Prejudice plus power

Prejudice plus power is a stipulative definition of racism often used by anti-racism activists, 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] 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.[5] 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 for relying on the assumption that power is a zero-sum game, and for not accounting for the lack of uniformity in prejudicial attitudes.[6] 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.[7]


  1. ^ a b Barndt, Joseph R. (1991). Dismantling Racism: The Continuing Challenge to White America. Augsburg Books. pp. 28–29. ISBN 9780806625768.
  2. ^ Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (1990). Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. Verso. p. 99. ISBN 9780860915140.
  3. ^ a b Tatum, Beverly (2004). Rothenberg, Paula (ed.). Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study. Macmillan. p. 127. ISBN 9780716755159.
  4. ^ Fiske, Susan (2011). Dowding, Keith (ed.). Encyclopedia of Power. SAGE Publications. p. 549. ISBN 9781412927482.
  5. ^ 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. PMID 23252314. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-03.
  6. ^ Bolaffi, Guido (2003). Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture. SAGE. p. 228. ISBN 9780761969006.
  7. ^ 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. PMID 24697716.