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Prejudice plus power is a stipulative definition of racism often used by anti-racist educators, including the American pastor Joseph Barndt.[1] The definition was first proposed by Patricia Bidol, who, in a 1970 book, defined it as "prejudice plus institutional power."[2] According to this definition, two elements are required in order for racism to exist: racial prejudice, and social power to codify and enforce this prejudice into an entire society.[1][3] Reasons cited in support of this definition include that power is responsible for the creation of racial categories, and that people favor their own racial groups over others.[4] However, others have maintained that this definition is a top-down re-appropriation of an already existing term intended to advance a discrete political viewpoint.[5]

The reaction of students to this definition tends to be mixed, with some thinking that it makes sense, and others perceiving it as an unfair redefinition of racism to portray whites in an unfairly negative light.[6] In 2004, Beverly Tatum wrote that many of her white students find it difficult to relate to this definition on a personal level, because they do not perceive themselves either as prejudiced or as having power.[3]

The definition has been criticized by some academics for relying on the assumption that power is a zero-sum game, and for not accounting for the lack of uniformity in prejudicial attitudes.[7] Critics have also noted that this definition is belied by the fact that except in absolutist regimes, minorities, however disadvantaged they may be, are not powerless, because power is organized into multiple levels.[8]


  1. ^ a b Barndt, Joseph R. (1991). Dismantling Racism: The Continuing Challenge to White America. Augsburg Books. pp. 28–29.
  2. ^ Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (1990). Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. Verso. p. 99.
  3. ^ a b Tatum, Beverly (2004). Rothenberg, Paula (ed.). Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study. Macmillan. p. 127.
  4. ^ Fiske, Susan (2011). Dowding, Keith (ed.). Encyclopedia of Power. SAGE Publications. p. 549.
  5. ^ Budenz, Louis Francis. The Techniques of Communism. Arno Press. p. 109. ISBN 9780405099427.
  6. ^ Hoyt, C. (9 October 2012). "The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse" (PDF). Social Work. 57 (3): 225–234. doi:10.1093/sw/sws009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-03.
  7. ^ Bolaffi, Guido (2003). Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture. SAGE. p. 228.
  8. ^ Song, Miri (March 2014). "Challenging a culture of racial equivalence". The British Journal of Sociology. 65 (1): 107–129. doi:10.1111/1468-4446.12054.