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“Only White People can be Racist”: What does Power have to with Prejudice? [1]

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Abstract Social researchers and activists who use the ‘Racism = Prejudice + Power’ definition, often cited in the sociological literature, generally strive for racial equality by highlighting the need to equalise differences in social power among racial groups. However, this definition can be taken to extreme when the role of social power is given disproportionate weight over the role of prejudice, such as assertions that racism is synonymous with White supremacy. While recent debates in the sociological literature do take into account the complex relationship between power and prejudice, it is still important to point out the pitfalls of a reductionist approach. We argue that the definition ‘Racism = White supremacy’ is logically flawed, demonstrates reverse racism, is disempowering for individuals from all racial groups who strive for racial equality, and absolves those who do not. We also argue that the recent literature on cultural competency may provide a more enabling discourse towards reducing racism. Cultural competency is a move away from ethnocentrism and towards respect and value for cultural difference, with no racial group treated as a reference point around which the discourse on race relations revolves. We have focused on cultural competency in the delivery of human services in this paper, simply as an exemplar for refining the way the term ‘racism’ is used and understood in the current sociological literature. Specifically, by properly acknowledging the role of prejudice and not exclusively focusing on power, and by de-centring the discourse on race relations from whites, all racial groups can be better empowered to take

responsibility for protecting the human right to racial equality.