Monday, November 02, 2009

Privilege + Power = "-ism"

Let's say that Andy is a white male. He's 23, has a low-paying, unskilled job, and no education beyond 11th grade high school. Not a privileged individual by any means. Andy is also what most people would consider to be sexist. Andy truly believes that women are less intelligent than males and should submit to their male spouses. Andy also shares similarly discriminatory views against people of color, homosexuals, and people with disabilities, to name only a few. Andy is clearly a bigot and holds prejudiced views.

Now, let's step back for a moment and consider the model of oppression where an -ist action is defined by "privilege + power." With this model, a person of privilege cannot be the victim of an -ism, only a victim of prejudice. With this theory, I cannot be guilty of sexism because I am a female and do not have power to add to my prejudice. Andy, similarly, cannot be the victim of sexism, even if Jill from Accounting doesn't like him strictly because he is a male.

The question that I have, though, is what power does Andy have to add to his privilege? He's economically disadvantaged and under-educated. The lack of pigment in his skin doesn't do anything for him, nor does his sex; he isn't a respected member of his society and is given no power to use against anyone.

Am I capable of being a racist if I have no power to add to my prejudice (this is hypothetical)? I'm white, but I'm not in a position to oppress anyone in a way that isn't entirely circumstantial; therefore, no power exists. Right? Or not?

I'm not trying to get out of being called out on unintentional racism or other -isms I'm not aware of (who intentionally acts in an -ist manner, anyway?). I'm just curious about what seems like a "loophole" or potential flaw of sorts in this particular argument.

...And, furthermore, is President Obama capable of racism? If he is prejudiced against white people or any other race or ethnicity, does the ultimate power of President of the United States remove his exemption as a person of color from being racist?

I'm not standing on one side or another here, just asking what people think about this.