This is a revised version of an essay I published on DailyKos.
In any discussion of racism and it’s alleged reverse, it’s crucial to start by defining prejudice and discrimination, racism and institutional racism. There’s a reason these different terms exist, and a very good reason not to conflate them.
Prejudice is an irrational feeling of dislike for a person or group of persons, usually based on stereotype or on a generalization based on personal experience or perception. Virtually everyone feels some sort of prejudice, whether it’s for an ethnic group, or for a religious group, or for a type of person (like blondes, or fat people, or tall people, or that guy who looks like their evil Uncle Howard). The important thing is they just don’t like them. Prejudice is a feeling, a belief. You can be prejudiced, but still be a fair person if you’re careful not to act on your irrational dislike.
Discrimination takes place the moment a person acts on prejudice. This describes those moments when one individual decides not to give another individual a job because of, say, their race or their religious orientation. Or even because of their looks (there’s a lot of hiring discrimination against conventionally “unattractive” women, for example). You can discriminate, individually, against any person or group, if you’re in a position of power over the person you want to discriminate against. White people can discriminate against black people, and black people can discriminate against white people if, for example, one is the interviewer and the other is the person being interviewed.
Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another. People who believe this are called racists. They advocate the creation of systems that enforce their prejudices, and that will allow them to discriminate, but unless they live in a racist system, their individual racism can be expressed only in personal acts of discrimination. For example, a black person in the U.S. might believe in black supremacy, and might think black people are better than white people, but he or she doesn’t have the ensure that the society’s institutions reflect those racist beliefs. It is very important to understand that individual racism, and racism as an ideology, are not the same thing as a racist society, which is why the term institutional racism has emerged to describe racist systems.
Institutional racism (sometimes simply called “racism,” as well) describes patterns of discrimination that are institutionalized as “normal” throughout an entire culture. At this point it’s not just one person discriminating at a time, but a whole social structure that evolved to enforce discrimination. A racist system actually makes it difficult for a person not to discriminate, no matter how well-meaning they are. Continue Reading…