Merriam-Webster defines “racism” as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
Human nature is a dark animal, and one of the most disturbing qualities of this animal is its need to make itself feel superior. One of the easiest ways to feel superior is to categorize, placing everyone into boxes to be judged based on certain inalterable characteristics, not-so-coincidentally choosing to make your own qualities the desirable ones.
This is racism.
As The Smith’s wrote, “It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate. It takes strength to be gentle and kind.” As a people, we’ve taken the easy route. Racism and bigotry in any form are bad, so it exasperates me when I see it disguised as virtuous rebellion.
“A student who banned white people and men from a students’ union equality event has insisted that she can’t be racist because she is an ‘ethnic minority woman.'”
In response to being labeled a racist for excluding white males from the event in question, Bahar Mustafa, a student at Goldsmith University, said:
“I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender…Therefore, woman of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system.”
Mustafa is incorrect. Racism and sexism (as well as every other kind of baseless exclusionary behavior) exist outside the confines of culture and country, instead, they are rooted in the nature of every human being, regardless of where they come from. Given that, power structures are irrelevant. If Mustafa wants to talk about “the system,” she should stick to “the system.” But she’s decided to connect systemic benefits to racism and sexism.
If racism and sexism are truly defined by who benefits from a “structure of privilege,” then their definitions must change depending on where one lives, and the time in which one lives.
If we follow Mustafa’s logic, a white person living in Japan who is treated poorly based on his race is now the victim of structures of privilege set up to benefit Japanese people. As such, he can no longer be racist. A white man may be racist in the United States, but no longer racist in Japan. A simple change of location altered his being.
According to Women’s Forum:
“42% of the candidates for the last elections in Iceland (2013) were women…[and] 39.7% of the Parliamentarians in Iceland are women.”
As society changes, what happens to sexism and racism if they are based not on inherent hatred, but on culture, and structured privilege? If a sexist American male moves to Iceland, would his sexism be somehow reduced because he lives in a place in which women hold much more power?
And what happens if a nation—like Iceland—develops further in terms of female leadership? If Iceland becomes a society in which there is no “systemic” difference between men and women, does sexism vanish? Can a man no longer be a sexist?
Racism and sexism cannot be connected to “structures of privilege” because then their definitions have no anchor. If the definitions of these concepts are tied to cultural power rather than personal behavior, they lose all meaning, diverting responsibility from the individual to society at large.
So yes, you can be a racist, Ms. Mustafa. Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t—that’s not the point. To claim that as an “ethnic minority woman,” you are somehow unable to be a racist is the point—and it’s laughable.
Racism and sexism are rooted in simple hatred, and we share that sin equally as a species.