I chose to name this piece “Black Racism” because it almost sounds like an oxymoron--if you will. Here in DC, I find myself in a ferocious debate on whether black people can be racist or not. Which leads in the main question...can black people be racist?
Short answer: yes, of course. But most people in my all-black cohort actually believe the opposite. Here in DC, it’s natural for us to talk about politics and race. Once we got on the race topic, I said that “black people can definitely be racist.” The reaction I got from them was as if I said “the sky is falling.” They looked at me like I was crazy. As if my thinking was “white-washed” or something.
They told me that being a racist meant “discrimination plus power.” And since that “black people don’t have power, therefore we can’t be racist.”
But even with that definition, black people still aren’t excluded from the word “racist.” And to say “blacks don’t have power” is almost an insult to black people. Power is shown in different ways. Think about it...One, we just had a black president for the past 8 years (and yes I’m well aware that having a black president isn’t the norm). Did he do everything he wanted to do, no--but that doesn’t negate the fact that being the President of the United States is the single most powerful position in the world.
Black people don’t have power? We must have short memories. We saw that on display this past November where 98% of black women came out and voted against Roy Moore, which ultimately played a HUGE role in his defeat. Black people (specifically women) managed to turn THE REDDEST state in the country--to blue (for now).
Black people don’t have power? Are we disregarding all the black CEOs, business owners, and influential athletes. Now don’t get me wrong, I know our numbers lack severely in corporate America. I know that we don’t have adequate representation in that field, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t hold some of those positions.
Again, please, don’t get me wrong. I know from a systematic standpoint, black people don’t have much or any power at all. You need power to oppress...you don't need power to be racist.
But let’s get back to this term called racist. What does it mean anyway? A ‘racist’ is defined as “a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another” (textbook definition).
The people in my cohort stand firm in their thinking that black people can’t be racist. So I pressed them on that. Here’s the scenario I gave them: “What would you call it if a white person goes up to a black person and says ‘I hate all black people, I hope all of you die’”? They said “That’s racist.” And I agree with that. Then I asked, “What would you call it if a black person went up to a white person and said, ‘I hate all white people, I hope all of you die’”? They said, “That’s just being prejudice.”
Wait...what? How...how is that each person said the exact same thing (different context) but one is deemed to be “racist” and the other “just being prejudice”...as if just being prejudice is any better?
They kept going to the power structure. They told me white people have the power to act on their beliefs through systematic oppression. I understand that, but just because one has to power to act on it, how does that make what the black person said any less racist?
But let us not be so grandiose. Forget about systemic oppression for a second...What about the local level? What if I had a small business and a white person wanted to apply for a job at my store and I said, “Sorry I don’t hire white people here.” Is that not racist? I think so.
Because this was a 1-on-8 debate, I went to bed that night doubting myself. Worrying if I had missed something. That next day, I went to work with it eating at me. I was assigned to do a recording with Congressman Hank Johnson that day. After we finished, I was about to walk out of his office. He stopped me and said, “So Trey, how’s everything going?” I said “pretty good...but can I ask you a question?” He said “sure.” And I asked him, “can black people be racist?” He looked at me a little strange (he probably never got that question before). He thought about it for a couple of seconds and said, “Yes. Now we can’t necessarily be systematically racist...but black definitely can be racist. And to say black people can’t be racist is inherently racist” (Don’t worry, I got Congressman Johnson’s approval to quote him).
This conversation with my Congressman gave me a little more confidence with my initial position. Black people can be racist. White people can be racist. Anybody can be racist. Being a racist isn’t just an act, it’s also an idea. The idea that one believes that a particular race is superior to another.
No one is exempt from a word merely by their skin color.