The tragic events in Charlottesville has renewed a national dialog on racial injustice. However, we can’t gain much ground if the words we use carry divergent meanings.
For example: What is the Alt-Right? Who makes up the Antifa and what they stand for? Is there any appreciable difference between a neo-Nazi and the KKK or between a white supremacist and a white nationalist? But even more basic terms are often used incorrectly, such as “stereotype,” “prejudice,” “bigotry,” and “racism.”
To help you navigate this important discussion and the work of making things on earth as they are in heaven, I offer the following explanations and definitions for some of these basic terms.
A stereotype, for good or ill, is a basic set of assumptions we make when we see a person. It’s how we sort people into categories to develop an expectation of how they might respond to different things. We all do it, it’s done to us umpteen times a day, and it can be anywhere along the spectrum of “helpful” to “disastrous” in how we choose to approach, or avoid, relationship.
This bleeds over into prejudice fairly quickly when we move from assumptions to judgements, most of which are unfair conclusions which we readily justify through our experiences.
Bigotry is prejudice with voice and action. It is a negative judgement rooted in generalized assumptions about one’s politics, personhood, sexuality, race, religion, eating habits, education, or any number of ways we might choose to demonstrate disdain, such as calling a group of people “deplorables” or “libtards,” the effect of which is ultimately alienating and dehumanizing.
Racism, then, is when racial bigots organize their power. It’s any system designed to give advantage to one race over all others, such as the development of the prison industrial complex during Reconstruction, or Jim Crow laws suppressing the freedom of emancipated people, or gerrymandering to limit the power of one voting bloc and increase the power of another. And because racism is the combination of race with power, the only people who can make racist statements are members of the dominant race about minorities. There is no so-called “reverse racism.” What some would call “reverse racism” is really bigotry.
Rev. David R. Willerup
Havenwood Presbyterian Church