Black People Can’t Be Racist

DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti's response to a question about whether Kanye West was racist when he said former President George W. Bush "doesn't care about Black people" triggered some confused e-mails. Here, Visconti explains the difference between a racist and a bigot, and why Black people can't be racist toward white people.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. Photo: Fibonacci Blue

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

In my response to a question about Kanye West’s comments about President Bush and his subsequent apologies, I asserted that racism can only flow down a chain of power. This power can be easily defined in economic terms; for example, white households average ten times the wealth of Black households in this country. This is because of roughly 200 years of legalized slavery and another 80 years of Jim Crow laws. The Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act (1964/1965) ended most legal racism, and the final major piece of anti-racism legislation passed with the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977—so you can say that the beginning of leveling the playing field started 33 years ago, but we still have almost 300 years of lawful racism to overcome as a society.

This definition of racism sparked a lot of reader response, including this thoughtful comment:

I understand the logic behind Luke’s definition but respectfully disagree. I believe that prejudice is about perception, bigotry is about attitude and racism is about actions. If someone is placed under your power and you act in a way to intentionally injure them based on their race … it is racism.

The person who posted the comment is a regular contributor to DiversityInc and we enjoy an online friendship, which is highlighted by the fact that we’re both veterans—although I will note his service extended many more years than mine—and he still serves in a civilian capacity. Here is my response:

I understand your logic as well, but I don’t agree. Allow me to pose a scenario: A Black Major assigns a white Captain to stand watch every holiday because she doesn’t like white people. This is about power (a Major outranks a Captain), but is it racism or bigotry? I’d say it’s bigotry. In the total scope of our society, no matter how senior a person is (including the president of the United States or the CEO of American Express), the economic conditions of our society, which have sorted themselves out through centuries of oppression based on race, dictate that the power is flowing from the white majority to the Black minority. Therefore, it can only be defined as bigotry.

Suppose the scenario was that the Major is Asian and the Captain is Black? I’d still call it bigotry; read up on the Asian Exclusion Act, National Origins Quota, Chinese Exclusion Act, Immigration Act of 1917 and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind. This scenario has a person from one oppressed group being a bigot toward another member of an oppressed group. There is only one majority—and please don’t be fooled by numbers; although white people will be less than 50 percent of our population in 2043, Black household wealth will not catch up to white household wealth for about 1,000 years at the current rate of closure. Shows you what a head start will do—but, readers, PLEASE don’t e-mail me with your family’s story of individual trial and tribulations. Although they are important parts of our American story, please don’t think your ancestors did it without the help of white privilege. White people had centuries of affirmative action. Read Ira Katznelson’s “When Affirmative Action Was White” for a history lesson.

Where I’m sure we’ll both agree, and what is REALLY important here, is that the Major (in either case) needs to processed out of the Marines. Her behavior is in violation of the UCMJ and is a terrible detriment to unit cohesion, combat readiness and effectiveness. I’m confident that this is what would happen in today’s military; in fact, I’d say that a bigot or racist wouldn’t get too far into basic training, officer’s candidate school or the service academy before being sniffed out and ousted. Unlike the rest of government service, which I would say is now behind corporate culture in general, the military knows that someday you will have to depend on your life on the actions of other people. You cannot tolerate a bigot or racist because in a life-or-death situation, the white door gunner isn’t happy about the lead flying at him because his Black pilot in command was left out in the cold by a racist co-pilot.

Another veteran gave me a good insight: After a talk where I discussed race and trust, a Black man came out of the crowd. He had a Vietnam Veteran pin on his lapel. He asked, “Do you know why you trust Black people?” I told him I couldn’t pin down a reason. He asked, “Who fixed your helicopters?” The face of the senior chief petty officer in charge of fixing helicopters during the night shift (when most of the heavy repairs were done, and most of my work as a functional test pilot was debriefed) popped into my head: a Black man (who led a very diverse team of skilled mechanics). The Vietnam vet smiled and said, “You trusted your very life on the work of Black people.” He was right and it made me happy to have that insight.

By the way, if you want to read a good book about race, racism and the service, I most highly recommend Ezell Ware’s “By Duty Bound—Survival and Redemption in a Time of War.” Ware retired as a Brigadier General from the California Guard but started his career as an enlisted Marine. The book centers around being shot down and having to survive, resist and evade with a racist in Vietnam.

