Can Black People Be Racist?

As many of you know, I am in my 3L year of law school. I am taking a fantastic class based on race and law in the United States. Throughout the semester, I may feel inspired to share some of my written work with you to provoke thought and conversation. Comment below, and let's chat! Here's the first reflection I had to submit: 


Can Black People Be Racist?

The concepts of race and racism have many layers and complex structures built into their applications, which is why it is understandable how one could misuse the term by believing that all people within society could be racist.  Racism was designed to separate, and create a social economical, and political hierarchy, which intentionally put people of color at the bottom. From colonial expansion in the fifteenth century to slavery in the eighteenth century to modern-day policy that ensures the protection of the racial hierarchy, racism’s true face is well etched into society. However, the discussion of whether or not black people can be racist has been relevant in response to shows like “Dear White People”, and labels like “black Twitter” and “black businesses”. Though one could argue solely based on definitions of racism that black people can, too, be racist, there is one major characteristic that is silently read into those definitions: power. Considering that these phrases and labels need to exist in order for black people to make their own space in society and to provoke thought and conversation around the black experience proves that black people cannot be racist by application.

According to Lawrence Blum, there are degrees of racism: inferiorization and antipathy. Inferiorization is defined as one dominant group treating other groups as inferior based on their biological nature through disrespect, contempt, and derogation. Antipathy is rooted in bigotry, hostility, and hatred. Based on definitions alone, black people could be racist. However, when compared to Chang and Aoki’s writing, it is clear that racism in application is a reflection of “other”, or foreignness, and power. While discussing nativisim, they explained that Southern and European immigrants, who were represented as racially other to white Americans, had to claim a white identity in order to “escape the animus of nativistic racism.”  Chang and Aoki also stated that the end of slavery and the ban against racial discrimination made way for more creative policies to preserve White privilege.

Historically, racism has been woven into the societal structure with darker skin intentionally being linked to lack of access and privilege; this shows how black people lack the power to oppress white people. Though skin color starts the conversation of race, there are many more layers to explore before being labeled a racist. To be racist requires participation in the systems that preserve white privilege/ policies such as education and voting rights. Blum explained the two distinct versions of institutional racism: intentional policies and practices, such as intentionally giving blacks lower scores than whites on voting literacy tests; and functionality, such as a school staff who lowers expectations for black and Latino children as a result of seeing them racially inferior.

In today’s society, we see the application of racism thriving with white people having more access to loans, wealth building, quality education, police brutality, and lenient sentencing in the criminal justice system. It is also apparent in the handling of the opioid epidemic versus the “War on Drugs” in the ‘80s.  Because the structure of racism is so deeply woven into policy and the very foundation of this country, black people do not have the power, or access, to oppress white people as blacks have been oppressed. The act of a black person hanging their Malcolm X poster is not synonymous to the act of a white person who hangs their Confederate Flag because of the weight behind the action itself. That flag is known for being a symbol of anti-blackness and white superiority. I am aware that all people can be prejudice or hold stereotypes, however it is important to not only understand what the term racist means, but to understand the power and history that is tied to being a racist. The difference is rooted in the application of racism. Is it possible for black people to be racist? Sure, anything is possible, but that would require an entire redo of history and reconditioning of the human psyche.


Chasity MatthewsComment