What is Racism?

Recent events have moved conversations about racism to the forefront of American culture. Where the busyness of life once allowed more people to wade in the shadows and avoid choosing a side, now more than ever social media has made our conversations and convictions more visible. Many brands have re-invented themselves to have a more inclusive look and there appears to be a new wave of support for Black-owned businesses. But as usual, the American church remains openly divided on the issue.


As a believer, I am forced to think about this issue every waking moment. I mean, how can I, a Black woman who subscribes to more traditional and conservative values, stand in arms with open racists? It's hard-- impossible even. And unfortunately, I do not subscribe to cancel culture, so erasing people and their influence on the world around me simply isn't apart of my vocabulary.


The issue for me is that there is so much nuance in the suggestion. I mean what is racism anyway? Over the course of my life, I've learned at least three different definitions applied in many different contexts:



1. racism is the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another (see stereotypes)


I have been guilty of this. At one point in my life, I not only refused to date white men but found them completely unattractive simply because they were white. Furthermore, I carried great disdain for interracial marriages between Blacks and whites. Obviously, my reasoning went far beyond black and white bodies coming together. I felt that it was important for Black men and women to marry for historical, generational, and even spiritual reasons. I was convinced that interracial marriages, while not sinful, did the world a disservice, and therefore should be avoided at all costs. Of course, I've since been delivered from that opinion (well, if I'm being honest, I still PREFER to see Black folk together, but I celebrate us all), but based on this way of thinking, one could say that I was once a racist. The problem is, I was taught that Black people can't be racist.


2. racism is systematic and institutional discrimination between two or more parties based on distinct physical and cultural attributes


This definition points to racism as largely an issue of institutions, rather than particular people. It blames power instead of specific persons. And while it may acknowledge at its core that people are the source of the racism that prevails in certain systems, it also maintains that one could not be a racist, but still benefit from racism. This view calls out all white people, who do their jobs as lawyers and doctors and judges, and even preachers, while Black people suffer under systems and beliefs that have been sustained for centuries. It may not recognize the good that these individuals have done because the institutions they are associated with have historically

oppressed our people.



In college, I learned that Black people cannot be racist because we don't hold the socioeconomic capital to sustain any form of oppression throughout generations. I understood and agreed with that interpretation then, but now it seems fuzzy. I worked in a public school. My husband was a law clerk for a Black judge. We worked within the two systems that most often have discriminated against and oppressed our people. Sure, we hoped to do our own part in

creating waves of freedom and justice, but at the end of the day, we still operated within and benefitted from these institutions. We had the power to make people suffer and succeed. Our

decisions would affect them, their families, and children. We held some degree of power. In Chicago, most of the administrators, and approximately half of all teachers are Black or Latino/a The CEO of CPS is a Black woman. This means that in this city at least, POC have a great degree of power over the lives of Black and Brown children. Collectively, we could oppress them or empower them.


Therefore, some degree of this definition applies to not only me but to all Black people. In this definition, some could say that I am an accessory to racism, if not a racist all together.


3. racism is hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.


Thinking about racism as an emotional response to other groups of people saved me from my personal guilt about racism. I didn't believe I hated anyone. I had white friends. I attended predominantly white churches. There were white people throughout my entire life that I truly loved. Even today, in the midst of debates about white culture being a microcosm of white supremacy, I find myself compassionate toward Trump supporters, even the white ones. I am not thoroughly convinced that the white preaching slave owners of the 1700s are burning in hell. I still appreciate all the white people I've known for whatever good they've brought to the world, even if I personally didn't like them.


But, to be honest, like many other millennial "Reformed" Christians, I am exhausted of white church. I don't care to worship with them, read their books, or sing their songs (unless Tasha Cobbs remakes it with the oil on it). I visited a white church here in Chicago for a few months. Doctrinally, I'm pretty sure we were compatible, and that is incredibly important to me. But I would be distracted at best every Sunday. I felt no desire to seek community with those people. It's not that I didn't love church, or that I didn't want community. When a friend I knew invited me to a women's Bible study that I knew would feature other Black women, I ran to that space. The only reasonable explanation for my dejection was that I was uninterested in being in a sea of white people. Now here I am, admitting that in many ways, I have been intolerant of white people, which could make me racist.


I really don't know guys. This blog really was just a stream of consciousness. It's my truth. I'm still growing and learning and processing. My best friend recommended the book, "How to be an Anti-Racist), which I'm sure may be helpful in my journey of discovery, but I am not fully convinced, that being an anti-racist is possible. I'll read the book anyway though.


I want to know your thoughts. What is racism?

© 2019 by Sabrina Catlett

  • Facebook - Black Circle
  • Twitter - Black Circle
  • YouTube - Black Circle
  • Pinterest - Black Circle
  • Instagram - Black Circle

-United States