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  • Thanks a lot for this article. I’m white, and I’ve never had a problem with believing I need to recognize my race-based privelege and try to figure out how to support people without it, without trying to impose my way of doing things on them. It’s hard, and I make mistakes, but the least we can do, and maybe the only thing we can do, is recognize reality. White defensiveness is irritating, and it degrades and distracts from real social issues. White people need no advocate, we need to quiet down and wait for the rest of the world to speak.

    • I grew up poor and homeless on the Southside of Chicago. I’m a Polish-American female.

      So where’s my white privilege? So if some of you rich white liberals want to mail me a check, so you can claim I have white privilege. I welcome it.

      How retarded are white liberals to believe this bullsh*t? Oh I forgot, you’re Millennials.

      No one gave me a damn thing. Want to know how I became un-poor and un-homeless?

      1. I attended school and received excellent grades in high school

      2. I applied for financial aid to attend community college.

      3. I joined the Army

      4. I waited until I was married to have children

      5. I have only 1 child. Kids are expensive!

      There is nothing I did that anyone else with an ounce of work ethic cannot do. No matter your race or sex.

      I own a house and my daughter will never experienced the hardships I faced.

      • I don’t think Black people are somehow defective that they don’t want the things we all want in life. Do you? If not, what do you think the real problem is?

        If you’re going to say one problem is single-parent households, you’re right in one way- there is no greater prediction of poverty than a single-parent household. So how do you think things got this way for Black people?

        I understand the path you took to climb out of poverty – how did your family become homeless and in poverty in the first place? Any lessons there?

        • My mother had me at 16. I had my child at 28.

          My mother married at 15. I married at 25 and still together 12 years later.

          My mother only had an 8th grade education. I went to college & have numerous technical certification as an Apache Helicopter Crew Chief in the Army.

          Everything is about personal choice.

          My husband’s sister got pregnant at 16 and had a total of 3 children before the age of 20. She’s had only 1 job ten years ago and quit after a week. My nieces father is a dead beat and lazy. She lives in a section 8 apt and relies on welfare. We tried to get her to get her GED, but when it became to hard she quit.

          My cousin also had children out of wedlock and also living off of welfare.

          I had a black female platoon sgt and had a black sgt major. Why are they successful and not other black folk?
          Personal responsibility and work ethic.

          My husband’s family is Mexican & black. My husband and I were duel military and a black sgt friend of ours had problems with his family. His wife was also attaining her doctorate degree. His family always wanted to “borrow” money, but didn’t want to work for it. He put his foot down and finally cut them off. He said if they want money, let them sacrifice and join the Army like we did.

          So there is no difference in race when it comes to people not take responsibility for their actions.
          It’s an average. More illegitimate children are born to black mothers than whites, Asians. Asians have the least of illigitimate children and have higher proportion of Asians with college degrees.
          Now if you break down by ethnicities Russians, Polish, and Nigerians have higher percentage of degrees than the Anglo-Saxons of northern & Western Europe. So how do you explain that? Are Anglo American’s dumber than Polish or Nigerans. Or do we just tend to have more degrees on average?

          It seems you want to make excuses for the failures of some within a group. As my step dad who was a Ranger in Vietnam used to tell me, “Excuses are reasons for failure.” If some black people or Anglos want to not work and live off welfare, then that’s their choice. Nobody is holding them back but themselves.
          It seems that you have a low expectation of black Americans and trying to find excuses for why some in a particular group, like Anglos, are poor.

          You remind me of a saying, “The soft bigotry of low expectations.”

          It is too easy to make it in this country, but you have to work for it and stop giving excuses and stop having such low expectations of black Americans. I served in the military with and related to too many successful ones to believe in your low expectations. I can only imagine if I told my daughter, “Well, you’re a female and a minority, so I don’t expect you to be successful.” If I gave her excuses and every reason to be a failure, do you think she would be successful? Probably not.

          The problem isn’t black Americans, the problem is white liberals who excuse the poor behavior of some.
          Do you tell Anglos you don’t expect much of them? If they don’t want to work or take personal responsibility in child bearing are you going to make excuses for them as well?

          I don’t tell my daughter you might go to college. I tell her she will go or to a trade school, matter of factly. I don’t tell her she shouldn’t cry because she skinned her knee. I tell her to “Soldier up”. So now she just brushes herself off and gets back on her bike, not giving up. I have high expectations that she not only meets but easily exceeds them, because I don’t allow her to give excuses and my step dad didn’t allow me to either. In and out of homelessness in HS and I still maintained a 4.1 GPA in all honors classes in a South Chicago public school. It’s about how bad do you want it.

