"I think that there are just as many racist black people as there are white."
People who know me tend to confide in me, oddly enough, and ask me to help them understand stuff. Years ago I worked with a black woman named Tonya. She came in to work one day hopping mad, I knew because I could hear the tone of her voice as she complained to our coworkers, and eventually she came into my office and told me her story.
Tonya had gone to see a new doctor - a cardiologist, maybe - and the minute she walked in the door the receptionist snapped, "We don't take TennCare."
"I don't have TennCare," Tonya said, "I have insurance on my job." (By the way, other black coworkers have told the same story at different times.)
So in my office, Tonya asked, "Why did she say that to me?"
In answer, I told Tonya that while I do not see racists behind every tree, and while I think in general people are better off giving other people the benefit of the doubt, in this case it seemed pretty clear that the receptionist saw a black woman walk into the waiting room and thought "welfare queen". Racism, Tonya. Sorry you had to experience that.
"But the receptionist was black!" Tonya objected.
Okay, I know there is a school of thought that black people cannot be racists. I do not subscribe to it. I think there are no vices and no virtues that white people are capable of, that black people are not also capable of. (The CF and I talked about this concept last weekend, in terms of men and women.) To say otherwise is to reduce black people to the level of children or animals.
I've been struggling to find a definition of racism that works for me. What I've come up with so far can also apply to sexism, ageism, etc.
1 - A group of people is identified. This can be an arbitrary group, like "old folks", or a well-defined group, like "people over 65". So far we are OK.
2 - Attributes are assigned to the group. Now we are not OK, because -
3 - These attributes are now assumed to apply to members of the group without checking to see if they are appropriate or not.
And the attributes do not have to be negative. It is not negative, for instance, to have a sense of rhythm. Tell a black person that you are not surprised he is a good dancer b/c black people have rhythm, and see where that gets you. No one likes to be pigeonholed.
You can also be that way about a group of which you are a member; either because you think you are an exception, or because you label yourself too.
The reason I'm not happy with this definition is this: my FIL had a few dizzy spells a while back, and I recommended that he check with his doctor about his blood pressure medication. Because I've seen some "old folks" actually pass out due to the fact that as they aged, the medication became too much. Sure enough, when he complained to the doctor about his dizzyness, the doctor cut back his BP meds. We know that people start needing a little help with close-up vision starting at around age 40. That's not "ageist" is it? Is it racist to say that black women need to care for their hair differently than white women do?
Having trouble coming up with something that encompasses benign racism like the rhythm thing, but also allows for common sense.