“Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Blacks folks don’t have that choice.” In Chimamanda Adichie’s Americanah, she illustrates how white privilege is like a shield for white people when it comes to oppression, because their white skin grants them opportunities that other races can never have, due to negative stereotypes. Essentially, white privilege is a veil of ignorance that white people inherently wear, as laws and systematic oppression do not have an impact on their lives. Furthermore, they don’t have to acknowledge the underlying hatred and subordination in these laws.
Meanwhile, people of color always have to be vigilant, because laws and systematic oppression were created to build a hierarchical system that puts white people at the top and people of color at the bottom.
Now, I’m pretty sure you’re wondering: how does white privilege relate to an article about who can be racist? But it’s simple! White privilege addresses a problem about an idea of racism-which is power. White privilege is a form of power because, fundamentally, it represents how skin pigmentation decides the amount of opportunities you can receive. Additionally, this power caters to a certain demographic while simultaneously marginalizing anyone who falls outside the category of white. Racism stands as both hatred and power.
In order to be racist, one would have to exert power over another individual, and the language that person uses would have to affect the other person on a systematic level. With that being said, it seems like only white people can be in power.
So, now the question that I know is beckoning inside people’s mind is: why can’t people of color be racist? Well let’s take a white person and a black person for example. Imagine a white person saying a racial slur to a black person. This would be problematic, wouldn’t it?
A white person saying a racial slur to a black person is unequivocally wrong because he/she/they inherently have more power and privilege than the black person. The slur is based on hatred and stems from a sense of hatred. However, if it was vice-versa, one could argue that although the slur was said out of hatred for white people, black people simply do not have enough power to affect that white person systematically. Even if the black person was a teacher and the white person was a student, and the teacher made racist remarks against the white student, it wouldn’t be racist. The teacher could go so far as failing the student, but ultimately that student will still have his privilege to rely on and secure a job. Black people, as well as many other people of color, lack the power aspect needed to be considered racist.
The “Sociology of Racism” by Matthew Clair and Jeffrey Denis would also agree that white people are the only people capable of being racist. His article talks about how racism stemmed from the subordination systems white people put in place to gain power. In one section it lists “colonial violence towards indigenous people,” slavery, and Jim Crows laws as results of racism because white people used their power to make other racial groups inferior.
Another thing to note about racism is that it cannot be individual. It is always systematic, because racists’ remarks and actions can always be tied back to some part of history or some grand scheme. For example, a person saying the n-word relates back to slavery.
Racial slurs that people of color spew about white people are disrespectful, but it could never be on par with the racial slurs white people spew, because they hold more weight. That’s why it’s important to make these distinctions; because it shows how, even though some people have hateful mindsets, they could never have the social or systematic power to act on it. Therefore, white people can be racist, people of color can be prejudiced when talking about white people, and people of color can be racially discriminatory to one another.