          • And why do some people break under stress and others don’t?

            300 years of American history beat down an entire race. The foot was lifted off their throats just recently. Not by magnanimous action by white people, but by organized non-violent protest by the oppressed that is still ongoing.

            trump has never denounced his racist birther advocacy. The birther hate is all about how a Black man as president must be illegitimate in some way.

            So the stress of poverty in your family broke everyone but you, and rather than have empathy, you choose to criticize. They (your family and the poor Black people you denigrate) are just human. Some are stronger than others. Go get counseling.

        • First of all the poverty in my family was my mother and I.

          My grand father escaped the Ghettos of Nazi occupied Poland to come here with nothing but his clothes on his back.

          This was when Polish were not considered “white” and threatened and even murdered by the KKK.

          He invented the separator plate of the lead acid battery. He started his own company in Blue Island, IL.

          Black people are not the only ones who’ve faced hardships. Yet, are the only ones you coddle and lower your expectations of them. I’m sorry, that bigotry and your a bigot not to expect the same of them as you do everyone else. Asians, Jews, Mexicans have all had their hardships in this country and just like blacks have. Black people are not the only slaves and slavery continues to this day. Blacks were not even the first slaves in America. North Africans enslaved Europeans. Egyptians enslaved Jews. Cherokees and Africans owned slaves. The Arab slave trade and the Irish Slave Trade, but those don’t fit your narrative or help your business profit.

          You’re so against slavery, so what are you doing to help end modern slavery???

          I don’t know where the hell Trump came into the conversation? People also said George W Bush’s presidency was illegitimate. I voted for Gore.

          I voted for candidate Obama, but unfortunately all I got in return was just another politician. Lesson learned. I will not be voting this election.
          BTW how did a black man get elected if the U.S. is just so racist and horrible as you say it is? Obama is the leader of the free world.

          Black people are only about 13% of the population. Even if every eligible black person (let’s estimate that at a high 6%) voted for Obama, he never would of became president. Whites, Hispanics,and others had to vote him into office. So much for your theory that all white people hate Obama just because he’s black. I disagree with his policies, not executing the laws set by congress, because HE doesn’t like them. That is his sole job as per Article II of the Constitution. His job is not to legislate.

          I love how you, as a rich white man, telling us how it is to be poor in the ghetto. LoL

          You never answer any of my questions, because you can’t. You know I’m right.

          • The president was elected twice for several reasons, including hapless opponents and the energization of an unorganized coalition of Blacks, Latinos and progressive whites.

            Trauma and post traumatic stress, combined with a not yet ended oppression by the government (read the DOJ Baltimore report) has resulted in our society reaping what it has sown.

            Your writing is devoid of empathy, yet your compulsion to post very long essays here and your tone tells me you need help. I’m not mocking you, I respect who you are and what you’ve accomplished, but you come across as being dangerously overwound. You probably have generational post traumatic stress – there are non-drug therapies- look up the headstrong project. Good luck. Redirected, your considerable energy and intellect can be a powerful source of comfort to your family and our community.

          • DeAnna

            I know you believe that you know about these things, but you sound pretty nieve to me. So please try to receive what I am about to tell you with an open mind.
            First off, I am African American and I am from the South Side of Chicago. I am a single mother of 4. I had my first child at 18(the same day that I graduated from High School). Just as you’ve mentioned that you have you, I’ve worked my way out of poverty as well. I currently have a Bachelor’s Degree, work a wonderful professional job and I live in a nice town. My children enjoy a very nice comfortable life style and is widely accepted in our community.

            Now with that being said, I still won’t judge my people and say that they can do the same thing that I’ve done. I guess I see things differently, because a lot of those people that you don’t understand, I’ve walked in their shoes. It’s not nearly as easy as the way you put it. The difference between me and them is that my parents drilled it in me that I can do anything that I put my mind to and I never stopped believing that. When I try to encourage others to aspire to do what I’ve done, I always emphasize that it may be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT, but it isn’t impossible. Now I have been able to mentor a few people to drive determination. However, most of them get discouraged and give up because they honestly don’t believe that they can. I’ve been told “but you’re smart and I’m not” on several occasions. That’s what racism and discriimination does to the mind and the spirit. If you been told all your life that you don’t measure up & then you get out there applying for jobs and is constantly getting turned down, you began to believe that you can’t. Not to mention receiving an insufficient education. I was an honor roll student, but I didn’t score high enough on the ACT to get into a 4 year college(I had never seen quite a bit of the material on that test before). I had to go a Junior college and I received tutoring to bring me up to level. These factors is why there isn’t many stories like mine, it’s like Luke said, everbody has a breaking point. You may disagree and believe that there is a lot of successful black people. Well in proportion to the entire population of black people it isn’t. It saddens me when I go to Chicago to visit, it is just sad and full of hopelessness. There is a much larger portion of the black population that is invisible and deemed worthless to mainstream America.

