Racism, Power, and Prejudice

Almost 30 years ago, I had my first introduction to the tactics of postmodern argumentation.  A professor at Texas Lutheran made the statement that he could not be racist because as a Latino, he had no power.  Racism was prejudice plus power.  I scratched my head.  I had been taught that racism was prejudice towards another person on the basis of skin color or a sense of moral superiority towards one’s own race.  Where did this other definition come from?

Since then, I discovered the origin of the professor’s definition, and I have also discovered that such shifting of definitions are a strategy to shift an argument to heavily favor one particular side by causing confusion, obfuscation, and, in the case of racism, an avenue where one does not need to examine one’s own prejudice towards those of a different color. 

There are times to call such obfuscation out and refuse to play the game.  There are times to say, “I simply refuse to engage your definition of that word because it is not the culturally agreed upon definition of that word.”  However, there are also times to do what apologists call “defeating an argument on the opponent’s terms.”

When you can show that an opponent’s definitions or stances will fail to accomplish what they set out to do, you can cut through the confusion and bring the argument around to your favor.

Such is the case with the definition of racism embraced by those of a more left-leaning bent.  Prejudice plus power is their definition of the word, so logically, if you get rid of either of those things, racism is dismantled.  Get rid of power or get rid of prejudice, and racism comes to a halt. 

So, here is the question to ask in regards to power: has there ever been a system of thought or practice that gets rid of power?  You really shouldn’t have to wait long for an answer.  The self-evident answer is no.  Even that professor from Texas Lutheran was a bit misguided when he said he had no power.  He handed out grades, after all.  One simply cannot get rid of power structures.  They emerge no matter what, and as power shifts and prejudice remains, you simply shift who is racist and never eradicate racism.

Therefore, you must look at the prejudice part of that equation.  How does one get rid of prejudice?  Can one pass any sort of legislation which will eradicate it?  Again, the answer is no as prejudice pertains to the state of a heart and mind.  In order to change prejudice, a heart and mind must be changed.  What is the most effective way to change a heart?

From a Christian standpoint, it is the power of the Gospel which brings to fruition the baptismal promise: “there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). 

As far as I can tell, and please tell me otherwise if not, this particular approach completely dismantles those who would like to excuse racism by changing the definitions, and it brings the discussion to a place where Christianity offers the best answer to truly tackle the problem of racism.