In response to the comments sparked by my post last week on reverse racism, I’d like to let Stephen Colbert have the final word. But first, I’ll try to be concise for a change and offer the two best reasons I know for not using “racism” to refer to hatred or prejudice against the dominant race:
1. It’s very useful to have a term that describes prejudice which is also backed by social power. If “racism” denotes this configuration, we can then talk about its systemic impact and not just its interpersonal effects.
2. “Reverse racism” has long served to deflect attention away from discussions of systemic racism, even when people of good will use the term. It tends to imply that racial hatred toward whites is as big a problem at the societal level as is racial hatred toward people of color. It also tends to derail the discussion. That’s just what’s happening in the United States right now, with people like Glenn Beck claiming that Obama is a “racist.” Clearly, Beck’s claim is a cynical exercise in demagoguery. However, the same effect occurs even when the person who raises the specter of “reverse racism” bears no ill intent.
But enough pontificating. Stephen Colbert makes some similar points, and he’s a lot funnier than me.
Update, 9/28/09, 9 a.m.: I bungled embedding the video on the first try (WordPress isn’t very friendly to embedded media), and alert reader Michael wondered if I’d meant to embed the following Colbert clip. I’m including it, too, because it documents how the “reverse racism” meme took off last summer. (Thanks, Michael!)
Update, 9/28/09, 3:30 p.m.: Mom’s Tinfoil Hat has a thoughtful post on this same theme. Check it out!