Prejudice plus power

Prejudice plus power, also known as R = P + P, is a stipulative definition of racism often used by white anti-racism activists,[1] including the American pastor Joseph Barndt and American author Robin DiAngelo.[2][3] Patricia Bidol-Padva first proposed this definition in a 1970 book, where she defined racism as "prejudice plus institutional power."[4] 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.[2][5] Adherents write that while all people can be racially prejudiced, minorities are powerless and therefore only white people have the power to be racist.[6] This definition is supported by the argument that power is responsible for the process of racialization and that social power is distributed in a zero-sum game.[7][8]


Prejudice plus power has been criticized for taking a reductionist approach to racism,[9] and for downplaying racism committed by non-white people by replacing the word racism with the less negatively perceived word, prejudice.[10] Some anti-racists argue that the stipulative definition will make dismantling antiblackness more challenging due to the implication that only white people can commit racism.[11] The definition also conflicts with critical race theory, through which racial prejudice describes two of the four levels of racism; internalized racism, and interpersonal racism. Internalized racism refers to racial prejudice that is internalized through socialization, while interpersonal racism refers to expressions of racial prejudice between individuals.[12] Prejudice plus power attempts to separate forms of racial prejudice from the word racism, which is to be reserved for institutional racism.[13] Critics point out that an individual can not be institutionally racist, because institutional racism (sometimes referred to as systemic racism) only refers to institutions and systems, hence the name.[14]

The reaction of students to this definition tends to be mixed, with some thinking that it makes sense, and others perceiving it as a form of cognitive dissonance.[15] 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.[5]

The definition has been criticized for relying on the assumption that race operates within a black-white binary and that power is a zero-sum game,[16] and for not accounting for the lack of uniformity in prejudicial attitudes.[17] 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.[18]


  1. ^ Gil De Lamadrid, Daniel (January 2022). "The Whiteness of Prejudice Plus Power". Academia.
  2. ^ a b Barndt, Joseph R. (1991). Dismantling Racism: The Continuing Challenge to White America. Augsburg Books. pp. 28–29. ISBN 9780806625768.
  3. ^ DiAngelo, Robin (2011). "White Fragility". International Journal of Critical Pedagogy. 3: 56.
  4. ^ Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (1990). Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. Verso. p. 99. ISBN 9780860915140.
  5. ^ a b Tatum, Beverly (2004). Rothenberg, Paula (ed.). Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study. Macmillan. p. 127. ISBN 9780716755159.
  6. ^ Rosado, Caleb. "The Undergirding Factor is POWER Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism". EdChange.
  7. ^ Fiske, Susan (2011). Dowding, Keith (ed.). Encyclopedia of Power. SAGE Publications. p. 549. ISBN 9781412927482.
  8. ^ Winant, Howard (1998). "Racism today: continuity and change in the post-civil rights era". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 21 (4): 755–766. doi:10.1080/014198798329856.
  9. ^ Short, Geoffrey (1991). "Combatting Anti-Semitism: A Dilemma for Anti-Racist Education". British Journal of Educational Studies. 39: 33–44. doi:10.1080/00071005.1991.9973870.
  10. ^ Henry, Sven (June 16, 2017). "Racism Does Not Equal Prejudice + Power". Aero.
  11. ^ Gassam Asare, Janice. "How Communities Of Color Perpetuate Anti-Blackness". Forbes.
  12. ^ Speight, Suzette (2007). "Internalized Racism: One More Piece of the Puzzle". The Counseling Psychologist. 35 (1): 126–134. doi:10.1177/0011000006295119. S2CID 145097491.
  13. ^ Sivanandan, Ambalavaner (1990). Communities of Resistance: Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. Verso. p. 99. ISBN 9780860915140.
  14. ^ Macpherson, William (1999). "The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry" (PDF). United Kingdom Home Department: 48.
  15. ^ Hoyt, C. (October 9, 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 March 3, 2016.
  16. ^ Gil De Lamadrid, Daniel (January 2022). "The Whiteness of Prejudice Plus Power". Academia.
  17. ^ Bolaffi, Guido (2003). Dictionary of Race, Ethnicity and Culture. SAGE. p. 228. ISBN 9780761969006.
  18. ^ 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.