July 19, 2016 Guest Writer

Defining Terms: Am I Really A Racist?

**Guest Writer: Eric Anderson

You can also read this post on his Tumblr Page

For those who attend Christ Redeemer Anglican Church (and were there this Sunday), you’ll remember a challenge put forth by Father Tony. He challenged the white people in our congregation (which is most of us) to take a perspective of assuming we are racist (vs assuming we are not racist), and to explore that further. I appreciated Tony’s challenge to us, and emailed him this morning with some thoughts. He asked that I put these thoughts up on a blog, so that others can read and discuss. I hope this helps anyone looking to dig deeper into the rat’s nest of racism in America.

In 2012 after Trayvon Martin was killed, I read a lot of articles and tweets urging white people to stop trying to dodge being called a racist, and instead explore the ways they already are racist. This sounded compelling to me, but I had a very difficult time with it. I honestly could not come up with any ways I was a racist. So I began trying to deconstruct everything I thought I knew about racism and the struggle faced by black America. I’ve grown to learn that when white people get defensive about being called a racist, it’s probably because they’re using a different definition of “racist” and “racism.” White people (including myself) often conflate 3 key terms, Prejudice, Bigotry and Racism:


Prejudice is when a person negatively pre-judges another person or group without getting to know the beliefs, thoughts, and feelings behind their words and actions. A person of any racial group can be prejudiced towards a person of any other racial group. There is no power dynamic involved.


Bigotry is stronger than prejudice, a more severe mindset and often accompanied by discriminatory behavior. It’s arrogant and mean-spirited, but requires neither systems nor power to engage in.


Racism is the system that allows the racial group that’s already in power to retain power. Since arriving on U.S. soil white people have used their power to create preferential access to survival resources (housing, education, jobs, food, health, legal protection, etc.) for white people while simultaneously impeding people of color’s access to these same resources. Though “reverse racism” is a term I sometimes hear, it has never existed in America. White people are the only racial group to have ever established and retained power in the United States.


The terms I use to differentiate things that are often clumped together come from Debby Irving’s website (debbyirving.com), and they have helped me come to terms with my own racism. When I was trying to explore the ways I was racist and coming up empty, it’s because I was confusing “racism” with “bigotry.” Ex:) “I don’t discriminate against anyone based on skin color/economic status, I don’t use racial slurs, etc” means I’m not racist, right? No, it simply means I’m not a bigot. But I am absolutely a racist. My skin color alone ensures that I benefit from an entire system of better access and preferential treatment. That is racism.

Once I understood these definitions, I was able to freely declare without shame or guilt that I am a racist. It’s nothing I chose, but rather a system I was born into. The only thing I can do is attempt to change the system from the inside-out.

In my email to Father Tony, I thanked him again for challenging the white people in our congregation to assume they are racist. At the same time, I imagine a lot of people are having difficulty with this challenge, either because they are using the wrong definition of the word “racism,” and/or because they simply don’t know where to start. As I mentioned, I’ve been on my own journey of deconstructing everything I was taught about our history, the history of people of color in this country, and racism. I have an abundant amount of articles, documentaries, books, and music that have helped me along. I would love to share these with anyone who finds themselves unsure of how to take those first steps.



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