Sunday, January 15, 2017

Forgiving Black People

Recently, Black people treated me really badly, partly because I was White, to the point that I had panic attacks and could not work anymore.  I lost my classroom, income, dignity, and my sense of worth as a teacher.  I felt confused, misunderstood, betrayed, and angry.  The layers of hurt are something I probably will have to work through for a while. 

I think I didn’t realize the depth of the hurt until recently, when I found myself suddenly distrusting all the dear Black friends in my life. I suddenly suspected that they didn’t like me, that they found me condescending at best, or racist, at worst. 

It was a moment when I understood the collateral damage of racism in a fresh way. 

I looked at my Black friends and ascribed to them the qualities of other people who looked like them, but other people who had very different characters than my friends do.  I judged them, out of hurt and anger, based on the color of their skin, and not on the contents of their characters.  And it’s possible some people wouldn’t blame me. 

A few things occur to me at this realization.  The first, and possibly most obvious, is that I have a small inkling of what people of color might go through on a daily basis.  I even think about the people who hurt me so badly, both emotionally and economically.  They looked at me and saw a White woman, not unlike so many others they had probably encountered in their lifetimes, and treated me as such. 

Their response to me was based on a deep mistrust of White people that they have most likely developed in order to survive. 

This was the observation that my friend Michelle texted to me when I frantically sent her messages on the day I was charged with racism.  She was kind enough to work through some of the emotions with me, although this was, no doubt, additional and unnecessary emotional labor that was forced upon her as a Black woman. 

The second thought that I had is that I think there is a great cost to calling oneself an “ally,” and sometimes this might even come in the form of collateral damage.  I think about the story (possibly partly fictionalized in the movie Malcolm X) of the White woman who wanted to help the movement and was angrily turned away by Malcolm X, who wanted nothing to do with the “White devil” at that time.  This must have been devastatingly confusing for the White woman, although we are not meant to pity her in the context of the movement of Black self-actualization. 

It is too much to ask of my Black brothers and sisters to feel sorry for me.  My pain and suffering are small compared to the historical and current systemic marginalization of Black people, as well as other people of color, non-native English speakers, immigrants, etc.

More specifically, my persecution came about because I was outspoken about “race,” racism, and other injustices institutionalized in the school system. 

This is not to say I went about it in the best way every time, but my agenda and curriculum were explicitly anti-racist and culturally relevant to Black and Latino kids (although I also kept in mind the small percentage of White kids).  The pushback I received was most likely because these topics are not seen as the domain of White people, but also because this kind of curriculum can be done so badly most of the time (i.e. the 90’s when culturally relevant pedagogy meant every lesson got turned into a rap song). 

All that to say, it occurs to me that Black, Latino, and Native peoples get huge pushback every day from all levels of the system when they attempt to talk about issues of social justice.  People get passed over for promotion, they lose jobs, and sometimes they get beaten, arrested, or lose their lives. 

White “allies” have also suffered at the hands of the institution. Perhaps it’s only confusing when the opposition comes at the hands of those who I would imagine might support me in the work, namely, Black people. 

I think about this on the eve of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, even as his contemporary, Rep. John Lewis is scorned and mocked by the president-elect on Twitter.  I think about the movement that has existed since before the beginning of this nation, as Black, Latino, and Native peoples have struggled to get free, and sometimes White people helped (but most times they didn’t).

A small part of being a White person who works with people of color to get free probably has to be learning to forgive being part of the collateral damage.  It has always involved learning to see people as people, and not as a just a part of a supposed monolithic group.  That is, some people who are Black hurt me, but not all Black people will hurt me.  Sadly, I imagine the same generalization can’t be made by Black people about White people.

The other aspect that I understand more deeply is my responsibility as a White person to show compassion for other White folks who find themselves part of the collateral damage of racism.  I know I didn’t fully empathize before with the attempts to say “not all White people” or the angry retorts about “reverse racism.”  