            I can respect when you say that nobody gave you anything and you obviously wasn’t one of those people born with a silver spoon in your mouth. While I will acknowledge that there is a class discrimination as well, being that you are from a poor single parent family, you probably did experience some discrimination and hardships. However, we see things from a different perspective because we don’t walk the same walk in life as you believe that we do. Remember, you fit in to one of those catergories, whereas I fit into 2. Plus you don’t have nearly as many people actively trying to bring you down as I do.

  • Sorry Luke, I’m thinking that your theory of not only power, but historical power being a necessary component of racism simply doesn’t wash… It’s contrived. It introduces genetics into behavior and morality, which is a huge move backwards for humanity… Wrong is wrong, regardless of the genetic differences between people. To suggest a racial component is necessary to determine racism is, well, racist. What part of your theory is colorblind?

    • Steven S.Baum

      I am a ‘older’ Jew,and I see the point that is made about NEEDING to be white to be racist as —- racist.
      Black on white crime is a very growing problem,and it is due to racism.
      And that makes racism ,colorblind as I see it.
      And the guy that fixed my car and my gun [ retired LEO ] was WHITE.
      I see your reasoning about black being the poor put upon race as — very sad.
      Slavery was a horrible crime,BUT try to number the population of black Americans that would be alive IF not for slavery .
      That does in no way condone slavery,but the FACT is that the 40 MILLION [ or more ] black Americans would be dead on the shores of Afrika – at the hand of those Afrikans that sold them,IF not for “slavery”.

      • Luke Visconti

        I must have received 40 emails from white supremacists this weekend—yours is the most offensive. Black-on-white crime is a staple of white-supremacist emails because it was a key part of one of Pat Buchanan’s books—and it’s a myth. If you look at the FBI statistics, there’s not much of a difference between Black and white crime rates if you factor for wealth. Black households have 1/20th the wealth of white households—which segregates our neighborhoods—and schools have never been more segregated, so the crime committed by Black people is overwhelmingly against other Black people.

        What’s really interesting is how effective policing affects these statistics. Newark, N.J., has 34 murders per 100,000 people, New York City has five murders per 100,000 people—an amazing difference. Our office was in Newark for almost six years, so I can tell you why there is such a disparity: You NEVER see a Newark police officer unless they’re whipping through town in a motorcade. In New York City, you see them all the time. As a result, Newark is dangerous 24/7/365 in every single part of town and the situation has become far worse over the past 10 years. Why is it tolerated? Because the crimes are overwhelmingly Black on Black.

        As far as Africans being alive because of slavery—well, they’d ALL be alive if there hadn’t been a market for enslaved people in the United States to sell people to. Here’s a great article with facts on American slavery: Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • Really. You dont condone slavery. But you justify its existence positively by suggesting it saved lives. I guess Hitler saved lives too.

      • Steven, rather than go point by point, I just want you to ask yourself this question as you make the comment of “Black on white crime is a very growing problem, and it is due to racism.” Would those same “black” people that are committing crimes against “white” people, as you put it, also commit these crimes against someone of another race or group? Furthermore, is the type of crime or the intensity influenced by the victim being white? Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I think that if you are really honest with yourself, you will answer no, their acts of crime are not dependent on the victim being white, but rather economics, survival, or in many cases just misdirected frustration and anger (but still no excuse). Given this, then by definition “Black on white crime”, as you put it, can not fit the definition of racism.

        That being said, my personal opinion on the comment doesn’t have much to do with racism or bigotry, but primarily with personal responsibility and accountability. And rather than responding defensively when people call into question our conscious (or sub-conscious) participation in and acceptance of the “system”, we would ALL benefit from shouldering more responsibility for our part in this situation. I don’t have supporting evidence, but my instincts tell me that approaching it this way will also make it easier to have a meaningful discussion in the first place. Unfortunately, specifically for “white” people, in most cases you’re just born into the system while being held responsible for systems that were setup without your direct involvement. But, the big gap is that since you are now in the system, there is a responsibility on everyone’s part, for what happens going forward, the same way people enjoy economic benefits for infrastructure that they had not direct part in creating either. And believe me, I’m sure black, latin and asian americans feel the unfairness of this situation as well.

