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César R. Bazo
Professor Dr. Jamie Harrison
CTES 7470
06 June 2015

Only white people can be racist

“Only white people can be racist.” is an extremely controversial assertion

because it can generate heated disagreements amongst people from different walks of

life. Before attempting to agree or disagree with this affirmation, it is necessary to

define the term racism, which in itself is a complex term to expound. Hoyt (2012)

asserts the following about the conflicting views of racism:

… boils down to a sharp disagreement among both professionals and

laypeople about whether the original definition of racism, the belief in the

superiority/inferiority of people based on racial identity, should be revised

to exclusively and strictly mean the use of power to preserve and

perpetuate the advantages of the dominant social identity group –that is,

white people in American society. (p. 225)

In my opinion, the first definition is tacitly embedded within the second one since

admitting the existence of a dominant social identity group implies the presence of

superior/inferior people that belong to different racial backgrounds. In reference to the

second definition, it can be inferred from it that it takes for granted that racism springs

from the power exerted by Whites over minorities including Blacks.

Before proceeding any further, I would like to present my own definition of

racism, which will then help me to clarify my standpoint regarding the disputable
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statement “Only white people can be racist.” I would define racism as a system of

group/individual privilege exercised by people not necessarily bounded by race

constraints, who have a disproportionate share of power in today’s society and that use

this power to oppress and discriminate others in some way.

This personal conception of the term racism leads me to blatantly disagree with

the contention “Only white people can be racist.” I truly believe that anyone can show

racist attitudes or behaviors towards others provided s/he displays power of some kind

that is subjugating or repressing. Indeed, Nieto (2010) affirms that “There is no

monopoly on prejudice and discrimination; they happen in all directions, and even

within groups” (p. 184). Nieto goes on to say that the consequences of prejudice and

discrimination do not occur only in one direction, for instance, from Whites toward

Blacks. From these thoughts, it can be deduced that Blacks can also be racist against

Whites. In fact, Hoyt (2012) illustrates an incident of black racism toward whites when

narrating a personal experience that occurred during his teenage years in which he was

riding a bus with other black youngsters and they “… chose to take over the back of a

public transportation bus and became openly hostile and threatening toward white

riders –often to the point that they felt so unsafe that they disembarked before their

desired destination had been reached, …” (p. 233). This is a genuinely appalling example

of Black racism toward Whites.

The varying acceptations of the word power constitute another reason for my

dissent from the affirmation that “Only white people can be racist.” I do agree with the

fact that for a person to qualify as a racist, s/he must be in a position of power. I also

concur with the idea that Blacks most often lack political, social, and economic power,
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which is usually held by the Whites. However, there are a few instances in which Blacks

can hold power over Whites. Blum (2002) aptly mentions that “In the United States

blacks or other people of color hold power over other ethno racial groups in some

municipalities and in institutions such as schools and hospitals. They can therefore

exclude other racial groups on the basis of race”(p.37). Hence, it can be concluded that

Blacks can be racist against those not in power whether they are Whites or others. By

the same token, when people think of the word power, within the context of racism,

they usually think of White oppression. However, there is also power in intolerance.

And Blacks have the power to be intolerant and to hate as demonstrated by the

aforementioned incident mentioned by Hoyt.

Last but not least, I would like to conclude my reading response by adding a

personal reflection on the issue from my stance as an ESL teacher. As an ESL teacher, I

feel blessed for being able to interact with students from different cultures around the

world and teach them English. There is so much I learn from them day every day. They

truly enrich my life and have made me “…move beyond tolerance…”(p. 257) employing

the relevant and apt phrase coined by Sonia Nieto.

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Blum, L. (2002). “I’m not a racist, but …” The moral quandary of race. Ithaca, NY: Cornell

University Press.

Hoyt, C. (2012). The pedagogy of the meaning of racism: Reconciling a discordant

discourse. Social work, 57(3), 225-234.

Nieto, S. (2010). Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives (2nded.). New

York: Routledge.