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How do anarchists define racism?

+4 votes
Is it possible for people of color to be racist towards whites? Is it possible for POC to be racists towards other POC (I know a lot of Hispanics who hate/feel superior to blacks, and vice versa)?
And what is the appropriate way for @'s to deal with and approach racists and racism? I love stabbing Nazi shits but does it really help?
asked Jan 28, 2013 by anonymous

you might find some of the comments on the above thread interesting.

4 Answers

+1 vote
My understanding is that racism is power+discrimination. So when you talk about 'reverse racism' you're really just talking about racial prejudice and discrimination, but not racism. Racism is institutional, systematic oppression. It's kind of awkward-- racism is defined and used as simply racial prejudice and discrimination but there needs to be a distinction between the degrees of racism. There's a dramatic difference between the 'racism' against white people and racism against black and brown people.

Another thing to mention is that the term 'people of color' is a political term of solidarity.
answered Mar 8, 2013 by formyinformation (2,760 points)
edited Mar 8, 2013 by formyinformation
this answer is entirely in line with challenging white supremacy (it would have been my answer also for many years) but now it seems very inadequate. it is mostly useful as an answer to people who want to talk about reverse racism (talking to people like that in terms that they've already defined for themselves reminds me a bit of anarcho capitalists wanting to redefine capitalism and come argue about it on this site).
racism has been defined as hatred of one skin color against another (ie as synonymous with "racial prejudice and discrimination"), and in my experience once you start having semantics conversations with people who strongly disagree with you, the battle is already lost.
what would be a way to talk about this question that isn't reactive to the whole mess of racism and confusing conversations that get muddled re: power and association?

and "people of color" is as much solidarity as any generalizing label. it gets used as much to put people down (you're not dark enough, you're not street enough, etc) as it does to bond with people.
Absolutely. I've always found it problematic. Maybe it's just completely unnecessary to try and redefine racism in order to explain a difference in degree. We do have terms like systematic and institutional. I'm not sure how you would avoid the difficulties of the power conversation though... (and I'm not sure what you mean by association?)
fwiw, almost four years later, i don't know what i meant by "association" either.
this debate reminds me of a sociologist university professor: he was often disliked because he would grade students papers harshly and make his class difficult to pass. He always claimed that black people cannot be racist towards whites because blacks are oppressed by the whites systematically. It's important to understand that we still live in a fairly white supremacist culture, but it would seem absurd that a black guy who said that they hate white people isn't racist absurd, because that's privledging black people to hate white people because of their skin...in my opinion that makes our language even less useful and difficult to have conversation.

The whole racism thing is also confused by the fact that most whites now adays won't even acknowledge how racist they are because it's deemed innapropriate...but I guess im going off on a tangent here: it just confuses me how vague the term of "racism" is in modern society, back when people were more openly hateful towards blacks and immigrants ect. they just looked at it as some immanent truth and would have never said "we are racists" because the existense of the word itself comes from a place of criticism
+1 vote

i define racism as bigotry/discrimination/hatred based on race. power (whatever that really is) is a completely separate issue, though obviously they can play together quite well.

institutional racism is very real. but claiming that is the only context in which actual racism exists seems like both an abstraction and a cop-out to me. it removes responsibility and agency from individuals, when individuals are in fact the only concrete actors that can demonstrate racism. even a massive, racist institution like the u.s. legal system consists of nothing more than a shitload of individuals, who - whether or not they are following official policy (which was of course defined and codified by individuals) - may or may not act in ways that can be described as racist. placing racism solely in the realm of institutions kind of legitimizes the old "i'm just doing my job" excuse that supposedly got played out in nazi germany. 

as to "reverse racism" (a term that makes absolutely no sense to me): my black (ex)wife of over 20 years frequently saw, and commented on, the racism she observed in other black folks as a result of our happy mixed-racedness. the idea that blacks cannot be racist against whites is absurd to me, and to the many dozens of black people in my extended family. when sista souljah came out with that "blacks cannot be racist" statement during the rodney king shit, my wife and i both nearly busted a gut.

ever see the spike lee movie "school daze"? 