      • And Steven, one last comment. And let me preface this by saying it may be a bit hard for you to hear, or to not immediately be offended, but just hear me out. I also apologize ahead of time if that’s the case. And I say very sincerely, that I am only posing this as a question, and in no way condoning what happened.

        If you believe “… the FACT is that the 40 MILLION [ or more ] black Americans would be dead on the shores of Afrika – at the hand of those Afrikans that sold them,IF not for “slavery”, then I must also ask an opposing question.

        Would it also follow that Jews would NOT have Isreal if not for Hitler and the Nazis? Or, was it worth the evil and meaningless killing of countless people of Jewish descent for Isreal to exist?

        Using the logic in your last statement, your answer should also be yes.

      • jacob Eagleshield

        As a Jew,you shuld be ashamed at your comments. You think you are the only people in the world who have ever been put upon? My people endured a Holocaust too. It lasted for 300 years.

  • It seems that the people who argue against the ability of black people to be racist toward white people are tying racism to general social or economic power. In other words, the higher up the socially-constructed race ladder you are, the more ability you have to be racist toward those below you. (You say that only those in the very top position–white people–can be racist, which is simply a variant of this idea.)

    I find several problems with this line of reasoning:

    1. It classifies the actions of individuals according to wide generalizations.
    2. It ignores the specifically religious origins of white anti-black racism.
    3. It ignores the detrimental effect of black anti-white racism on both white people and black people.
    4. It unconditionally spares black people from the “racist” stigma. While occasionally misused, this stigma is generally useful for overcoming racial disparities and various types of racial segregation.
    5. It further legitimizes and entrenches the “race ladder” concept.

    • 1. It classifies the actions of individuals according to wide generalizations.

      ^You can’t assume that individuals exist outside the social context they live in. Individuals act and make choices that are influenced by the wide, generalized social context, so that’s something to keep in mind.

      2. It ignores the specifically religious origins of white anti-black racism.

      How, specifically, does the author’s model for racism vs. bigotry ignore the religious origins of white anti-black racism? It’s also important to keep in mind that anti-black racism is deeply rooted in economic origins and other origins besides just religious origins.

      3. It ignores the detrimental effect of black anti-white racism on both white people and black people.

      How?? What statistics do you have to show that there is any factual detrimental effect of black anti-white “racism” on society? The author makes a good point by saying that wealth in most aspects of U.S. society is disproportionally allotted to white people.

      4. It unconditionally spares black people from the “racist” stigma. While occasionally misused, this stigma is generally useful for overcoming racial disparities and various types of racial segregation.

      You can’t place a “racist” stigma on a group of people if racism is defined according to oppression. Is racism not a systematized, oppressive institution? It seems like your intentions are good, but that you’re ignoring that the paradigm explained by the author does nothing to spare people of all ethnic backgrounds the stigma of bigotry (defined as committing acts of discrimination).

      5. It further legitimizes and entrenches the “race ladder” concept.

      Again, it seems like your argument is built on good intentions. But I’d like to point out that due to the social-historical context of American society, we cannot allow ourselves to get too caught up in “fairness” when discussing racism. Hear me out. We can’t apply fairness to the contemporary sociocultural context because the system of oppression that exists today due to the paradigms outlined by our historical sociocultural context were not fair. Was slavery fair? Was sharecropping fair? Was the rape and lynching of people of color by white power holders fair? Was the racial profiling and displacement of people of Asian descent by white people fair? No. So we can’t apply fairness to the current, resulting constructs, because the constructs as they stand today are still not fair. Look at any set of statistics to see that. What we CAN apply is equity. What is EQUITABLE is not always what is “fair.” Equity in this case includes recognizing racism as a SYSTEM of oppression imposed on the underprivileged by the privileged, while still acknowledging bigotry as something equally detestable, yet not systemic in the same sense.