The reality is that being lumped into one big group of people hurts really bad, and as a White person, I didn’t know what that felt like before.  It’s not reverse racism, and it doesn’t help to say “not all White people” (because #mostWhitepeople), but at the same time, when someone treats you based on the color of your skin and not who you are as a person, it really sucks.  And I think it’s okay for White people to get in a little White people huddle and feel sad about that for a minute. 

But then, I think it’s important to get back into the work again, to open up our hearts to love (and get hurt) again.   

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thoughts from a tired urban teacher: School funding remix

I haven't written much about what is going on with my work situation, mostly because the school district has a clause about employees writing anything defamatory. Suffice to say, I am caught in a process that has left me without income at the moment, although not unemployed.

I look back on this past year and I am so grateful to the people who donated money, books, and sent well-wishes to me as I began teaching in an open-enrollment high school close to my house. I began with many big dreams. I painted the classroom, with my husband's help, of course. I set up comfy chairs and a book corner. I had lamps and an essential oil diffuser. I was energized.

I got slowly beat down by many different forces.

When I decided to work at the high school, I did so because I wanted to prove people wrong about the kids. I didn't have an illusions about the rest of the issues that plague "urban" schools. But I seriously resisted the narrative that the school was a "war zone," or that the kids were going to all be "bad." Even the students said that about themselves.

The kids I taught were troubled sometimes, as teenagers are. They had different challenges that they faced due to socioeconomic conditions. Many of them had lost a family member to violence or accidental death. They had difficult school experiences that sometimes made them more frustrated with learning than I would have expected.

But they were good kids. The kids that showed up to school every day were kids that stayed off the streets at night because they didn't want to get caught in any trouble. Many of them had jobs that kept them up late at night. Some of them got their younger siblings ready for school in the morning. They kept showing up to school because it was a priority and because school was a safe space for them. That is a testament to the administrators and teachers who worked very hard for the kids.

In the end, I am glad to say that I did prove people "wrong" about the kids and about the school.

It's not a bad school with bad kids.

The school has issues that go beyond the kids. For example, it is one of the only open-enrollment schools still left in the district. So if a student needs to enroll in school at the last minute, they only have two options for high school.

Secondly, magnet schools and "choice" schools in the district have GPA and behavior requirements that allow them to "weed out" the students that they don't want in the school. County schools can do the same thing, and city charter schools have a similar reputation. This means that the kids that end up at the open-enrollment school are often the kids with the most issues, for whatever reason.

Finally, a huge issue that I recently began to understand has to do with Title I money. Title I is derived from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and "provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards" (U.S. Department of Education).

This seems like a boon to a struggling school, since most districts exist on the basis of property taxes, and St. Louis city has perpetual and complicated issues with supplying an adequate property tax base. Most schools in this district receive Title money, although some more than others. However, Title I money is extremely limited in its usage.

For example, Title I money comes with restrictions on student-teacher ratios. If there are too many teachers in the building based on the current enrollment, the district gets money taken away. This has resulted in the practice of the district doing a "census" at week 5 of the school year, and then moving "extra" teachers from building to building in a crazy game of chess until the ratios are balanced so that the district doesn't lose money.

Another consequence of this one stipulation about student-teacher ratios is that the district is not able to add more teachers to classes where students are struggling the most. We know that a smaller class size is a huge factor in helping students learn, and yet the funding scheme would essentially penalizes this reform measure.

Title I money can also only be used on certain subjects. Beyond basic supplies, schools that rely heavily on Title money for books can only use it for subjects such as math, science, and English. In other words, anything that isn't tested doesn't receive funds. Social studies, music, art, world languages, and physical education (to name only some subjects) are still left without class sets of books and other necessary materials.

The lack of funding for schools is a systemic issue. A local school district is seriously restricted when it depends largely on Federal money, and has no promise of a growing local tax base. I'm hoping that our city is somehow able to address this issue in the future.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Who is my neighbor?" Education remix

I have written at other times very hard fast rules and statements about charter schools and private schools, about those who choose to homeschool.  And I have also spoken to heart-broken mothers who agonize over how to educate their special needs children, or their various children with different personalities.  I also have struggled with the best fit for my children, who are each very different and have various learning and sensory issues.  

