One thing I've noted in our ongoing struggle in the United States to overcome our negative past in terms of race relations is we aren't speaking the same language.
Yes, we all speak our version of English here in the Estados Unidos, but Jasmyne Cannick's recent February 27 guest post points out one of the fundamental problems in erasing and eradicating racism in not only the GLBT community, but the country as well.
Blacks and Whites have different definitions and perceptions of what racism is. I'm focusing on this issue from the Black-White perspective because the drama between us predates the founding of this country, and I will leave it to Latino/a's, Asians and other people of color to speak for their own groups.
From where I and many African-Americans sit, we tend to believe that some white Americans see racism and prejudice equally. We believe that some white Americans tend to think of racism as not only linked to prejudice, but as an individual character flaw. Reference works tend to back up that definition.
But African-Americans see and define racism differently. While we agree with white Americans that 'errbody' can be prejudiced, where we part company is seeing racism and prejudice as the same animal. We see racism as prejudice PLUS power.
In other words, many of us believe that when your prejudices are backed up by political, economic, and/or military/police power or a combination of the above, and that power is used to negatively impact an individual's life in the ethnic group you hate or an enitre ethnic group, then your prejudices and behavior becomes racist.
Before y'all start firing off the comments, I will point out the instances in world history in which people of color acted in a racist manner. One prime example was during World War II when the Japanese were busy building their 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere'. As I was told by a former co-worker of mine who grew up in the Philippines under Japanese occupation and read in other historical accounts, they treated their Asian 'little brown brothers' and whites trapped in the Asian colonies their military forces overran harshly.
During Idi Amin's reign of terror, in 1972 he gave Uganda's 80,000 Asian citizens just 90 days to leave the country. During that time, while under threat of rape, torture and even death, Asian Ugandans suffered terribly as they scrambled to get out. In the process they lost their homes, businesses and their family fortunes.
Another example is Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, who began forcibly taking over the 50 million acres of commercial farmland controlled by whites there in 1992 and began redistributing it without compensating the owners.
But unfortunately, over much of the sweep of world history, the ethnic group that has had the ability and opportunities to execute racist behavior have been European descended peoples.
To clarify where I'm going with this, Minister Louis Farrakhan undoubtedly has Hateraid forr Jewish people. But Minister Farrakhan doesn't have the political, economic, police, or military power to turn his prejudiced views into public policy that negatively affects our Jewish friends .
Jesse Helms is on the other end of the racism spectrum. He not only has prejudiced views about African-Americans, he had the power as a United States Senator to translate those views into public policy, block any legislative initiatives that would benefit African-Americans as well and did so. Don't forget the infamous 1995 CNN Larry King Show appearance in which a caller openly stated that Helms deserved the Nobel Peace Prize for "everything he's done to help keep down the n-----s."
I as an African-American transperson and Jasmyne as an African-American lesbian have lived through experiences long before we started interacting with the GLBT community at large that give us a different worldview. We not only as activists have to take a big picture view of events in the GLBT community, we also see GLBT issues through an African-American prism. Our opinions are not always going to line up neatly with the prevailing group-think in the GLBT community at large.
Just because we are both proud African-Americans who are Black first, everything else second, when it comes to how we identify ourselves doesn't make either of us prejudiced or anti-white.
It also doesn't make either one of us racist.