  • I am in total agreement with your assessment of the distinction between racism as a social construct, bigotry, as a condition of acculturation, and prejudice, as a condition of our upbringing and intrinsic values set. Most people, white and black, don’t understand the subtle but clear distinctions of these points; basically because it all comes out as hate, distrust, fear and threat. There are hundreds of years of oppression that have been attempted to be ignored like it never happened or happened to people no longer here among us. We are, as a culture in America, the aftermath of that oppression, both as the oppressor and oppressed. There is healing that needs to happen on both sides. Mr. West missed an opportunity, on the national stage, to articulate the fine points of the issue because it can not be defined just as racism and he cannot be called a racist to suggest that it’s not just whites who are racist.. He did not call Mr. Bush a racist, he said Mr. Bush “doesn’t like black people”. The point of that is that there are a lot of people who do not like black and white people, that does mean they are racists, necessarily. As you clearly expressed it is not feasible or correct that a black person can be racist as we are the object of racism’s expression and party that is “non-privileged” in the equation of racism’s social construct. It does not apply to blacks since they can’t derive a benefit based on it’s intrinsic application and rules.
    Blacks can be bigots and be prejudice but they can’t be racists based on the social construct of racism that exists in America today and for the last 400 years.

  • The Oxford English Dictionary defines Bigot:
    1 a. A hypocritical professor of religion
    b. A superstitious adherent to religion
    2. A person obstinately and unreasonably wedded to a particular religious creed, opinion or ritual.
    ……….In the light of this, I’m not sure Mr Visconti’s argument makes sense.

    Where do Native Americans fit in with his theory? Have they been subjected to racism or bigotry?

    In Europe, where we have had horrific examples of genocide – would such acts have been based on racism or bigotry?

  • Luke, I think your definition of racism goes beyond the traditional lexical meaning of the word. The dictionalry defines it as
    1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
    2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

    Actions motivated by racism may occur within various power relationships, but it is inaccurate to say that only those with the power advantage can believe that race accounts for differences in human character or prejudge others based on race.

    Blacks can be racist too. For example when a black person says “white men can’t jump” they are being racist. However I do agree that the ability for blacks to exert power through actions motivated by racism is often minimal due their extreme power disadvantage, a disadvantage forged through a long history of discrimination.

    Kanye West is not acting in a racist manner by saying that President Bush doesn’t like black people. That statement doesn’t necessarily imply that Kanye thinks that Bush is lacking in human character or ability in any way due to Bush’s race – the definition of racism.

    Calling someone of another race a racist doesn’t automatically make you a racist yourself. The belief that their race pedetermines human character is racism, and that’s something all races are guilty of too often.

  • Luke, this article is extremely well written and on point. I am African American, born in the south and have lived in CA for over 30 years. I served 6 years in the NAVY (submarines). I taught race relations in the NAVY for 2 years in the mid 70’s. I am highly educated with undergraduate and graduate degrees and have an international group of friends and family members. My view of the world with my varied experiences and travel is open and objective, yet I still see and experience racism and bigotry frequently, many times in subtle ways. However, nothing is more prominent than the negative impact of racism on the economic plight of African Americans almost everywhere. White people in general have no idea how privileged they have been and the fact that almost everywhere they go or almost anything they do, they will be the majority and will not have to be concerned, for the most part, about being taken advantage of nor being denied an opportunity simply because of their skin color. A great example is the proliferation of white women in the media, politics and in higher corporate positions almost everywhere today. I am not convinced that they were all awarded those jobs simply because they were the best candidate. It think it would be easy for their bosses to hire white because that’s what they are comfortable with…and it happens all the time. To a great extent, whites receive more “affirmative action” than all other ethnic groups combined. Most corporate diversity and inclusion programs include everybody except straight white males…what’s up with that, white women included in diversity and inclusion programs. So, in sum, racism and bigtry will continue for awile and whites will continue to benefit in ways in which even they do not understand. The rest of us, well, we need to keep fighting. Thanks for a great article.

  • Race is not an inherent characteristic of any human being. Race is the category into which our culture places an individual based on a classification system originally created by Europeans to justify slavery – see Win Jordan’s White Over Black and David Brion Davis’ Inhuman Bondage. This system now seems so natural that we don’t see how all categories were not created equal. Whites can use the system to exert power. The category of blackness – really, all non-white categories – were created to subjugate, so merely by assigning a person to a non-white category one takes away power from them. Even for white people, the power gained from racial division comes at the cost of the aspects of humanity excluded from the whiteness construct. The sooner humans stop buying into this divide-and-conquer scheme, the sooner we will be able to benefit from a fuller human experience.