Eventually, I am in danger of falling in with the company of the people who decide how many children each family should have based on a mixture of theological beliefs and population statistics.  I, like the rest of us, am in danger of become pharisaical and legalistic, even as I criticize the people I grew up with who I deemed to be the same.  Pots and kettles, one and all.

Each generation grapples with how to best educate their children.  In many cultures, families create a metaphorical shrine to the education of the child.  Many people base their decision about how many children to have with regards to how much it costs to educate a child.  Most real estate decisions in the middle class are based on which schools the property is associated with.  

In evangelical circles, the education of the child is intertwined with the vocation of converting a child to the Christian faith.   In Catholic families, the duty to educate the child in the Catholic tradition is paramount.  All of these ideologies revolve around the idea that the education of the child is the most important legacy of the parent, and is even a sacred task.  People invoke the “train up the child” mantra and any choice is legitimate. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, this ideology fits nicely with the principles of capitalism, survival of the fittest, and competition.  In fact, the evidence of this philosophy is not hard to find in the U.S. as both Republican and Democratic politicians and education reformers push for the privatization of schools, either in the form of charter schools or vouchers for private education.  This rhetoric appeals to the masses of people who believe that the U.S. is in danger of falling in its rank as a global superpower, or who have fears of the changing demographics of the country.  

This rhetoric also appeals to people living in poverty and working class folks who see the gap between wealthy and impoverished school districts and wish to provide a better opportunity for their children.  It should be noted, that none of these impulses are fundamentally wrong in the sense that parents instinctively want to provide the best opportunities for their children. 

The other strand that runs through the history of U.S. education is persistent impulse towards democracy and free, universal public education.  That these concepts are ideologically opposed to meritocracy, a principle that undergirds capitalism and the enacted system of education, and only arbitrarily and sporadically enforced does not seem to make most patriotic Americans lose any sleep at night.  In fact, it is only with the past fifty years that the U.S. has applied the principles of democracy to public education with any fidelity, and this was mostly due to external pressures.  In order to appear consistent with the “war on communism” to the rest of the Western world, the U.S. had to at least give the appearance of upholding democratic ideals, namely by racially integrating schools (Feagin, 2006). 

The impact of the Civil Rights movement on education was far-reaching, and eventually included legislation that currently protects students of color, students with disabilities, and students who speak a language other than English.  For the first time in our history, there are laws to enforce the ideal of free appropriate public education (FAPE) specifically for students with disabilities (Arne & Ali, 2010).  This sets the precedent, unintentionally or otherwise, to guarantee public education for all citizens, and even potentially for students who are undocumented immigrants.

The principle of free, public education as the foundation for a democracy is simple, but unfortunately not something that is widely understood.  

The difference between a republic and a democracy has, not surprisingly, come to the public’s attention most recently with the election of Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote but will most likely win through the Electoral College.  The competing ideals of democracy and the republic have coexisted since the beginning of the U.S. and would, in theory, balance each other out were it not for the deep-seated racism and sexism upon which the government foundation.  People of color and women were never intended to participate in the republic, let alone a democracy.  

And so, as a nation, we have spent the past century grappling with the sins of our founding fathers primarily around two major issues: who should be educated and who should be allowed to vote.  These two issues are inextricably linked, mostly for the fact that an educated populace will be better equipped to vote.  However, it has also shown up in more insidious ways, such as literacy tests that have been required before a person was allowed to vote. 

The great contradiction of the United States has always been the espousal of democratic principles to the world and outright oppression of indigenous people, Black people, Latinos, Asian people, and women.  Particularly from WWII onward, "democracy" became part of the national discourse.  We were exporting “democracy” to other countries, whether they wanted it or not.  And yet the U.S. has never truly enacted democracy.

Growing up, democracy was presented to me as the ultimate good in the media, school, and church.  And yet the Christianity that was modeled for me was more in line with free-market capitalism.  Our family chose our neighborhood, schools, and even church based on the principles of individuality and competition.  Our choice was always superior to that of others.  In this conception of the world, democracy is reduced to the individual and the immediate community. 

