Back during the bad old days of my hippy-dopesmokerism, during the throw-rocks-at-cops times, during the turbulence of the Vietnam War, this happened:
I was sitting on the steps of the University of Texas Student Union Building with two other Veterans Against the War, five self-proclaimed Black Panthers, two Viva La Raza types, and a handfull of white girlygirls not wearing bras. Two of the girlygirls were paramours of a couple of the Panthers. The subject of racism came up.
Keep in mind that all the Panthers and both Viva La Raza types were white-haters, though they indulged those two white guy among us by ignoring the fact we were white. Indulged the girlygirls similarly. And keep in mind the two Hispanics had no love for blacks, nor the blacks, any love for Hispanics. Only the white girlygirls and we white Vets Against the War had felt no anti-black nor anti-Hispanic rage against the others of the group.
So tirades against whites became noisy, Hispanics and Panthers all in agreement, all making blanket statements proclaiming white bigotry. Somewhere during that I asked, “You guys are lumping us all together because we’re white. Isn’t that racism? Is it different when you do it, as opposed to a white lumping you all together?”
Caused an uproar, general outrage and denial. Universal even among the girlygirls, and one of the white guys.
“Victims of racism can’t be racist!” Repeated and re-phrased in numerous ways. “Only whites can be racists because they have the power!”
I suppose it’s probably consoling to a guy getting his ribs caved in by someone standing above him yelling, “You honky bastard!” to know he’s not the victim of bigotry and racism.
Or my neighbor in Placitas, New Mexico, who, though an old unreconstructed hippy, couldn’t get the Hispanic guy who controlled irrigation water to open her gates to her orchard when her turn came because of his outspoken hatred of Anglos. “My trees are dying because of what white-hating son of a bitch!” Her old hippy too-much-sun face reddening. “There’s nobody but other Hispanics I can appeal to!”
But at least it wasn’t racism. At least it wasn’t bigotry she was a victim of. Because bigotry and racism aren’t possible for people who don’t have the power.