughout America. While I used black people as an example, in a very real way, all people of color are the victims in the situation. The stats aren’t proof that they are in anyway inferior, but they prove just how racist America is in so many of its institutions.

A lot of times, we (as white people) can claim that racism isn’t a problem. Why? Well because we don’t experience it. It’s like a man who grew up in a cave his whole life. He could deny the sun exists, and to him, that really would be the case. But that doesn’t mean that outside of his own cave that the sun isn’t shining anymore. It is. In the same way, just because white people may have grown up in a “cave” free from the effects of racism, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t alive and well outside of their own experience. Recent examples show this. Look at Trayvon Martin, a young black man killed and profiled just because he was black. Or Jonathan Ferrell, a black football player who was shot and killed, despite being unarmed and innocent. How do we respond to these incidents that clearly indicate racism?

We have to do something. What exactly can we do? We can stand up to these racist institutions and, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world. It all starts with the individual. After all, an institution is only made up of a bunch of individuals. So then, why is it important to be “anti-racism”, and not just “non-prejudice”? Isn’t being non-prejudice part of being anti-racism? In a way, yes. But, usually, being non-prejudice simply means casting off all responsibility to actually make a change. Being anti-racism pushes people to recognize their privileges in society and, if they have them, to use them in a way that does not simply perpetuate the existing racist ideology, but dismantles the very foundation of it. It educates people and helps them to understand the vital and particular role they play in the fight against racism.

If history is not properly understood, it is bound to repeat itself. That’s an idea that most people agree with. The same applies to racism. If we aren’t actively fighting against racism, then we are simply perpetuating the existing idea, which is a system of white superiority, even if it is implicit and subtle. If we’re not swimming against the stream, then we’re going to be carried away with it. Especially if you are a white person reading this, as privileged people of the society, we have to actively stand up against racism. We have to use our privilege, not to further the already racist mood of America, but to radically reform it until a true and genuine state of equality is reached. The fight starts with us.

[1]:  Statistics

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This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.

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2 thoughts on “Why We Must Be “Anti-Racism”, Not Simply “Non-Prejudice”

  1. Your distinctions were great blake, but I think that I can speak for most people who grew up in mainly white cultures and towns when I say, what do we do exactly? What does using our privileges to fight racism look like?

  2. Hey, really liked your post. It is essential to separate between personal and systemic racism, as, while they have been closely aligned in the past, with personal racism motivating the actions that, in aggregate, produced systemic racism, my sense is that they operate with a fair amount of independence from one another today: many white people, of which I am one, do not want to be personally racist, yet participate in the larger structure.

    I encourage you to check out the tumblr blog I just started.

    thanks!

    Bryan

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