As I was growing up, I was presented with the idea of a “Christian education” as involving either private school or homeschool, but always including Bible class.  However, as I have grown older I have come to question this concept of education, not because I disagree with religious education altogether; after all, I take my children to church on Sunday. However, I question the social repercussions and ethical implications of opting out of public education altogether. 

In educational philosophy, John Dewey attempted to bring together the Greek concepts of democracy (Dewey, 1997).  The idea of a progressive and democratic education has more recently come en vogue in schools with substantial resources.  However, the majority of schools are still governed by a similar philosophy that marked the Cold War era, that of utilitarian education for the purposes of winning a global competition of sorts.  

Dewey’s concept of democracy as enacted in education holds the individual as inextricably linked to the society in which he or she resides.  And conversely, society is not stronger than the culmination of the investment in individual students.  I do not pretend to espouse all of Dewey’s philosophy, but I do want to point out that these are the ideals of education in our society, although they are not enacted. 

While Christian principles and democracy are not one and the same, particularly “democracy” as has been forcibly exported by the U.S. government, there are certain corollaries.  Christianity is principally concerned with the eventual salvation of all of society through Jesus Christ.  The work of Jesus Christ is seen as being worked out by the individuals who make up the church, who are meant to carry God’s blessing to the rest of society.  

Within this framework, each individual is meant to represent God’s image, whether man or woman, abled or disabled, Black or White, immigrant or natural-born citizen.  Therefore, each individual is deserving of dignity as God’s image bearer. Within this theoretical framework, Christian education seems like it would include attention to every individual with a larger view towards all of society, or rather the interaction of individual student with the larger society. 

There can be many interpretations of this, obviously.  For example, the private education argument might include the idea that children will best bring God’s blessing to society if they are first sufficiently educated in the Bible and Christianity, which necessitates a sheltered, and therefore private, education.  The homeschooling argument further emphasizes this idea .  

Within the sphere of private schools more recently there has been increased attention to values of “equity” and “diversity,” a carry-over from the legal mandates I mentioned before.  Private schools now attempt to maintain a racially diverse population, which is many times achieved through the use of scholarships.  For schools with a Christian emphasis, this also fulfills their conception of being a blessing to society in that underprivileged students are supplied with a “quality” education. They do not attempt to maintain a diverse student population in terms of ability, however, which is a larger issue I should address at a later time.  

I have attempted a different route with my children, with mixed results.  Admittedly, all the results are not in, as my kids are none of them over the age of seven.  I have taken the ideals of public education seriously.  This view accepts the idea that government plays a necessary role in our society, one of which is to educate its citizens.  It admittedly takes a small role, given the minuscule amount of money spent on public education compared to other spheres.  

In any case, I understood that money follows my children wherever they attend school.  In order to benefit society, I decided to send my children to the public schools closest to them.  I should also add that we had also moved into an area that has been labeled as “transitional,” which alternately means it is actively being neglected or gentrified, depending on the block. This meant that the schools to which we are linked are also struggling due to the lack of revenue from property taxes. 

This “experiment” was also accompanied with the conviction that sending my children to a school with mostly affluent, and by extension White, children would harm them as much or more than sending them to a school that was unaccredited or struggling.  As a White mother of two White boys and one White girl, I determined that in order to best be a blessing to society, I should endeavor to raise anti-racist individuals (Tatum, 2003).  

I also imagined that with our presence, we might be able to support the teachers and administrators in ways that also benefited the rest of the children.  I have a background in education, as well as connections to people with resources, so when we become aware of a need in the school we are able to draw on our social network in order to meet the need.  This was also my philosophy for teaching in a provisionally accredited high school.  

I did not imagine that I would “save” anyone, but rather I believed I could contribute my limited resources in a school with the most need.

This whole experiment is admittedly more complicated that I have just described.  Schools with few resources are difficult, and often unhappy, places to work and learn.  Further, it is not, as I once imagined, the only way to enact Christian principles in the realm of education.  I can see value in many different ways of educating children.  After all, individuals are diverse, with distinct needs and aspirations.  And in end, in the current educational climate, with magnet schools and charter schools, it is almost impossible to engage in neighborhood schools in a traditional way.  The system has already been converted to a free-market of sorts. 