[i suspect this will not be a very popular answer]

answered Nov 20, 2016 by funkyanarchy (12,210 points)
the only issue i have with your answer f@ (although i don't agree with it, as previously stated), is that you seem to be using different definitions of racism in your writing. for example, what is funny about SS's saying "blacks cannot be racist" if her point is that racism=something different from what you mean by it? (although i get that it can sound arrogant and simplistic when one just hears that sentence. if nothing else it's another example of how hard it is to talk about race with people one doesn't know/trust.)

we are individuals and we are responsible for our lives and for how we respond to adversity, and we are also affected by systems that exist around us that we have no control over. things as basic as language (see bornagain's topic on "is", yea?), and architecture, and how other people respond to us. ie we are individuals, but we are not floating in a vacuum. i'm not saying i can point to a solid line between an individual and the context that they're in; i doubt anyone can. i doubt "a line" is even a helpful way to think about it.

"you seem to be using different definitions of racism in your writing"

indeed, that is because i am describing how i "define" the term, and contrasting it with the definition used by others. 

but as i mentioned elsewhere, i don't care to be "correct" about the use of any term - i only seek clarity for the purpose of communication. i think we are now both clear on how we use the term differently. moving on...

not trying to be correct either, just interested in working out how we/i could have a better understanding of how to talk about this stuff. i continue to be saddened by the paucity of good thinking about this--and other--identity questions. but since you don't want to play with me, fine.


i don't think (or write) much about "identity" because i tend not to "identify" with anything....and i have difficulty understanding people who do.

i would define "racism" the same as funky's first line....although, like a lot of other words, i don't use it to express my thoughts.

There's an element of funky@'s answer that I'd like to pursue:

Racism as involving discrimination and hatred but not power.

Personally I think power is fundamental to racism; I see racism as a pseudoscientific rationalization of privilege and oppression. I think the elites invented and perpetuate the idea of inheritable class superiority/inferiority to legitimize their power and hinder cooperation among the non-elites. From there, discrimination and mutual hatred bubbles up from feelings of unfairness and injustice in petty rivalries within the middle and lower classes. Like over who gets a promotion and who gets stopped by the police. 

If I'm wrong, and Funkyanarchy is right -- power is a separate issue -- then we anarchists have to deal with the possibility that anarchy would increase rather than decrease racism. Could it be that authority and education are needed to counteract humans' natural tendency to form relatively homogeneous communities? Is hatred of the "other" a natural flip-side to the anti-civ longing for belonging to an egalitarian tribe? So, if we have to choose, is discrimination and hatred worse than hierarchy? 

interesting analysis, though i continue to disagree.

as i said, i see "racism" and "power" - as i conceive them - as distinct and separate issues, though they clearly overlap rather often. and it may be that there is an underlying way of thinking that gives birth to those ideas (and many others like them). just as i don't see "capitalism" and "power" as the same thing, yet they can be (and usually are) quite interactive and interdependent with each other. just as there is a strong correlation between thought and action, yet they are far from the same thing.

but i really don't care, ultimately. i don't find it necessary to come up with a grand unified theory of words, in any context. clarity with whom i communicate is my only concern. and it seems to get more and more difficult, as words keep getting redefined to fit the perspective of who is using them. communism, fascism, feminism, racism, desire, politics, ...  these are all terms i have heard completely redefined in ways that stray - sometimes pretty far - from the original "dictionary" definitions that i was familiar with all my life. i wish they'd just make up a new word or coin a new phrase, it would help quite a bit with both clarity AND with the constant struggle folks have about being "right". 

to be clear, a dictionary definition is not "right", it is simply a definition that is widely accepted as a common understanding. again, my priority being clarity in communication.

f@ wrote:" a dictionary definition is not "right", it is simply a definition that is widely accepted as a common understanding."

and this depends, of course, on which dictionary, how thick it is, and the extent that someone uses and understands the variety of words/definitions therein. :-)

fwiw, i sense both Syrphant and f@ points as relevant and both attempting to bring clarity. the latter (perhaps?) attempting to clarify the con-fusion between, say, 'racism,' with 'prejudice,' and 'bigotry' which are all used, commonly enough in my experience, in a synonymous manner. here, i see it has helpful for clarity, not only in terms of conversation, but my own world-navigation.

