Skip to content

'Mugabe and the White African' in Context

Definitions of Racism

In the United States and other Western nations, definitions of racism reflect a history of slavery and colonization by Caucasians of peoples of color. In the West, this social construct has resulted in white privilege, a condition in which all whites — even those who actively oppose racial discrimination — benefit from the existence of racism.



In the United States and other Western nations, definitions of racism reflect a history of slavery and colonization by Caucasians of peoples of color. In this context, the term racism has been used to mean:

  • Prejudice, i.e., the belief that one race is superior to another (typical in the rhetoric of hate groups, or the everyday use of racial slurs or jokes)
  • Individual discriminatory acts based on skin color or other racial traits (e.g., a landlord refusing to rent to members of a particular racial group)
  • Institutional policies that intentionally discriminate on the basis of race (e.g., redlining to prevent blacks and other minorities from securing mortgages for properties in certain neighborhoods)
  • Institutional polices that unintentionally reinforce or create discrimination based on race (e.g., basing school funding on property tax assessments, resulting in perennial underfunding of schools in poor neighborhoods where minorities are overrepresented)

Some people define prejudice as separate from racism, reserving the latter term for those who actually have the power to act on or institutionalize injustice based on their beliefs.

In recent years, justifications for racial inequity based on scientifically identifiable characteristics used to distinguish one race from another have largely been discredited by DNA and other evidence. The absence of a scientific basis bolsters the arguments of those who see race as a social construct designed to benefit some groups of people at the expense of others.

In Western countries, this social construct has resulted in white privilege, a condition in which all whites — even those who actively oppose racial discrimination — benefit from the existence of racism.

In Zimbabwe, because Mugabe's government ostensibly represents and is run by the country's black majority, his discriminatory race-based policy to combat historical race-based injustices has turned common Western constructions of racism upside down. In Mugabe's "Africa for Africans" rhetoric, blacks alone are entitled to the protections and benefits of government, while whites are either denied citizenship entirely or relegated to second-class status based on their race alone.

In discussions of the film, some people may see Mugabe's actions as a continuing response to the damages of colonial racism, and under those circumstances they may reserve the term "racist" for actions taken by whites. Others will see Mugabe's race-based policies as being no different from white discrimination against blacks and will think the term "racist" accurately describes Mugabe's policies.

Photo Caption: Laura Freeth with the women who work for her by embroidering as part of her linen business;   Credit: Arturi Films Limited

Sources:
» PBS. "Race: The Power of an Illusion."



Are you aware of our Comment Policy?

* Your email address is for verification purposes only and will not be published, shared, or sold to other entities.