Nonetheless, I am still disturbed about my own reactions when I encounter broken schools and systems.  When things go badly, my initial instinct is to revert to concerning myself only with my children.  I fight the urge to not care about children living in poverty—after all, how can I change poverty all by myself?  I suddenly realize I don’t care that much about diversity—is it only my fault that our society is racially segregated? In other words, deep down I really don’t care about children in poverty, Black children, immigrants, refugees, or children with disabilities.  And this is what frightens me.  

Could this be the impulse that actually governs most of society, despite our lip service to equity and diversity? 

Luke 10:25-29 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: "Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?"
Jesus replied, "What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?"
The man answered, "'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.' And, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
"Right!" Jesus told him. "Do this and you will live!"
The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (NLT)

This where I fear many Christians have stopped in their educational philosophy. We understand that we must love God, and teach our children to love God. But when it comes to loving our neighbor—which is not a subordinate law, as the book of James tells us, since it is the way in which we show how much we love God—we have become stuck in the semantics of who exactly we are meant to care for.  

After all, we can choose our neighborhoods if we have resources.  We can choose our schools, either with magnet, charter, private, or homeschooling.  After all is said and done, if we care for our neighbor, but we have chosen our neighbor, how well have we fulfilled this commandment?  The clear impact of this philosophy in our society has resulted in the re-segregation of our schools, both racially and socioeconomically.  This is not a blessing to society, but rather the curse of our original sins as a nation that have persisted and never fully been addressed. 

I do not pretend to tell other people how to educate their children.  That would be quite un-American of me to do.  But as a Christian, I do urge others to ask if they have really contemplated the question: “Who my neighbor?”  And not in a self-justifying way, but in a truly repentant and critical examination of our own motives and actions. 

“Who is my neighbor?” Education remix.  


Arne, D., & Ali, R. (2010, August). Free Appropriate Public Education under Section 504 [Pamphlets]. Retrieved December 17, 2016, from

Dewey, J. (1997). Democracy And education. New York: Free Press.

Feagin, J. R. (2006). Systemic racism: A theory of oppression. New York: Routledge.

Tatum, B. D. (2003). “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?”: And other conversations about race. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Can Black people be racist?

I have been in several conversations recently where communication has broken down around the concept of racism. In all of these cases, the people in the conversation were operating with different definitions of racism. As my friends in philosophy will tell you, this is a recipe for disaster.

We can’t actually come to an agreement about something, or even agree to disagree, unless we begin with a similar understanding of the topic we are discussing. And it's just not nice to say that the other person is “crazy” or “stupid” or, as my mother would say, we certainly shouldn’t say those things out loud even if we think them.

I am coming from the vantage point of sociology, Critical Race Theory, and education. In all of these fields, there is a certain definition of racism that is understood to be true.

However, MY definition is not the common definition of racism.

It is not even the definition of racism in the dictionary.

In order to be completely fair, I want to address this topic from three angles:
  • I will discuss whether protesters at Mizzou and, more broadly, Black Lives Matter activists, are racist using the common definition from the dictionary.
  • I will give a compelling argument why the dictionary’s definition of racism does not hold up to the logic of its morphological structure, and
  • I will show that, while the definition for “race” given in most dictionaries is common usage, it is based on a concept that has been debunked by modern science.

Point #1: Are Black Lives Matter protesters racist based on the common understanding of racism?

According to Merriam-Webster, racism is:
  1. poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race.
  2. the belief that some races of people are better than others
The full definition is:
  1. a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
  2. racial prejudice or discrimination says that racism is:
  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.
  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
So here we go.

People who have been protesting in the BLM movement, for example, at Mizzou have not treated White people poorly because of their “race.” They have no official credo that White people need to be treated badly because they are White. The movement leaders do not condone violence of any kind.

They do not believe that Black people are better than White people. They further reject the notion that race is the “primary determinant of human traits” and they reject the idea that “racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

Someone might make an argument that they have discriminated against White people because they have blocked highways where White people drive their cars; they have done sit-ins where White people work and shop; they have written blogs about how White people are generally insensitive to the plight of Black people; and finally, they protested until the president of Mizzou, who is White, resigned.

