By Craig J. Cantoni
“Racism” is one of the many catchall words that are bandied about without definition or much thought.
Anyone with the temerity to question the meaning of “racism” or to ask for a definition of the word risks being called a racist.
Well, so be it.
Given that “racism” has become one of the most ubiquitous words, and given that someone can be canceled, fired, or even get into legal trouble for being accused of racism, it’s important to have a precise understanding of what the word means.
The same can be said of other popular words du jour, such as “white privilege,” “minority,” “person of color,” “marginalized,” and the six contrived racial and ethnic categories of “White,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” “Asian,” “Pacific Islander,” and “Native American.”
Is this much ado about nothing? Norman Wang wouldn’t think so. After being accused of perpetuating racism, he lost his position as an associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. He was in good company. The American Heart Association was also accused of perpetuating racism.
Their offense? Wang published a paper in the Journal of the American Heart Association, saying that affirmative action programs should meet legal requirements and that the admissions process should be race-neutral. (Source: The Canceling of the American Mind.)
That was racism? By what definition? Certainly not by the following definition from the Oxford Dictionary.
racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by an individual, community, or institution against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.
That’s a pretty good definition, even though it includes the ambiguous words “minority” and “marginalized.” We’ll come back to those words later. Suffice it to say for now that Wang didn’t exhibit prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a racial or ethnic group or person.
Unsurprisingly, I prefer my own definition of racism:
racism:the belief that a particular race or ethnic group is inherently inferior or deficient in some way, and to act on that belief.
I’ll use that definition to talk about my own race and ethnicity, in the hope that doing so will reduce the inevitable accusations of racism in writing about racism.
Under my definition, it is not racism for me to say that I dislike Italians who are members of the Sicilian Mafia, or to encourage law enforcement to keep an eye on Mafioso in the event they break the law, or to deny them employment if I were to own a business. The reason that’s not racism is that my prejudice against Mafioso is based on the fact of their criminality and not on a racist belief that all Italians are genetically predisposed to criminality.
While it’s true that almost all Mafioso are Italian or Sicilian, it’s not true that all Italians are criminals. To say that almost all Mafioso are Italian is a racial fact, not racism. Conversely, it is racism to say that all Italians are criminals.
As this example shows, the citing of unflattering racial facts is not necessarily an indication of racism. Unfortunately, this distinction is rarely made today. The citing of unflattering racial facts is seen as being synonymous with racism, unless the negatives are about so-called White people, or Asian people, who, more and more, are seen as White in values, advantages, and privilege. These two groups are fair game for not only unflattering facts but also accusations of racism—not the racism defined by Oxford or me, but the racism described in a new definition.
Norman Wang lost his teaching position because of the new definition. The definition goes like this:
racism: a failure to support diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that are designed to address the fact that racism in the United States is systemic and institutionalized, due to the nation’s history of White people oppressing Blacks, indigenous people, and people of color, first through slavery, colonialism, imperialism, and genocide; and then through institutions, social norms, capitalism, a phony meritocracy, and ongoing White political power and privilege—all of which interact together to perpetuate inequalities, and none of which can be remedied without forcing government to use force to override the institutional and socioeconomic roadblocks that keep disadvantaged minorities from advancing, and, at the same time, to stop Whites and those who think like Whites from continuing to unfairly accede to positions of power, influence and wealth in government, education, medicine, entertainment, media, and industry.
Well, since I don’t buy into this definition, that makes me a racist, especially in view of my shameful background.
Starting 50 years ago at an international company, and continuing over my corporate career, I was at the vanguard of equal rights, equal opportunity, and affirmative action (i.e., outreach). Among other actions, my efforts included going on retreats with Blacks to have frank discussions about race, teaching managers what it’s like for a minority to enter a workforce or attend a meeting where everyone else is a different race, removing counterproductive barriers to advancement, and firing bad managers.
At the same time, I embraced Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s warning about the dire consequences that paternalism and poorly designed welfare programs would have on Black families.
A shameful background, for sure.
Even more shameful, I now believe that the DEI juggernaut has taken a page from the Mafia.
The Mafia came about for understandable reasons. For millennia, the island of Sicily had been crisscrossed by conquerors and by the ancient version of colonizers, including Africans. Inhabitants of the island were slaughtered, enslaved, and otherwise oppressed. In more recent history, Sicilians were subjected to corrupt, confiscatory governments. Joining or supporting the Mafia was a way for impoverished Sicilians to defend themselves from predation.
When Sicilians and other Italians, including my grandparents, immigrated to the U.S., they were considered non-White by the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment and treated accordingly—as one step up from Blacks. That gave the Mafia a beachhead in America.
The problem is that the Mafia became even more corrupt, unethical, and self-serving than the establishment it was fighting. In other words, the victims became victimizers and began preying on innocent people.
In a similar evolution, DEI came about as a response to prejudice and discrimination against selected groups but now engages in prejudice and discrimination against people who had nothing to do with the original prejudice and discrimination.
That sure seems like racism.
Image Credit: Pixabay
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.