Saturday, May 21, 2011

Racism, Co-Racism and why I hate the word prejudice

By now most people in the anti-oppression blogiverse have heard about the Satoshi Kanazawa Study that black women are "objectively" the least physically attractive of all human beings.

I feel little need to tread ground other better blogfolk have already trod before me (with much more precision than I ever could).  Bottomline, Kanazawa's "study" was execrable, and Psychology Today's editors behaved in a wildly irresponsible manner for publishing it. 

Renee, at the brilliant and engaging blog Womanist Musings, wrote a great post about Psychology Today's lack of accountability in posting the so-called study.  While I agreed wholeheartedly with her take, I differed with her on whether or not Kanazawa's actions could be considered racist, actions which she referred to as "prejudicial."

Here was our exchange: 


Renee I disagree with not labeling Kanazawa and his actions as racist. True, only White people are uniquely positioned to plug in to a system of White Supremacy and fully benefit from that, but I would think anyone who actively supports and furthers the aims of White Supremacy , including its specific hierachy of racialized bodies (black ones at the bottom), is indeed being racist regardless of their own actual race. If you actively assist the dominant body in its dominance then you are accountabile for your own part in helping maintain the dominant group's supremacy.


If the definition of racism is prejudice plus power then a person of colour cannot be racist because they do not have the power to actualize whatever prejudicial feelings they may have on a systemic level. This separation is absolutely necessary because without it we have no real understanding of the way that Whiteness operates. This however does negate responsibility on the part of poc who choose to further White supremacy through prejudicial actions. I specifically chose not to address Satoshi Kanazawa claims because I believe that they are based on junk science.

Without an understanding of power it is easy to become distracted and believe that the actions of POC like Satoshi Kanazawa have the same effect as racism from White people. Even though Satoshi Kanazawa as an individual is responsible, it is the institution of Whiteness that created the bigotry upon which his conclusions were based. Ultimately racism begins and ends with Whiteness.
I will consider this. But ultimately I have a big problem wrapping my head around the idea that there can be such a thing as benefiting at the expense of another without being fully accountable for one's own part in upholding the very system that created the original benefit. Or that one' holding up of that system can be classified as less harmful if one also happens to be a target of that same system.

However I definitely agree that white supremacist prejudce does not and cannot have the same effect coming from a POC as it does from a white person. I will make every effort to consider what youre saying because I respect your opinion and work.

And I've been thinking about this ever since.  The conclusions I've come to (so far) lead me to believe that anti-racist language (and anti-oppression language in general) is in need of more explicit terminology to deal with the phenomenon of marginalized individuals/groups who actively support their own marginalization and the marginalization of others.
We already have the concept of internalized racism, of course  But that doesn't adequately explain why a POC of one ethnicity would go out of their way to uphold racist and white supremacist stereotypes  about another group.  We also have the term Kyriarchy, which I find handy in alot of anti-oppression discourse, but is so widely applicable to just about every single person as to be diluted in its emotional impact when articulating the power dynamics of supremacist structures.
So far the only term I can think of that, for me, fully describes the harmful impact of Kanazawa's Study and the Supremacist agenda behind it is Co-Racism.  Or perhaps Co-dependent Racism.  or even Co-signed Racism.

