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According to BLF President Andile Mngxitama, the BLF’s position is that black people cannot be racist.

This is as reported in a newspaper article on Monday 8th July 2019 in the Pretoria News with respect to a matter that is before the Equality Court of South Africa. His exact words as reported were “BLF’s position is that blacks can’t be racist as they do not possess any institutional power for this kind of conduct.”

The claim that black people cannot be racist is one that I have heard more than once, mainly from the mouths of black university students at Wits University and at the University of Pretoria. My own experience growing up in Kenya was quite the opposite. In my youth, I was exposed to and also took part in several jokes and jabs against Somali people, which, looking back now, can only be described as racist. Of course one could argue that they were the jokes made by insensitive and ignorant children. Be that as it may, they still expose the vicious underbelly of prejudice towards those who “do not look or behave like us.”

Andile Mngxitama bases his argument that black people cannot be racist on a completely different definition of racism. This destroys all possibility of debate and communication around the topic. To hinge racism on “institutional power” is to redefine a term in order to suit one’s argument. This is a classic error in reasoning. It makes it impossible to come to terms, a necessary step before any conversation around a contentious issue can be had, thus destroying any chance of critical thinking, argument and debate.

However, the grave danger with co-opting a term such as “racism” and giving it one’s own definition, is that it opens up the doors for all sorts of prejudicial behaviour, all of which could be explained away in terms other than “racist.”

The dictionary definition of racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” Juxtaposing that definition with my own experiences growing up in Kenya affirms that it is indeed possible for black people to be racist. Unless of course, we also want to redefine what it means to be black?