Merriam-Webster defines discriminations as “the practice of unfairly treating a person or a group of people differently from other people or groups of people.” I suppose that might feel like discrimination to some, and I can understand that.

I can understand why it might feel like BLM activists are discriminating against White people.

But also I want to address’s definition of racism, as well, because it brings out some important points.

BLM activists reject the belief that “inherent differences among the various racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement” because they reject the biological notion of “race,” which I will address later. Because they reject this, they do not believe that Black people are better than White people because they don't believe that White people are fundamentally different than Black people.

Now, could there be some Black people who think Black people are better than White people? Most likely. In this case, according to this common definition, they would be racist. Are there Black people who hate or are intolerant of White people? I’m sure there are. Again, according to this definition, they would be racist.

However, according to all this above, the MIZZOU protestors are NOT racist.  


The one definition that does not support the idea of a Black person being racist is the "a policy or system of government based upon or fostering such a doctrine."

No matter how much a Black person hates White people, the policies and systems in this country do not support that hatred.

Point #2: Even if we accept the popular usage of racism, the dictionary’s definition of racism does not hold up under its own logic.

This may sound like a lot of linguistic mumbo-jumbo, but I think you will know what I’m talking about with a few examples. Most of you have probably heard of the “-isms,” a group of words that end with… wait for it… -ism!

Words like communism (a theory favoring collectivism in a classless society) or atheism (a lack of belief in a god). So generally speaking, if a word ends in –ism, it means “belief in something.”

Your high school English class is coming back to you, right?

The words in a group that have a similar morpheme (or part of the word) tend to have parallel or similar meanings.

Capitalism, consumerism, individualism.

Communism, socialism, despotism.

Asceticism, humanism, hedonism. 


*I couldn’t actually find any more words like this; in fact, this is also a highly contested word.

And then we have the –isms you probably learned in a social justice-oriented class in college (depending on when or if you went to college):

Classism, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism.

The last two were created with the logic of parallelism, to match the other three terms, and are more self-evident in meaning. The first three are the ones I want to focus on, however, because I find that the dictionary is inconsistent in defining them.

We reviewed the definitions of “racism” above, so I will give the definitions of classism and sexism below.

Classism in
  1. a biased or discriminatory attitude based on distinctions made between social or economic classes.
  2. the viewing of society as being composed of distinct classes.
Classism in Merriam-Webster:
  1. unfair treatment of people because of their social or economic class.
  2. prejudice or discrimination based on class.
This definition is somewhat neutral. We can see that classism is a belief that there are “classes” of people based on social standing or because of wealth. We get the sense that it is not directly linked to income, per se, but also to intangible elements like reputation or status. And of course, there is the aspect of discrimination, prejudice, and/or unfair treatment based on this status.

It is NOT clear, however, who is discriminating against whom.

For all we know, impoverished restaurant workers could be giving the snub to Yale graduates on a regular basis when they stop in to get a cheeseburger at McDonalds.

This is, of course, a ridiculous assumption. We know classism to be all about an elaborate system wherein people climb a social ladder in order to be more prestigious. In order to climb this metaphorical ladder, these people typically scorn the people below them. The people at the bottom of the ladder inevitably resent this and say nasty things about the people above them, but we would hardly accuse the people at the bottom of the ladder of being classist.

That’s just not how it works.

That's not how any of this works. 

But let’s look at sexism.

Sexism in Merriam-Webster:
  1. prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women.
  2. behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.
Sexism in
  1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of gender roles.
  2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person's sex or gender, as in restricted job opportunities, especially such discrimination directed against women.
  3. ingrained and institutionalized prejudice against or hatred of women; misogyny.
This definition is much more straightforward. We can see that sexism supports “stereotypes of social roles based on sex,” which is further clarified as discrimination, such as restricted job opportunities, especially directed against women. The last part explicitly states that one definition of sexism is institutionalized hatred for women.


