The right wing Daily Mail newspaper was beside itself last month as it pounced on the “racist” tirade of a black woman.
The article came with a video of the woman on a crowded London bus hollering at her fellow passengers.
“My parents are fucking African, born in Jamaica,” she shouted. “And I’m fucking African, born in England and I can’t stand you white people, I tell you.” The woman was later arrested on suspicion of committing a racially aggravated public order offence.
For the Mail, this incident backed up its theory that “reverse racism” is as serious a problem as racism directed against black and Asian people. Unsurprisingly it claimed that “political correctness” stands in the way of a more even-handed approach.
But the idea that black and Asian people can be racist towards white people is wrong. It confuses a reaction to a racist society with racism itself.
It is true that black and Asian people sometimes respond to racial discrimination by saying that all white people are part of the problem. Some say all whites are inherently racist. They may even make crude jokes to this effect.
These ideas can impede the fight against racism. But they are not themselves racist.
Racism is more than simple prejudice, no matter how ugly or unpleasant. It is the combination of prejudice with power. It occurs when a group of people are discriminated against because they are seen as inferior.
According to racists, there is no escape for the members of this “subordinate race”. No matter what their individual qualities, they are all said to share the characteristics of a “second-rate” people.
The vast majority of people, black or white, aren’t in positions of power. Yet most of those who hire and fire staff, and make and implement policies that affect the lives of millions are white.
Many among them hold racist views and they are given a chance to put their prejudices into action. And it’s not just racist individuals who discriminate—the capitalist state does too.
It is for these reasons that darker-skinned people are more likely to be out of work, in poor housing and the victims of racist policing. They are at the bottom of a racial hierarchy.
If a white person argues that all black people are illegal immigrants they are using racist ideas to side with the powerful against the oppressed.
Racism runs deep in capitalist society because it is such a crucial component of the system. That’s why black and Asian people can accept racist ideas about themselves and other oppressed people.
Even in the most racially mixed inner city areas there can be animosity between different groups that face state racism.
During last year’s riots in Birmingham there was a danger that African-Caribbean and Asian people would see each other as enemies. Yet both groups face racist harassment at the hands of a common enemy—the police.
The best way for anti-racists to alleviate this friction is to point out what unites us and our common history of fighting against racial oppression.
Only by waging the most uncompromising struggle against racism can we prove that most white workers are not prejudiced. Uniting all those who face exploitation and oppression is the best way to overcome racism.