from here (that is, my view) f@ simply wishes not to read nor hear piles of text and jargon-fogged soliloquies, respectively. this seems understandable and i feel some affinity with this as well.

however, i gotta say this conversation is, for one, completely dependent upon the language we speak which has developed within and for mass society, whether or not we like it. it's simply not completely on our (ie each one of us) terms. every word is 'defined' by yet more words each every bit as ambiguous and open-ended as the other. there seems to be no other choice as long as we speak this language, live its ambiguity, remain faithful to its core perspectives (per its grammatical structure) and enact it in written form...particularly online.

edit: all in all it seems that if one *does* use the dictionary, expands one's vocabulary, one is damned to the labels 'obfuscation' and 'jargon'. if one *doesn't* delve deep then one is confined to an ever inadequate expression of their own sense of the world forever the 'knuckledragger' and 'simpleton.'
0 votes
i would answer the question by saying that there is not a special anarchist definition of racism. the definitions that have been put forward here are in no way unique to anarchists, although the one briefly described by F@ is consistent with egoism.

as to whether it helps to stab nazis, it depends on what you're trying to help. sometimes anti-nazi violence works to decrease nazi violence, but sometimes nazis are encouraged by the negative attention (there is some weird attraction to being the underdog, which is not in any way specific to nazis). sometimes anti-nazi violence helps to pull anti-nazis together, to build relationships with each other. other times anti-nazi sentiment is used as a bludgeon to get everyone to act the same (against nazis, or rhetorically, etc). and all of these things can actually be happening at the same time.

the way that i have dealt with racism is to learn as much as i can about it, especially from people who had been around for a while (this meant diving in to a lot of leftist texts, and i might not be willing to do that again today, but i think it was good for me at the time). and to have relationships with people of color who were interested in talking and thinking about it (with and without me). i don't think there's anything in there that is specific to anarchists, again.
answered Nov 21, 2016 by dot (57,690 points)
i agree with dot, none of this is specifically anarchist imo.

[sorry to agree with you...  :-) ]
+2 votes
I define racism as the belief that human worth is inheritable.

There is a connection with anarchy, imo, that makes this question relevant to this forum and especially so right now given the racial tension underlying the US election.

Here's how I break it down: the "-ism" kind of means we're dealing with a belief. "Race" is purely (and this is important) PURELY a genetic concept.  Whether or not the word is useful when talking about humans is questionable, but we plant breeders talk about "land-races" all the time. Biologically, at least, the concept of race has some meaning. Genetic isolation has, in some species, led to the formation of groups of individuals in which some inheritable traits are very common and some are very rare relative to the species as a whole.

The trouble with racism -- and where it becomes relevant to a discussion of anarchy -- is the notion that intrinsic worth is ultimately beyond the control of the individual and independent of the context or environment.

First collision with anarchist thought: Racism supposes someone has to (or gets to) judge the desireablility of certain genes. IMO, an anarchist would revolt at the very suggestion that some human or group of humans can be entrusted with such judgements.

Second collision: if the traits in question were as simple as skin color things would be fairly easy. It might be obvious, for example, that brown skin is categorically better for people exposed to high levels of ultra-violet radiation if the objective is reducing the risk of skin cancer. In fact, the traits humans consider when judging each others' worth are typically related to what society commonly considers desireable leadership qualities and the objective to which they are suited is to climb/dominate the social hierarchy.  If these qualities are inheritable, it is reasonable to expect an association with other, more visible, inheritable traits.

An anarchist, IMO, will say "wait just a god damn minute!"

Racism can only exist in a social hierarchy -- and is often used to maintain one.

If I say that a random black man is likely to be more efficient at scrubbing toilets than a random white man -- all else equal -- is that racist? Against whites or blacks?

ANARCHY 101: To hell with social hierarchy --> to hell with value judgements of peoples' intrinsic worth based on their ability to climb or dominate the social hierarchy --> are characteristics related to such abilities inheritable? Irrelevant in a world of equal respect for all individuals in all their beautiful diversity. To everyone a meaningful niche to scratch.
answered Dec 2, 2016 by Syrphant (890 points)