Writing as a grindstone. Finished writing, unfinished writing, writing ideas, things that I'll never get round to writing, other things. Grinding it out, grinding away. Writing some more.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

racism=prejudice+power, or why we should support Margaret Mutu

If you don’t like the above equation, you don’t understand racism. You’re forgetting the origin of the idea of race. You’re overlooking 500 or so years of European colonialism. You’re ignoring the structures that support racism now. You need to ask yourself, why?

Speaking of racism in the US, Changeseeker wrote (Racism = Prejudice + Power):
”Europeans expressly constructed the very concept of 'race' in the first place. And they didn't do it to make it easier to identify someone in a crowd either. They did it to create a hierarchy wherein people that look like me would automatically get the most of the best and the least of the worst--primarily by stealing from everybody else in one way or the other--while whoever was left got what they could, if anything. This was done for the purpose of making a very specific group of Europeans extremely rich. And White-controlled science, White-controlled law, and White-controlled religion worked together to legitimate this construct by announcing in no uncertain terms that White folks are superior to all other peoples on the face of the earth.

"In other words, the very social construction of 'race' itself was the act of White oppressors for the purpose of exploiting and dominating people of color. Having gone that far, some Europeans took their grandiose new status and proceeded to immigrate to North America, dragging with them millions of Africans, who they brutally and violently forced to build a new nation from the ground up for the benefit of its White citizens. It goes without saying, of course, that all of this new nation's social institutions, then, were originally established and have been continuously maintained by those with the power to define the culture--White people and those they allow into the inner circle.”

(And to build that nation, the colonisers first had to crush the indigenous nations. Just like here. Bless them.)

What does this all mean?—racism is not what one person thinks about a group of other people (but what they think may be influenced by racism). Racism is not what one person says, even if it makes a group of people uncomfortable, and especially if that group has a lot of privilege (people with a lot of privilege have very thin skins). Racism is an institution, it has a history and a purpose. It is the justification for cultural imperialism, for forcing European culture, law, religion, science, patriarchy, etc, onto all other peoples. When it is most successful, it becomes invisible, it is only common sense. What this means is that one person's ideas, actions or speech may be racist—but only if their prejudices are supported by the structures of racism (i.e. prejudice + power).

So, the power in the equation does not mean personal power, it means institutional power. I’ve heard people argue that this creates a hierarchy of oppressed groups, where racism is prejudice from higher ranked groups towards lower groups, not lower ranked groups towards higher groups (which would only be prejudice). This is wrong, because the institution of racism sees all non-white people as Others/ Orientals. We can argue amongst ourselves as to who is more or less white, and some of us might be allowed to sneak into the privileged white group under some circumstances (as long as we behave ourselves—act white and support whiteness), but it misses the point. In its simplest, oldest, truest form, racism means white people versus all Others.

I’ve also heard people argue that this understanding of racism means that Māori can’t be racist (I’ve heard it both as a criticism and as a good thing). E.g., it would be racist for Pākehā to say [insert racial group] are [insert insult], but it would not be racist for Māori to say the same thing. This is wrong. Whenever anyone buys into the structures of racism used to oppress people based on European ideas of race, they are supporting racism. It doesn’t matter whether I am Māori or Pākehā, if I am using the structures of racism to insult Māori or any other non-European group, I am reflecting and reinforcing racism. I am supporting European cultural imperialism (I mean, really, who do you think benefits when oppressed groups fight amongst ourselves?).

Personally, I appreciate Margaret Mutu’s comments about immigration. Is it racist for Māori to be wary of Pākehā immigration? How much do you need to know about the last couple of hundred years to answer that question? How much do you need to know about the Māori fight for survival, both physical and cultural? How deeply do you have to think? Pākehā media generally show an embarrassing lack of thought when it comes to colonisation, and Pākehā academics are predictably silent (why should they risk anything? Let others put their jobs on the line). This is depressing. How can we have meaningful discussions about our future if Pākehā continue to be so ignorant and terrified of the past and its effect on our present? Thankfully, there are brave people like Margaret Mutu who are willing to push the boundaries. They deserve our support.


  1. Just a very good post and I would say right on, with the "racism is an institution". I think we do fall into the trap of living like the Pakeha. Our own become the same structures that are killing our people. Our people are dying by the policies, the laws and norms of a dominant society.

  2. Anonymous1:11 pm

    You are sooooooooo wrong, what a load of ignorant, self aggrandizing, dreamed up bulls**t.

    Racism is racism and it is no less disgusting and/or no way justifiable coming from a race who has some form of supposed historical grievance.

    You can dress it up with all the PC glossiness that can muster up... it is still just as vile.

    You and those who believe in this garbage need to take a good long look at yourselves and then... hang your ignorant heads in shame... truly disgusting!!!