A question that arises at this point is whether such classification and judgment was universal throughout humankind. Was it only the European philosophers who spread the idea of racial superiority amongst themselves, or was this view adopted by other minority groups? Although the media of the older modern world was different than how we think of it today (the written and spoken word, versus television and the internet), it still existed and influenced large numbers of people. It is very easy to imagine that different minority and racial groups were taught to focus on their differences rather than joining together to fight their state of oppression. In addition, it may have seemed beneficial for certain ethnic minority groups to stake their claim,
accepting that they were lesser than whites, but taking comfort in the thought that they weren’t “as bad” as other group, particularly those of African descent. It is important to note, however that these racial divisions did not come about as a result of competition, but rather they were building blocks for humans to create division that might not otherwise have existed along such racial lines. A person born into a non-racial society would not feel the instinctive competition with those who happened to have variations in skin color or physical features.
Along these lines, it is important to note that the dominance of the white race is not a sign of any inherent superiority. This may be seen as an obvious point, but it is an important one to make. White dominance is merely a coincidence and an accident of history. There is no genetic basis that can be used to explain why whites gained power. Perhaps those who moved to Northern lands and evolved lighter skin had better opportunities for agriculture and coastlines for trading which increased their wealth and influence, but it no way did any sort of innate racial characteristics give them an advantage. In the same way that there is no genetic basis for racial superiority, there is also no genetic basis for racism
However, as pointed out by Buck, many whites grew up with a sense that they were at a higher level due to generations of white privilege. When this privilege faded, and poor whites no longer saw material benefits afforded to them due to their race, those in power spread propaganda to assure the poor whites that were still superior, and that their dissatisfaction and wrath should be aimed towards minorities rather than the elite, who were really the ones to blame for their economic struggles (2001).
Since race and racism have no physiological basis, does that mean that minorities can, in fact, be racist, or does racism depend only on those who reap its benefits? If a Hispanic man claims to hate all white people, this may not be seen as racist because it is not threatening to the majority of whites. However, if the same man claims he hates black people, it seems much more alarming and intimidating. The difference is that those in power have little reason to fear someone they can shrug off as an isolated, prejudiced person, whereas blacks, already in a subordinate position have to fear the man as joining ranks with the dominant society and contributing to their oppression. One of these situations could be seen as racist, because it contributes and reaffirms the racial power differential, while the other is simply bigoted.
Since power is such an important factor of racism, and since whites control the majority of power, an issue to consider is whether all whites, not genetically or inherently, but socially, are racist. This is, of course, a very controversial position to hold, especially since it can be used by people as an example of so-called “reverse racism.” An article on a conservative website even0 had this to say about a Hispanic professor lecturing on the myth that racism no longer exists: “Considering the rash of violence aimed specifically at whites, one can easily make the argument those in the minority are in large part responsible for keeping alive any residual racism. (Agee, 2013).” The author’s ridiculous rant actually detracts from his message by showcasing how little white society understands the meaning of racism, and contributing to the victim-blaming philosophy espoused by neocons.
Being labeled “racist,” is, rightfully, considered an insult among the majority of the white population. Unfortunately, the term has come to denote, in the popular vernacular, hatred. While hatred is indeed one form of racism, another, often ignored, aspect is fear. While a white person may harbor no intentional dislike of any other race, he or she may still have a sense of trepidation or dread when encountering a non-white person on the street. The controversial case of George Zimmerman, a white (albeit Jewish and Hispanic) man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in the back. During the trial, details emerged that Zimmerman had repeatedly called the police when he had seen black males in the area, citing them as behaving in suspicious manners, with no evidence other than their race.
He was, however, acquitted of the crime, and many media outlets reported it was because Zimmerman was truly afraid. But why would he be afraid of an unarmed teenager? This is the culture of fear that is embedded in white people towards black people and other minority groups. It is absolutely not an excuse for violence, and a sure sign that racism directed from whites towards minorities, in a different form, is a common phenomenon. To claim that all white people are inherently racist is false, but it is true that whites are socialized into a racist fear of others. This is a nearly inevitable effect of whiteness.
It starts as soon as one has a consciousness of societal hierarchies. Being white has become normalized. “Whiteness is everywhere in American culture, but it is very hard to see (Lipsitz, 1995).” It is vital for those who are a part of the white dominant culture to be aware of their positions and the benefits than come with it. Influential author Richard Wright told a reporter, when asked about the “Negro problem,” that “There isn’t any Negro problem; there is only a white problem (Tardon, 1946).” His statement is a testament to fallacy that racial divisiveness is due to minorities causing problems for the elite white class. As long as whiteness is considered normal and all other races are othered, there is a credence to the position that to be white, and thus enjoy “normal” status and benefits, is to be racist.
It is not an active, hateful racism, but rather a purposeful ignorance of privilege and complicit acceptance of greater opportunities with less effort than would be required of a racial minority. As Tardon states, whites “can only become part of the solution if [they] recognize the degree to which [they] are already part of the problem – not because of [their] race, but because of [their] possessive investment in it.”
If racism subconsciously permeates white society, how does it influence the way racial minorities view and treat each other? There is no doubt that minorities in the United States grow up being socialized that they are different from the white norm. At the same time, minorities are socialized to view other racial minority groups as suspicious and inherently different than they are.
This is, unfortunately, a consequence of living in a racialized society, and a side effect to the importance of being conscious of how race has long played a major role in the treatment of people. No one, no matter their race, can ignore the consequences that have established and reestablished inferior, sometimes horrific, treatment of human beings based on their socially constructed racial categorization. Thus, minorities are exposed to the same racist ideologies that are made explicit to the dominant white society. This, no doubt, colors their opinions on those who are different.
If you define it as “prejudice against or hatred toward another race,” then the answer is yes. If you define racism as “the belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” the answer is yes. And if you define racism as “prejudice and discrimination rooted in race-based loathing,” then the answer is, again, yes. However, if you define racism as “a system of group privilege by those who have a disproportionate share of society’s power, prestige, property, and privilege,” then the answer is no. In the end, it is my opinion that individual minorities can be, and sometimes are, prejudiced against others based on their race or ethnicity. However, collectively, minorities are neither the primary creators nor beneficiaries of the racism that permeates society today (Pilgrim 2009).
The importance of power is crucial in such a definition. The lack of power available to racial minorities is a strong supporting point that they cannot, at least by one specific definition, be racist. The issue remains complex, however, when one considers the loss of power that was experienced by many whites as the elite consolidated their control. Is it possible that minorities in positions of power, such as the president, can be racist, whereas someone considered “white trash” cannot? No. Racism is predicated on group power. For every minority who beats the odds and carves out a successful life, many more struggle to make ends meet. And even though the majority of those with power and resources are white, it is the poor whites who buy into and reinforce racial superiority who are hurting themselves.