Ask the White Guy: Is the Oxford Dictionary Definition of Racism Too White for You

The two most contentious issues on this website are the definition of racism and the concept of white privilege. The concept that racism is power basedand flows from power to lack of poweris hard to grasp for majority people (defined in this country as white, male, heterosexual, Christian and with no disabilities). I can understand the frustration: Racism is hard to grasp. But white privilege is almost impossible for a majority person to truly understand. The comment below is on a column I wrote years ago. (Note: The person commenting used a lower case b for Black; we use an upper case B.)


By your definition, black people (for example) cannot be racist to a white person.

Um, black people cannot subscribe to “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”

Is that what you’re saying Or is the Oxford definition of racism too “white” for you

Actually, it is. If you look up who runs the Oxford University Press, which publishes the Oxford English Dictionary, you’ll find that the staff fits the very definition of “too white” (as do the top editors of the OED). Therefore, the definition of racism found there lacks nuance and is incomplete.

Racism is directed from majority to those not in the majority and has its roots in economics. In China, for example, racism would be directed from Han Chinese to any of the other 55 ethnicities. Instead of “white” privilege, China has “Han privilege”same conceptand from Tibet to Xinjiang (where the Uyghur people live), there are protests, sometimes violent, over Han economic domination.

It is deep in the human psyche to think of life as a zero-sum gamethat denying some people access to resources will concentrate your power. This might work in a hunter-gatherer society, but in an economic system, we all gain when everyone participates; the innovation and industriousness of a free people will trump a group whose freedom is limited. This is why the United States is still the world’s dominant economy: Despite our problems, a person can achieve more of his or her potential here than anywhere else on the planet. It’s also a major factor in why our DiversityInc Top 50, expressed as a stock index, trumps the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500.

The concept of white privilege confuses and frustrates many white people, especially people who don’t perceive themselves as being in a position of power (a recent comment started with “I grew up in a trailer park”). This is an important point because white privilege is leveraged against ignorant white people to do the bidding of more powerful white people who have an economic agendathe Koch brothers, for example. It’s been used by people from Father Coughlin to Rush Limbaugh to whip people up and build audience share for financial gain. Most of the white people killed on behalf of the Confederate government in our Civil War owned no slavesbut they died for the right to compete with enslaved labor. Most recently, we’ve seen this with the organized and vigorous effort to smear Trayvon’s character. I’m almost certain that this is emanating from the gun lobby, which is concerned about maintaining the tremendous boom in handgun sales that the combination of “Stand Your Ground” and “Shall Issue” concealed-carry laws has generated.

It’s a problem for corporate leadersyou have to manage people who are susceptible to hateful messaging as this “jobless recovery” turns a lot of majority people who were previously “haves” into “have-nots.” This is exacerbated by a trend that economist Enrico Moretti wrote about in his recent book, The New Geography of Jobs: There is a migration of smart people to cities that have the perception of being successful. The folks who are left behind are even more economically depressed than beforeand far more susceptible to racists who will provide an easy rationale to their problems.

Racism is more subtle than bigotry, and the concept of “majority” privilege is far more subtle than racism.It’s extremely important for leaders to understand racismand white privilegefor this is a core limiting factor in their potential success, and therefore a fiduciary responsibility. Racism can be measured: Black households, for example, have one-twentieth the wealth of white households. Majorityprivilegecan be measured, toono company we measure has achieved equitable talent developmentand the average women representation in the top levels of corporate management in the DiversityInc Top 50 is half of college graduation rates (roughly 25 percent versus 50 percent for people in that age bracket).

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw onDiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader indiversity 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.

Latest News

President Joe Biden signs his first executive orders in the Oval Office

Biden Administration Already Hard at Work Enacting Numerous Beneficial Policies; Amanda Gorman is America’s New Superstar Poet; and More

President Joe Biden sworn in and new administration already hard at work. Just hours after his emotional, star-studded and highly protected inauguration took place on Jan. 20, President Joe Biden is already working on fulfilling campaign promises and undoing some of the most egregious acts carried out by his predecessor….

Trump commission attempts racist whitewashing of history

Trump Commission Attempts Racist Whitewashing of History; Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert Probed for Potential Role in Capitol Insurrection; and More

Trump commission’s “1776 Report” attempts racist whitewashing of history In the highly controversial “1776 Report” released by the Trump administration yesterday, the outgoing GOP party doesn’t just try to present a nonpartisan, “patriotic” look at the nation’s history (as the President had promised the report would do) it fully rewrites…

Boeing Elects Lynne Doughtie to Board of Directors, Following Resignation of Director Caroline Kennedy

Originally published on boeing.mediaroom.com. The Boeing Company (No. 27 on The 2020 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) board of directors today announced that Lynne Doughtie has been elected to the board, replacing Caroline Kennedy who has resigned following three years of dedicated service. Doughtie, 58, retired from KPMG in 2020, after serving as U.S. Chairman and…

Flint, Michigan water plant

Ex-Michigan Governor Charged for Racist Lead Poisoning of Flint Water Supply; COVID-19 Vaccines Not Increasing in Availability; Democrats Plan to Repeal Trump Rules; and More

Former Michigan Governor formally charged for poisoning thousands of predominantly Black Flint citizens with water containing lead. In 2014, when the city of Flint was forced by the state to begin taking its water supply from the Flint river rather than using water from nearby Detroit as it had for…