An argument against PoC gaining power …

There is a long-standing debate over whether or not PoC can be considered racist. In general, the debate revolves around them having the structural power to impose those prejudices on others, with the argument being that they don’t have power and so can’t actually be racist. I tend to find this sort of reasoning meaningless, and in general really want to know if the person denying that PoC can be racist think that them having prejudices against whites is bad or not. Tony Thompson at “The Orbit” pretty much answers that question in a recent post while defending the idea that PoC can’t really be racist:

People of Color (Black and non-Black) in the United States can (and many do) hold prejudicial or bigoted beliefs about white people. Whether it is right or wrong to do so (IMO, a strong argument could be made that it is reasonable for PoC, based on their treatment by white people, to hold anti-white prejudices) …

It seems, then, that he doesn’t think they’re wrong to do so, or that it’s wrong. About the only way this can work is if he argues that their prejudices generally reflect reality, but if that was true then they wouldn’t be prejudices, but would be more or less accurate generalizations. So he’d still have to answer whether or not actual prejudices are right or wrong, and he’d also open up the purportedly prejudicial and therefore racist attitudes of whites to the challenge that they as well aren’t prejudices, but are more or less accurate generalizations. This probably isn’t the sort of thing he was going for in this short little comment.

He then moves on to make an inadvertent argument that white people should not allow PoC to have power if they can prevent it:

In short, People of Color can be anti-white, but they cannot be racist against white people bc they lack the collective power to impose their prejudices on white folks as a racial category. Access to social, political, economic, and religious power is a fundamental component to the system of oppression known as racism (in the same way that access to such power is essential to sexism, which is why men do not experience sexism). Without that access to power, there can be no domination, oppression, or subjugation of white people by PoC.

So let me be generous and assume that this prejudices are about as common in PoC as they are in white people. It’s probably more likely that they are more common in PoC since they are deemed more acceptable by the peers of PoC than they are in whites — there are far more whites who strongly and openly oppose those prejudices in whites than there are amongst PoC — but let’s assume they are equal. This means that if PoC gain power, they will impose their prejudices on whites at about the same rate as whites currently do. Assuming that white people really do have all the power now, given Thompson’s argument they have good reasons not to share it with PoC. First, it’s not likely to reduce actual racism at all, even using the “power” argument, because once PoC gain power then their actions really will be racist by that definition. Second, it’s not the self-interest of white people to give up that power because, again, once PoC gain that power then imposing their prejudices will result in the actual oppression of white people, and there’s really no reason for a group to participate willing in their own oppression. So, from this argument, it seems reasonable for white people to oppose PoC gaining the power to oppress, because sharing their power won’t do anything to reduce oppression and it’s not a rational move for white people to take actions that will lead to them being oppressed.

Alternatively, we could work to simply eliminate prejudice entirely, which then should mean that no matter who has power there is no racism and no oppression. I don’t think Thompson being able to justify his righteous anger is enough of a benefit to allow prejudice, among any group, to remain or be seen as acceptable.

He then goes on to list a number of historical examples of racism and, by casting them as PoC doing those things to white people, tries to make the point that whites were not oppressed and PoC were, historically. He completely ignores Asian and PoC-led countries — Japan, China and much of Africa — where PoC do indeed have the power and discriminate against white people, focusing only on the United States. While he may want to focus on the United States, these examples show, again, that giving power to PoC does not result in fair and equitable societies, but instead in actual oppression of white people (and PoC that are not their colour, demonstrating the key flaw in claiming that all PoC are allies). Moreover, this argument is an actual “Dear Muslima” argument. If a white person doesn’t get hired while a demonstrably less qualified — even taking Affirmative Action into account — PoC does because of the racial prejudice of a PoC hiring manager, it’s not much comfort to that person to appeal to “Well, there was slavery in the past!”. And if a white person gets attacked and beat up by a PoC or group of PoC based on racial prejudice, that those PoC don’t have political power isn’t going to take away the pain or heal the injuries. All those become, then, are excuses to allow then to avoid having to admit that what they did was, in fact, actually wrong.

The direct consequence of the argument that PoC can’t be racist because they don’t have power is that we should avoid giving them power if we want to oppose racism, since if they hold those prejudicial attitudes giving them power will end up with them being actually racist, as long as the defenders of that argument stick to that argument. Somehow, I don’t think that they will stick to that argument should PoC gain power. Thus, at the end of the day, all this is is a way to avoid having to actually oppose prejudicial attitudes in PoC, thus allowing them to focus all of their criticism on similar attitudes in white people. Personally, I think that we should work to eliminate prejudicial attitudes where ever they arise and should never consider them acceptable … which probably makes me a racist bigot in their eyes.


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