Sexism describes attitudes which support traditional and stereotypical gender roles, which any student of American history can tell you is the belief that women should stay in the home and raise children, that they are not capable of intellectual work, and that they should therefore not be paid as much for the same work as a man.

According to the second and third definitions, women are the victims of sexism, although in the second one a man might also be discriminated against. Since the first definition indicates anyone can support "traditional gender roles," it would follow that a woman could be sexist towards men by supporting stereotypical male roles. (Ex. Expecting all boys to be aggressive or to be an athlete.) I would argue that the stereotyping of men still ultimately supports a male-dominated society, although it also harms men in the process.

Nonetheless, this leads me to my critique of the definition of racism in the same dictionaries.

The definitions of racism in both Merriam-Webster and are imprecise and vague. There is no reference to the hierarchy that was clearly established at the inception of the modern concept of “race.” There is no indication of the institutionalized nature of discrimination, as with sexism and classism. As such, it leaves the debate open about who can be racist or rather, or who can be the target of racism.

Where there is typically no such confusion with sexism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism, “racism” is left open to interpretation.

Racism should be defined as a one-way street, just like the other -isms. 

This leads me to my last point.

Point #3: Some dictionaries do not even historically situate the definition of "race," let alone racism.

I will start with Merriam-Webster’s definition of “race.”

1.  a breeding stock of animals
  • a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock
  • a class or kind of people unified by shared interests, habits, or characteristics
  • an actually or potentially interbreeding group within a species; also : a taxonomic category (as a subspecies) representing such a group
  • breed
  • a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits
4.  obsolete : inherited temperament or disposition
5.  distinctive flavor, taste, or strength

The only part of the definition that this dictionary labels as obsolete is the fourth one down, which is so archaic I am have never heard of it. However, the FIRST definition refers to ANIMALS. While we know that we as humans are part of the animal kingdom, we also distinguish ourselves from the other animals with what we consider to be more evolved traits, such as cognition, emotions, and volition.

The second definition includes a classification of types of humans. I will now insert the definition, which is more up-to-date and indicates that this usage is no longer backed by science.

1.  a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.
2.  a population so related.
3.  Anthropology.
  • (no longer in technical use) any of the traditional divisions of humankind, the commonest being the Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negro, characterized by supposedly distinctive and universal physical characteristics.
  • an arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, especially formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.
  • a socially constructed category of identification based on physical characteristics, ancestry, historical affiliation, or shared culture:
  • a human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans.
4.  a group of tribes or peoples forming an ethnic lineage:
5.  any people united by common history, language, cultural traits, etc.:
6.  the human race or family; humankind:
7.  Zoology. a variety; subspecies.

While this entry does acknowledge a certain common usage of the word “race” to represent a group of people, it ALSO includes the fact that the classical racial divisions of humans are NO LONGER IN USE.


Please, for the love, somebody notice here that CAUCASIAN was created in conjunction with MONGOLOID and NEGRO, and if you wouldn’t say NEGRO, you shouldn’t use CAUCASIAN. 

*End rant*

My point in including this deluge of dictionary definitions is to point out that common usage and the correct technical terms are not always the same thing.

I also hope to point out that the term “racism” is based on the term “race” and literally means a belief in the idea of “race.”

The modern concept of “race” came from the idea of a hierarchical classification of groups humans, arbitrarily divided by physical traits. In this hierarchy, it was widely understood that the group labeled “Caucasian” or “White” was the apex humanity. This further indicates to me that the meaning of “racism” should indicate a belief in White superiority.

And this is why I don’t believe that Black people can be racist against White people. However, according to my definition Black people can believe that White people are superior, and so be racist against people of color. And we call this internalized racism.


According to this understanding of racism, Asian, Latino/a, and "other" groups can also be racist, that is, believe that they are superior to another group.  It just usually isn't White people they feel superior to in the the context of the U.S. 

But coming full circle... Yes, Black people can hate White people. It's understandable. And it's awful. It might be, and probably is, wrong.

But I would just call that regular old “hatred," and NOT racism.  What if I told you Black people can be racist, too?  See above.  Probably, the answer is "no."