Weblog Wednesday: Can Black People Be Racist?

January 11th, 2012 | Categories: Race

The interesting thing about the way I study stereotypes is that I do not look at stereotypes of any single group. Anyone who takes some time to peruse my previous posts or is a regular reader will know this is the case. My previous post was on disability and I have posted on gender, race, ethnicity, hair color, sexual orientation, and so forth. It is not accidental that I am so inclusive. Rather, I intend it.

Social identity theory argues that through viewing the groups we belong to positively and differentiating our groups from other groups, we are able to view ourselves positively. In other words as individuals we benefit from viewing others as different. Doing so, perpetuates differences and reinforces privilege and, its opposite, marginalization. In other words if you are different, then I deserve more and you deserve less.

The reason I study stereotypes inclusively rather than prioritizing one group over another is this social identity theory. The way I see it, if I pick one group over another to say they deserve more attention, I am reinforcing privilege and difference. Instead, I understand how each group is privileged or marginalized by virtue of a particular place in a particular time. Given a different place and time, the group who is privileged can become the group who is marginalized (Note: coincidentally, I am watching a CNN report on Syria as I type this).

An interviewer last year gave me the opportunity to speak on this issue in response to the question: “Is it possible for black people to be racists?” I present it today on Weblog Wednesday at The Communicated Stereotype for your interest. For an extended discussion that also includes the following check out the The True Melting Pot.

Dear Sticky Wicket,
Is it possible for black people to be racists?

Dear Perplexed:
In one of comedian Chris Rock’s stand-up routines, he asks the audience who are the most racist people. When he says that it is old black men, the audience lets out a collective gasp of surprise.

For many people, black racism is an oxymoron: It’s impossible for blacks to be racists because racism requires power.

We posed the question to a white female college professor, a black city councilwoman and a black male social activist. All agreed that blacks definitely can be racists.

Anastacia Kurylo, a professor of communication arts at Marymount Manhattan College in New York and author of the report “Understanding the Stereotype as a Complex Communication Tool,” says that the very act of saying that blacks can’t be racist actually reinforces differences. “If we can say a black person can be just as racist as a white person, we’re breaking it down to an individual level and not a group level, and we fight against racism by doing that.”

Ramadhan Washington, a St. Joseph, Mo., social activist, says racism is a universal human weakness. “Yes, black people can be racist,” he says. “If the hatred is directed towards another race it doesn’t matter what race it comes from.”

St. Joseph, Mo., Councilwoman Joyce Starr says racism is a matter of the heart, not of skin color. “I believe we’ve got a long way to go on both sides as far as honest acceptance.”

Research has shown that centuries of oppression and racism directed at African-Americans has resulted in intra-racial prejudice. Project Implicit, a collaborative effort between researchers at Harvard University, the University of Virginia and University of Washington, has found evidence of negative perceptions and attitudes among African-Americans directed at their own race. Using data compiled from the “Racial Implicit Attitude Test” — an attitude test administered nationwide — researchers found that 48.3 percent of blacks showed an anti-black bias.

The fact is that racism exists among blacks — whether it’s channeled inward or outward. Racism is a disease, and no race, ethnic group or nationality is immune to it.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s recent comments have sparked a heated dialogue about the current perceptions of racial progress and tolerance in America. How that dialogue will play out remains to be seen. But whether it’s discussed in magazine columns, public forums or amidst pews and pulpits, it’s a conversation we must all be willing to have.

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