  • I just don’t think you can put an economic aspect to racism. Racism is purely the exercise of power over another based on race. Based on your long explanation stating economic comparisons and trying to exclude other races just complicates things when it doesn’t need be. Lets keep that part simple. The reason behind racism is the complex part that I believe you are trying explain. You said in a previous post that reverse racism can’t happen by definition, but most people know what it means just like how you reference white affirmative action. I have to observations about the many discussions of race on this website. The first is that it appears to me that when “whites” are trying to articulate their point of view they are speaking from an individual standpoint and when “Blacks” do they are speaking from a group point of view. I believe if everyone speaks from the same point of view or at least understands what view the person is speaking from, misconceptions will not be made. Secondly, I noticed many comments state that “whites” don’t understand or need a history lesson. Unless you crawled out from under a rock, everyone should know the over all history of America and how slavery and race shaped our country. The question is whether we move forward and as individuals make choices and show the next generation how to improve on these issues.

  • Luke:

    Whereas I agree with the social result you hope to make with your argument, in this case, I believe you are simply wrong. Not due to any of the social factors you or your critics cite, or to your analyis of the nature of hate and distrust manifested in its various forms, but because language is a living medium. Words mean what people think they mean, regardless of what the experts would like them to mean.

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone. “It means just what I choose it to mean – neither more or less.”
    “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
    “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.”
    Lewis Carroll

    It is obvious that the general public believes that “racism” means one person of a race treating a person of another race unfairly. I understand that you would like it to have a more specialized meaning, but your argument is a little like King Canute ordering the tide not to come in. His position of authority did little to convince the sea to stop from washing about his feet and throne. Your position as an authority on diversity issues provides you some leverage in fashioning opinion, but like King Canute, in this case, I think you are overreaching.

    You are passionate about your cause and I applaud you for this. It is a passion our society needs and should heed. However, lately I have been seeing more and more cases where I believe you are losing your perspective, as in this discussion. This is dangerous to your overall mission. Overreaching can cause you to lose your credibility; if not with those who agree with you, certainly with those who might yet be persuaded. It might be helpful for you to have someone you trust, who can serve as a critical sounding board; someone who, on some occasions, might challenge you to rethink your opinions. Whatever, I applaud your mission and your passion and I hope you keep at it.

  • I’d like to jump in if I may. Firstly, to thank you Luke for your understanding and ability to explain some of the problems of racism. There are a lot of people that really don’t understand and hopefully will listen to you. I’d also like to clarify something if I could. In my studies we divided racism into two types. The first is individual racism. The kind where someone doesn’t like someone because of his or her race and calls names and makes people uncomfortable. Society has moved to a point where this sort of racism is rare….at least in public. The second kind is the more important and more subtle and more insidious therefore. It is what we called institutional racism. This is the kind that Luke is speaking of here and CANNOT be practiced by minorities in America. People seem to think that once individual racism was put down somewhat things should be fine, but those people conveniently forget about legacies. Those advantages and privileges passed down from generation to generation while black families were left out are what built that wealth discrepancy he speaks of. And it IS economic because that’s where true power IS. One of the reasons the military is so absent institutional racism is because there are no legacies there. No matter who you parents were, you still have to WORK your way through the ranks and there is no “good ol’ boy” system permanently in place to play favorites. Now, to give another example of the bigotry/racism split, just remember the problems that almost every new immigrant group suffered upon arrival in America. The Irish, for example, were despised about as much as anyone for a while. Each new European group was. They were victims of bigotry. But the difference was, once they assimilated into the majority culture, who knew whether they were immigrants or not? They were white and they spoke English like everyone else. They effectively became PART of the majority. The minorities in America are unable to do that and that is based on race. There is so much more I could say but I don’t want to become a bore. Still, I must say that the key to getting past our past is for whites to at the very least understand the situation and stop fighting against programs to even the playing field. And of course, that means not listening to people like Rush Limbaugh, who are undereducated and yet have a disproportionate amount of influence on our population.

