I opened Facebook the other day to this:
It made me question whether I had a solid definition for prejudice and racism. The little rant also sounded pretty racist to me, and I wanted context and explanation, neither of which I got (despite my heroic efforts). Lacking explanation and context I did what I always do, which is ask anyone willing to talk to me what their definitions are.
Most people agreed on prejudice and in the definition broke down the word to pre-judge. Google defined it as:
preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.
Most people (but not all) also agreed that racism is a type of prejudice. The Venn diagram of prejudice and racism would look like this:
Racism is the harder one to define, my goodness it is complicated and every single answer I got was different. Google says:
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
This makes sense to me as a literal but not all encompassing definition. Take that and only that and I can see how one would end at the statement from the above Facebook comment “There are only literally thousands of ‘racists’ in this country … And most of them are black”, with which I wholeheartedly disagree.
So, what is that definition missing? I think it is both subtlety and social context.
The subtlety I see most often in microaggressions. I believe as people we all have biases and prejudices, often without seeing them in ourselves. Because microaggressions are by definition subtle, it is easy to tell oneself that engaging in the behavior is not racist. When these slip into our conversation we do not see them as racist, but to someone feeling the effects of microaggressions day in and day out it would feel racist.
The social context is mostly about power dynamics. Only one of the ten or so people I asked for definitions brought up societal power dynamics as a defining factor in racism, so though I believe this it is obviously not universally accepted. I see institutional racism in our society against minorities seeping into most aspects of our society, much of it unconscious. This is a good explanation using bricks, and a generally good read.
I think that is all my brain can take on racism, and I by no means have a definition that I am happy with. At least my Venn diagram helped me with the prejudice difference…