Though Mr. Lee, Mr. Simien, and Mr. Clifton are entitled to their opinion, this opinion does inspire several questions:
1) Why do neither the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Dictionary.com, nor The Oxford Dictionary define racism as necessarily institutional, systemic, or uniquely purveyed by white people?
Mr. Clifton's rationalization of the fact that none of these dictionaries affirm Spike Lee's arguably-revisionist definition of racism inspires several questions:
- Why should it be considered reasonable for Mr. Clifton to assert that "[All black people] know better than Webster's Dictionary what racism actually means" on the sole basis of their lived experience with it? Should perceptions derived from subjective experience trump definitive meaning resulting from objective, expert evaluation?
- Why should it be considered reasonable for Mr. Clifton to assert that "Webster’s and Oxford English Dictionaries are largely white-controlled purveyors of language"? Does this assertion not insinuate that a white, racist conspiracy to assert linguistic hegemony is the reason these dictionaries do not support Spike Lee's definition of racism?
- Why should it be considered reasonable for Mr. Clifton cite the amateur opinion of Luke "The White Guy" Visconti, who feels that the Oxford English Dictionary's definition of racism "lacks nuance" and "is incomplete" because it (like The Oxford University Press' staff and The Oxford English Dictionary's top editors) is "too white"?
Does Mr. Visconti's bachelor's degree in biology give him an adequately-credible basis for discrediting the expert opinions of more than fifty academic professionals who have Doctoral degrees (or, at least, Masters Degrees) in the requisite fields of study?
Does Mr. Visconti not seem to have any qualifications in a field related to racism beyond being a self-described "white guy" who affirms a black guy's opinion that black people can't be racist?
- Why should anybody believe Mr. Visconti’s insinuation that white academics who edit and publish dictionaries discriminate against black vernacular when defining "racism"? Would such coordinated, large-scale scholastic discrimination not require a conspiracy?
Likewise, given that a massive conspiracy among scholars to discriminate against black people would likely be perceived as scandalous, how would these scholars suppress public knowledge of this up without also conspiring to cover up their conspiratorial discrimination?
In short, why should an assertion that depends on multiple conspiratorial speculations be taken seriously?
3) Why does Bobby Seale (a founding member of The Black Panther Party) so confidently qualify The New Black Panther party as "a black racist hate group"? Is Bobby Seale's lived experience with racism not a reasonable basis for him to know what "racism actually means"?
4) Why does Ethiopian (and black) activist, poet, and writer Hama Tuma assert that "My own people, Ethiopians, are racist to boot"? Why did he double-down on this assertion by stating that "Many other Africans act in a racist way to those who do not belong to their ethnic groups" (and specifically cite the Fula, Kikuyu, Sara, and Tutsi people as examples)? (African Absurdities, 3) Is Hama Tuma's lived experience with racism not a reasonable basis for him to know what "racism actually means"?
5) Why did Miss Zimbabwe (2011) Beauty Queen Lisa Morgan specifically state that black, white, and mixed-race people have all treated her racistly? Likewise, why would she assert that "with the ‘colored’ community, there is racism amongst themselves"? Is Lisa Morgan's lived experience with racism not a reasonable basis for her to know what "racism actually means"?
Even if one only accepted the revisionist (and, at best, partial) definition of racism as necessarily dependent on institutional, race-based systems of disadvantage and discrimination, additional questions arise:
6) Why wouldn't Idi Amin's 1972 order that 60,000 Asians must leave Uganda within 90 days indicate that black people can be racist? Is such a mass-deportation decree not evidence of a black-institutionalized system that discriminately disadvantaged Asians on the bases of their race?
7) Why wouldn't Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwean Government's forceful eviction of white Zimbabweans from their farms (and its ethnic cleansing of them) indicate that black people can be racist? Would such a policy of eviction and extermination not be evidence of an institutionalized system that disadvantaged people based on discriminatory racial judgments?
8) Why wouldn't Botswana's forceful eviction of its Bushmen minority (whom Botswana's Festus Mogae characterized as "Stone Age Creatures") indicate that black people can be racist? Is the United Nations wrong to characterize this seemingly-institutionalized system of disadvantaging and discriminating against Botswana's Bushmen population on the basis of their race as "racist"? If so, why?
9) Some people assert that racism cannot and does not exist outside the parameters of white hegemony, particularly as it has been expressed through colonialism, imperialism, and slavery. If this is indeed true, then why does Ethiopian cultural mythos that predates colonialism, imperialism, and slavery affirm Ethiopians' perception of their racial superiority?
From Ethiopian activist, historical, and political scientist Hama Tuma's The Case of the Socialist Witch Doctor and Other Stories:
It may surprise you to learn that the land of the burnt faces, which is Ethiopia, should be inhabited by people who consider themselves superior to blacks. Ethiopians are not white, for sure; but they think they are not black. The majority say that they are red (not red as in communist but red as in a well-fired brick) or beautiful brown... Ethiopians think that they are the chosen people of God/Allah and superior to everyone, including whites. The popular story goes that when God created man he took a clay figure and put it in the fire. It was burnt to a crisp and out came the black man. He put another figure into the fire and pulled it out before it had been well enough baked. Out came the white man. The third figure he put in the fire came correctly fired to a beautiful reddish-brown. You can guess who that was." (97)
Ultimately, the opinion that black people can't be racist seems to present an unfortunate paradox, especially when black people champion it. The aforementioned Oxford Dictionary defines racism as
"The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races"
Logically speaking, then, two final questions arise:
10) Why doesn't the argument that "black people can't be racist" imply that black people possess a unique and superior ability to not be racist??
11) Why is it not racist to argue that black people possess a unique and superior ability to not be racist?