Prejudice and Racism Aren't the Same Thing
By Dennis Loo (2/26/14)
When people talk about racism many, perhaps most, treat racism as if it's the same thing as individual prejudice. This is an error.
Racism is both an ideology and a system of domination. In systems that are racist, some groups by virtue of the group that they are labeled as belonging to are considered inferior and less deserving of the rights that the superior group or groups enjoy. Race is a social construction and not a biological feature. In biological terms, there is only the human race; there are not subcategories of distinctly different "races." The notion of race (whites, blacks, etc.) is socially (and historically) constructed and not a natural physical or biological category.
The idea of different races rests upon an arbitrary emphasis on specific and varying, depending upon what culture you're in, overt physical features (phenotypes) such as skin color, hair texture, nose size and shape, stature, etc. In some cultures race is signified by how tall you are. In some it's signified by skin color and in others race has nothing to do with skin color. In biological terms there is greater variation within so-called races than there is across races, which further indicates the arbitrariness of the notion of race. In very homogeneous places like Japan race is invented (the Barukamin) based upon putative traits among those who have historically been confined to professions such as skin tanners.
Prejudice involves stereotypical thinking and is something that individuals may or may not evidence. Racism does not need, although it tends to spawn, prejudice. An example of how racism can exist without racial prejudice is institutional racism in which overt or covert prejudice may not even exist, but the institution itself in its operations and outcomes is indisputably racist. IQ tests, for example, that assume a certain shared cultural pool of experiences, can readily produce racist results by privileging certain cultural knowledge among those taking the test compared to others. Those creating the tests, however, may not think that they have produced a racist test as they may not consciously or unconsciously have any racial prejudice.
Mainstream media companies generally adopt and are guided by notions of beauty that privilege certain physical traits that many white people share and that vary from the physical traits more commonly found among minorities. Do those in the media who make decisions about whose face goes on their magazine covers hold these views of beauty being associated with fair skin and small buttocks in a consciously prejudiced manner? In most cases no. Yet their celebration of this narrow band of what is considered beautiful or sexy is racist in nature.
The fact that racial prejudice exists among at least some members of all ethnicities and "races" does not prove that racism is an equal opportunity phenomenon. It does not show that blacks, for example, are not the victims of a system of domination in which being seen as black is qualitatively different than being seen as white.
As sociologist Allen Johnson puts it in his book, The Forest for the Trees, Sociology as Life, Practice and Promise:
As an individual, I may not feel or act in racist ways, and in my heart I may even hate racism, but all of that is beside the core sociological point that I’m involved in one way or another by virtue of my participation in society itself. If the path of least resistance is for people to take what I say more seriously because I’m white, then I’m likely to receive a benefit of racism whether I’m aware of it or not, and in doing so, I’ve unwittingly participated in racism. This raises the question of how society works and how I participate in it – whether I see this, it’s hard to avoid asking about how I participate in the system that produces such consequences. What are my responsibilities? What could I do differently that would contribute to different outcomes? How can I be part of the solution to racism rather than merely part of the problem?
In other words, by making me aware that I’m involved in something larger than myself, sociological practice gets me off the hook of personal guilt and blame for a world that I didn’t create and that isn’t my fault. At the same time, however, it makes me aware of how I choose to participate in the world and how and why those choices matter. I have no reason to feel guilty simply because I’m white, but I also don’t have the luxury of thinking that racism and white privilege have nothing to do with me. (Pp. 25-26)
The US Supreme Court famously declared in its 1857 Dred Scott decision: “[the black man] has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.”
Think about the exoneration of George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin. Translate that Supreme Court decision into the specifics of that case: “Trayvon Martin has no rights which the white man, George Zimmerman, is bound to respect.”
Translate that declaration in terms of the specifics of the Michael Nunn case: “Jordan Davis has no rights which the white man, Michael Nunn, is bound to respect.”
When you do that, the reality of racism and the fact that racism is an institutionally backed system of domination stands out clearly.
This site aims to accomplish two related goals. First, it complements Dennis Loo's book Globalization and the Demolition of Society so that people reading the book can get more deeply into it. (See navigation bar above, labeled "GDS Book Annotations"). We believe that his book is a landmark, providing a solid foundation for politics of a new path. Taking such a path is critical to humanity and the planet's future. As his book's dust jacket states:
[F]ree market fundamentalism - also known as neoliberalism - makes us not more secure or prosperous: it tears the social fabric and undermines security, leading inevitably to disasters on the individual, regional, and global levels.
Neoliberalism is based on the mantra that market forces should run everything. It aims to eliminate job and income security, the social safety net (including welfare and other social guarantees), unions, pensions, public services, and the governmental regulation of corporations. It consequently undermines the basis for people to voluntarily cooperate with authority as almost everyone is increasingly left by themselves to face gargantuan private interests, with governmental and corporate authority ever more indifferent to the public’s welfare.
Those in charge of our collective fates in government and business personify a heartless system based on profit and plunder. They have been relentlessly instituting profoundly immoral and unjust policies even while they insist that they are doing the opposite. We, on the other hand, stand for and are fighting for a radically different system and set of values than this.
Second, in order to get at the truth and because the ways in which humanity's historic striving for understanding and its capacity to wonder and imagine are very rich and diverse, we seek to reflect that richness and diversity on our site. See "About Us" on navigation bar. We intend to be engaging and compelling, as the best investigative journalism and art are, and relentlessly scientific, rigorous, and direct, as those who cherish the truth are. We believe that we can be both accessible and sophisticated. As Loo lays out in his book,
Defeating the empire is not something that occurs only on the literal battlefield. It is also something that is determined throughout the continuum of battles over many issues, including: ideas; philosophy; forms of organization and leadership in economy, politics, and other realms; ways of arguing; ways of responding to and respecting empirical data; interest in truth as opposed to expedience; how people and the environment should be treated; the nature of relations among people (e.g., between women and men, different races and ethnicities, rich and poor countries, etc.); ways of responding to criticism and ideas that are not your own; ways of handling one’s own errors and those of others; and more, all the way up through how warfare is carried out. The contrast between the methods and goals of the neoliberals and those of us who seek an entirely different world is stark. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, Pp. 326-7)