Asymmetrical Racism

First, just as background, I can't get too worked up about a black professor named John Streamas at WSU calling a Young Republican a "White Shitbag."  As I have written many times before, speech shouldn't be banned in a public forum merely for being offensive  -- we don't have a right not to be offended, and even idiots can speak.  While I think that a number of observers are correct in saying that if the races of the protagonists were reversed, the reaction to the statement and the university penalties applied would have been much more severe, it really doesn't matter.  WSU might rightfully evaluate whether they would like its professors to be more eloquent in political discourse or better able to handle heated arguments with students with some self-restraint, but that is in the realm of employee evaluation and not punishment for speech.

That being said, this case does provide a useful insight into something many of us have suspected for years but few African-Americans have admitted:  Some blacks and black leaders would like to redefine "racism" as applying only to slights against blacks.  Professor Streamas comes right out and argues that blacks can't be guilty of racism:

Prof. Streamas "insists that he did not utter the phrase as an
expression of racism, in part, because he argues that a person of color
cannot be racist, by definition, because racism also defines a power
differential that is not usually present when a person or color is

This is an asymmetrical definition of racism that I have long suspected is harbored by various folks on the left.  By the way, the "power differential" argument is just a distraction.  If he really believed this, it would mean that I could utter the foulest things about powerful men like John Conyers or Colin Powell with impunity from being called a racist, and I know he doesn't mean that.  What he means is that he wants to claim the title of victim all for himself, allowing for enormous restrictions on actions and speech of others vis a vis himself, while not in the least bit in any way restraining his own actions or speech.

This is a common theme nowadays, especially on campus:  Everyone seems to be looking for a way to say anything they want, while simultaneously silencing their critics.  You can't have it both ways.  Its much easier to let everyone speak.  Free speech should not partially be for your enemies, but especially be for your enemies.


  1. Anonymous:

    You have your terms mixed up. Go look up the word racism and look at your issue. Power is a factor with racism. Unfortunately, the professor is correct. People of color won't be considered racist here in america. On the otherhand, what you are talking about is "respecting" each other. Everyone should do that, then we will end all rude remarks against each other. Brown people aren't racist in america. Power denies them equality, with everything across the board. It will take you to study this, since you have no familiarity with this occurance which happens daily to brown people. Racism and racists people are real. It's not something made up.

  2. markm:

    This was a professor calling a student a "white shitbag" - so who had the power here?

  3. Rob:

    So, then I'm white and my boss is white, if he calls me a cheap white bastard when I'm paying the restaurant bill and leaving a small tip, then is he being racist (since he has the power)? although, it's probably not the best way for him to make light of how niggardly I am...

  4. The Dirty Mac:

    I was stopped by an African American state trooper on a highway several years ago. There was definitely a power differential there, but if it belonged to me I was unaware of it. He seemed like a nice guy and didn't seem racist.

    Re the first post: I guess if the trooper had stopped member of the KKK and the trooper held the power position (read: a gun), the klansman would not have been a racist.

  5. SP:

    I looked up "racism" on the Merriam Webster website. No mention of power or of a power differential. But maybe this definition isn't controlling.

    I took a women's studies class a few years ago for an elective credit and my teacher said the exact same thing Mr. Streamas is saying here, teaching the asymmetrical definition of racism. This is the new definition, as far as some people are concerned.

  6. Jeff S.:

    Not that it matters, but I don't think the professor is black. It sounds like he's Japanese.

  7. mjh:

    When I was at the U. of Wisconsin (class of '92) one of the phrases that was used universally in any race discussion was this: Racisim = Power + Prejudice.

    If you google on the term "racism power prejudice" you'll see many people expressly stating that it's impossible for any "person of color" to be racist. They don't have the institutional power to support that. They can be prejudiced. They can act badly, but that bad behavior can never be racist.

    Personally, I find it racist when anyone describes anti-social behaviors or beliefs and attributes those behaviors / beliefs to people based only on their race. So what are we to say about people who say that only whites can be racist? I think they're guilty of exactly what they accuse.

  8. Steve:

    I'm shocked that this is an unfamiliar definition of racism to so many people. I've heard it said in college classes, on high-brow television shows, on season one of The Real World (don't blame me for watching, I was a teenager), and numerous other places.

    That said, I'm in complete disagreement with the professor's definition. But even if I stipulate that he's correct, and power is necessary to be racist, he still has a couple of problems, both of which have been pointed out with others:

    1) Black people can be and are in positions of power over whites, and

    2) Even without power, someone can be a bigot, which will work just fine as an altenate adjective.

  9. BobH:

    I'm well aware that this is the standard definition of racism on college campuses -- which is just one more proof of how isolated from reality academe is.

  10. Matt:

    The notion of the definition of racism incorporating a power-dynamic component is somewhat appealing, I'll admit. But I have to say, to anyone defending this professor on that basis, that this is really really NOT the hill you want to die on. In any relationship between professor and student, it is the professor who has the disproportionate share of the power, regardless of what color he is, what color the student is, or even what amount of power he has in relations with other professors.

  11. perroazul del norte:

    Prof. Streamas "insists that he did not utter the phrase as an expression of racism, in part, because he argues that a person of color cannot be racist, by definition, because racism also defines a power differential that is not usually present when a person or color is speaking

    I've heard this "argument" from HUNDREDS of mental defectives and emotional cripples(i.e. leftist ideologues) over the last twenty years.