Can Black People Be Racist Towards White People?


[Updated: January 29 2016]

Well, to try to answer this question, let’s visit the actual (not Webster Dictionary) definition of USA racism, which, for some reason, is greatly mis-understood by a significant number of white people in the USA who have expressed that they were a recipient of racism from a Black or Brown person. They use the word ‘racism’ when actually they are describing a situation in which the Black or Brown person was expressing something, or doing something differently. If we look deeper within USA’s white supremacist racial caste system, where racism here was born out of and continues, these actions are not actually racism (but another form of prejudice not connected to systemic power + privilege).

What USA Racism Is

Being ‘racist’ means that your behavior or attitude towards people will favor an outcome that privileges white racialized people, that privileges a white supremacist value system in the USA. USA racism means that USA society has built, and continues to organize, hierarchies of power around a white supremacist value system. Such a system means white racialized people end up collectively benefiting from this structural/systemic/institutional arrangement of power, privilege, and resources. This is how the  USA canon of critical race studies and critical whiteness studies fundamentally define ‘racism’ in terms of systems and institutions within the USA (Crenshaw 1995; Allen 2001; Flagg 2005; Lipsitz 2006; Sullivan and Tuana 2007; Chapman 2010; Martinot 2010; Razack et. al 2010)

Within the context of the USA’s history of a racial caste system/racism in which white supremacy is center, if a Black person were ‘racist’ towards a white person or white people, their actions would help to create more favorable outcomes for white people than non-white people. For example, to be ‘racist’ towards a white person who is is being interviewed for a job by a Black person, this would mean that the Black person would desire to hire this White candidate because they are white;  because they fundamentally believe in the white supremacist notion that White people are superior to non-white candidates; because they have internalized racism to believe the white supremacist narrative that whiteness is superior over blackness.

I think it is important to understand that how I am articulating racism is not exactly the same as ‘racial discrimination.’ If a Black person does not like a person who is white because they are of the ‘white race’, this is racial discrimination but not ‘racism’. It is nuanced. I’d argue that neither is okay, but wanted to really flesh out how ‘racism’ is often used by white people in the USA when they experience prejudice against their racial group by a non-white person. Here are some useful quotes below

“Racism is based on the concept of whiteness–a powerful fiction enforced by power and violence. Whiteness is a constantly shifting boundary separating those who are entitled to have certain privileges from those whose exploitation and vulnerability to violence is justified by their not being white” (Kivel, 1996, p. 19). “‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior” (Henry & Tator, 2006, pp. 46-67).

Do you only want to use the Merriam-Webster definition of what racism is? Here is a good reason why simply using that definition completely negates the reality that (1)USA  racism is based on the concept of whiteness and (2) white men who never studied or lived racism as a non-white, wrote the dictionary definition. Hence,  many [white] folk are quick to use the dictionary definition as the ‘more adequate’ one than using the complex definition of racism developed by scholars and activists of color, within the canon of critical studies of race/legal studies.

What USA Racism Isn’t

I have had white people tell me that they are angry that they cannot participate in a healing event for people of color that acknowledges the pain and trauma that racism have caused to people of color. The other summer, I participated in a healing retreat for women of African descent. I received quite a few rants from white Buddhists who said the event was ‘racist’ and I was too, for participating in it. Because the event focused on the healing needs of women of African descent who seek to resist the pains of racism-sexism ( due to white supremacist structuring of society) this event and my participation in it was not racist. If the event were racist, then it would have functioned in a way that would have allowed white people to participate and the two teachers would have taught everyone that a white supremacist value system is superior and that black women should know their ‘submissive’ place in it and not talk about their racism-induced suffering.

I have also been told that it is ‘racist’ to engage in research about how racialization and race affects people’s thoughts, actions, behaviors, etc. Sorry, but this is not racist. It is racist to deny that race is an organizing principle in the USA and claim that we live in a ‘post-racial’ society. Wanting to ignore or deny the reality of how resources, power, etc, are shaped by white supremacist value system (backed by a canon of social-science based research and legal studies that supports this) is racist; racist because this ignorance, dismissal, and/or denial does not dismantle a white racist value system, but simply upholds it.