  • Luke, this article is extremely well written and on point. I am African American, born in Alabama, and lived and worked for the Navy and other federal agencies in the DC metro for over 28 years. I am highly educated with a BS [sciences] and Masters. My view of the world with my varied experiences I have still what one would call the “White Man’s Stress” , somewhat depited in a Newsweek article a couple of years ago. The same group pf peoples who are scared to death of losing power via the vote , eg. the 2000 nat’l presidential election , specifically in Florida. This group understand that in a few years they will be the minority. Therefore, to tilt the balance in their favor, building more prisons for african american blacs [thereby eliminating the vote] and deporting the Mexicians , including the american born children, thereby further eminating votes. This all comes from their, the white man’s stress. For those minority employees of the federal government , they must realize that they are not in a non racist work environment. I point to the DC federal appeallate copurt case EEOC v Sam Wright heard in aabout 2000 where the federal judge panel allowed he federal gov’t attorney admitted that the federal agencies are not complying wth the 1964 civil righs act, in terms of providing “administrative law judges’ to hear eeoc cases but rather high payed attorneys. This is why only 1% of all eeoc case filed are decided in the plainiff favor. THe same portion for federal challenged cases.. Also, remember, since the Reagan years ,the federal judicary has written case law where the average attorney will not take a case on a contingency basis because such cases require hunreds of hours of prepretion and offensive challenging related legal analysis. So, attorney from a cost benefit perspective just do not take these discrimination case, but rather work for the employers, including the federal government. Those few that represent plaintiff require large sums of $$anywere from $25-30k. What household has this money onhand, particularly when the odds are against them to win boni fide discrimination cases. You also should know the supreme court judge Alito, onece said, most case where discimination occurs , the employee does not have the money to persue or appeal. Something is wrong with the judicial system. BY the way do not expect any judge to appoint any attorney to represent you on a pro bono basis, its a waste of time. Lastly, forget about the US Justice Depart., too many entrenched conseervative career attorney or just last of leadership.

  • I can understand about history; but, when do we move on and look toward the furture. If we are always stuck in the past how can we grow. It’s time to work as one and not bash each others race. As for what Kanyae West said, it was totally out of line. I for one don’t listen to any celeberty about politics and so forth…. What do they really know?

  • “Luke: Whereas I agree with the social result you hope to make with your argument, in this case, I believe you are simply wrong. Not due to any of the social factors you or your critics cite, or to your analyis of the nature of hate and distrust manifested in its various forms, but because language is a living medium. Words mean what people think they mean, regardless of what the experts would like them to mean.”

    I want to echo the thoughts of this writer and, having no other way to identify the post, I have included the beginning sentences here.
    I, too, think you may be losing your perspective. Your sarcastic comment in reply to a thoughtful post is evidence of that. Lately it seems as if your place of power as columnist may be going to your head. Now you seem to think words mean whatever Luke says they mean.

  • I have never seen such ridiculous hair splitting regarding semantics as I have seen with this article. Who really cares how you semantically split hairs on whether something is racist or bigoted? Both are wrong. Period. If the lefties want to say that racism cannot happen from a black to a white (which is BS if you ask me), then let them believe that. At a minimum, it’s bigoted and that is just as wrong.

    I have to say that I surely hope Luke’s (and his supporters) comments about blacks not being “racist” towards whites doesn’t mean that they condone the behavior that is so “erroneously” being classified as racist.

  • If one says ” I don’t care about choclate ice cream”; it doesn’t say I hate chocolate ice cream or I am racist against chocolate ice cream. George
    Bush and not Kanye made the Racism statement. I might not care about
    anything; but it doesn’t come close to mean im racist of anything. The play on
    words made by Bush is his own doing.

  • This discussion is useful and helpful. The discussion is one that persons from varied and diverse backgrounds have had in America for at least 400 years. As a person of African American descent, I applaud this discussion. In essence, all persons are the same based upon the very basic genetic disposition, our differences occur as a result of our enviornment, culture and societal norms. When Michelle Obama said that she felt proud of America she voiced what many in Black America had said behind closed doors. W.E. B. Dubois said it correctly nearly 100 years ago, the most significant problem in the 20th century is the color line. Let’s work together, for when the oppressor places his or her foot on my neck, we all suffer indignity, and as whole the Human race suffers. It suffers from the fact that mankind can never fulfill its creed unless it becomes inclusive, and not discount one from the other. One aspect that has affected race relations has been the role of Gender, dialogue has become to limited with regard to diverse.

  • Shared your article and had a question for clarification. Are you saying there isn’t racism or bigotry in the military, or simply that it doesn’t serve the military for it to exist within it’s ranks? I had a military friend say it exists who thought you were suggesting it didn’t (like the military was above it all), but I suggested you were implying it was of no service to the military for it to exist, without addressing the presence of racism or bigotry either way (just a transitional writing oversight or intentional effort to not broach the issue).

    • Luke Visconti

      There was both bigotry and racism in the military, but not nearly at the levels of the rest of society. I used the military ranks to illustrate power and race.

      As I pointed out in this column, it makes no sense to be a racist or a bigot in the military and then have to rely on that person for your life. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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