LETTER TO THE EDITOR: You can be racist to white people


Floyd Johnson II

This is a letter to the editor from Floyd Johnson II, a Sacramento State political science major and president emeritus of the Sac State College Republicans. This letter is in response to the latest installment of Shiavon’s Jawn, a State Hornet opinion column.


I thank you for your insight into racial issues in America as it helps to discuss difficult issues in our nation, but I must disagree with your central claim and title to your article, “You can’t be racist to white people.”

You first make the claim that the term “white trash” is not and cannot be racist since it was developed by white people. I have to say that that view is incorrect.

I am someone who believes that context matters.

Take the word “monkey” for instance. It is a word that simply describes a mammal species that can be found from Africa, to South America, to Asia. Alone the word has no power.

However, when the word is attached to describe a Black person, the context of the word becomes racist. In Carrie Underwood’s song, she is using the term because that is a term that she feels comfortable using and isn’t attributing malice to the term white trash.

It’s like when a Black person uses the n-word in a song. Everyone know that they aren’t being racist toward Black people or malicious. In these cases, people aren’t being racist they are just using a term that they feel comfortable with.

Again, context is everything.

Power structures are not a prerequisite for one to exhibit racism or hold racist views.

After all, the word racism as defined by Merriam-Webster is, “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

Racism is not only about power relationships. What you are referring to is institutional or systemic racism. Even when this is taken into account, America elected Barack Obama to the highest office in the land and during his time as president we had two Black attorney generals, a Black secretary of transportation, a Black secretary of education, and a Black director of homeland security, in addition to numerous Black senators and representatives.

While these people did not engage in racism themselves, stating that at no point in American history Black people have ever been at the levers of power is just untrue. You state yourself that, “You can’t be racist toward white people. Prejudiced as hell, of course”.

Racism in and of itself is being prejudiced while using race as the primary motivator.

Even by your own standard, you concede that a person of color saying white trash is racist.

Being a Black male in America, I am not excusing or dismissing that people can and are racist. Many times, I am the only Black male in many of the rooms I enter both in my personal, educational and professional life, so I know as well as any person that racism is a problem that still exists in our country, and that America is not yet a post-racial society.

With that being said, saying “You can’t be racist to white people” is dangerous as it does nothing but to further engender discord across racial divisions that are still fresh to this very day.

Floyd Johnson II

RELATED: SHIAVON’S JAWN: You can’t be racist to white people