(As far as I know I made these up.  I'm not married to them, just to the idea that we need more words to discuss the spectrum of how racism can influence a POC's actions and beliefs. I did google the terms first and I didn't find anything.  I also looked up definitions of codependency and found alot of applicability to race, in terms of specific POC relationships with Whiteness).
Describing as "prejudicial" Kanazawa's blatant advocacy of clearly white supremacist/black subordinant stereotypes  simply because he is a MOC advocating these stereotypes  just doesn't cut it for me.  "Prejudicial" abstracts the offense.   Calling what he did mere prejudice potentially softens the graphic reality that kind of toxic thinking does to black women as a whole.
Co-Racism could perhaps describe what's going on more clearly without linguistically removing focus from the racist root of the phenomenon in the first place.  
As  I told Renee, I definitely DO agree that the impact of a POC's racial prejudice and a White person's racial prejudice are NOT equivalent.    A white person's upholding of racial prejudice functions entirely to their own (perceived) social benefit and uplift in a white supremacist super-structure.    A POC can never fully benefit from doing the same thing in the same context.
But that isn't to say there IS no (perceived) social benefit for a POC to do so.  Particularly when that POC does not belong to the lowest racial caste in the overall racial super-structure (hello again, Kyriarchy).
Furthermore there has always been the phenomenon of "selling out"... sucking up to those with the most power to cause you harm is just one of many common  strategies for survival across civilizations.  But survival at the deliberate expense of another MUST be viewed critically in a civilized society.  It must be called out loudly, unambiguously, and in no uncertain terms.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Renee's post in any way minimizes Kanazawa's Fail and the potential damage his study could do and already has done.  Just the opposite in fact, as she always fiercely call these kinds of things out in her blog.   I just don't believe that "prejudicial" gives enough weight as a descriptor of his actions and motives in this case.

Then again I've always hated the word prejudice.  It's never been powerful enough for my tastes.  And when you take it to "prejudicial" it's damn near poetic sounding.  To me, being prejudiced against a person sounds almost benign.  Saying something is racist snaps your attention to focus.  There really isn't any dithering about the seriousness of that charge.

Which leads me to address one common area of conceptual conflict that I'd like to clear up right now:

Some people (usually White People) like to say that Black People are 'more racist than anybody else.   You'll hear many a troll say this during discussions of Racism.  What they actually mean is that they think Black people are anti-white, unfairly mean to and critical of white people, and that they must think they are oh so special, deserving recognition just because they are Black.

In this way, White people have cleverly defused and re-written the definition of Racism over the last couple of generations or so to mean prejudice against any racial group for any reason.  This is a way of controlling the discourse around White Supremacy, protecting it  by rendering it linguistically inarticulable.

Let me be clear.   THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BLACK RACIST- that is to say, a black person who exists with the institutional backing to see that their own needs and preferences as a member of the Black Race are met before everyone else's.  

Because THAT is what Racism is.  It's a system of economic, cultural, and social privileging of a dominant race (WHITE people folks, helloooo) over the other designated "lesser" races.   The concept of Race was invented for the express purpose of legitimizing the exploits of European Imperialists, recasting their systematic conquest of lands and indigenous peoples around the globe as part of  the so-called natural order of things.   The Race Concept was a necessary coping mechanism, a rationalization for the morally indefensible. 

Now some 500 years later we have convinced ourselves that Race is a biological reality and that phenotypic similarities across vast ethnic groups indicate an essential truth.  Globally, we are all still struggling with the psychic impact of the White Supremacy delusion called Racism.

A POC attempting to protect himself in a racist environment by adopting racist attitudes himself and then actively using  his environment's racist institutions to distance himself from other marginalized people is entirely different than a White Person attempting to exploit marginalized people in order to uplift  himself. True.
But it's not just some de-fanged imitation of Racism Proper for a POC to publish a study that "proves" his personal belief that Black Women are the least attractive of all human beings on the planet.  It may not be Racist, if that means prejudice backed by institutional power on one's own behalf, but it's at the very least CO-RACIST

For those of you who prefer analogies with your discussions of violent social policy think of it this way:    Your army  may have somehow hoarded all the firearms while  my army  is left only with sticks to fight back with, but if  I'm always using my stick to trip my troopmate so that you can get a better shot at her (cuz.... just between you and me I couldn't stand her anyway...but shhhhh)  I may as well be fighting on your team, no?

ETA:  Please note, I will not be publishing any comments to debate or discuss the findings of Kanazawa's study, etc.  My final opinion on the subject is that it's co-racist drivel fueled by anti-black stereotypes.  If however you wish to discuss the legitimacy of  co-racism as a concept, or prejudice vs racism and the language we commonly  use to deconstruct racism, please feel free to comment here.  

Jane Laplain

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