How Demagogues Spawn Systems of Oppression & Violence

(Prejudiced Beliefs + Discriminatory Acts + Power Structure Dominance = Societal Systems of Oppression)
A Formula to Help Unravel the Dynamics & Intersectionality of
Prejudice |  Privilege |  Supremacism |  Bigotry |  Denigration |  Discrimination |  Power |  Oppression
Dualism |  Scapegoating |  Demonization |  Conspiracism |  Dehumanization |  Demagoguery
Aggression |  Apocalyptic Aggression |  Segregation |  Ethnoviolence |  Slavery |  Expulsion |  Genocide

Why revise the formula?

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Why "Prejudice + Power = Oppression" works better than other formulas

The full formula in social science can be expressed as:

Prejudice + Discrimination + Power = Systems of Oppression

Shorter is "Prejudiced Actions + Power = Oppression"

There are always a few people who are prejudiced but who do not act on it and thus do not engage in acts of discrimination. However, on a societal level the outcome of Prejudice in a society is (with a very high degree of certainty) measurable forms of discrimination.

Therefore we can keep the basic formula even simpler to begin a public conversation:

"Prejudice + Power = Oppression"

Keep in mind that Oppression is a dynamic outcome that can appear as individual or Structural (systemic, institutional, or legal) forms either singly or in combination. More on that later.

A scholarly review of the book Challenges to Equality: Poverty and Race in America edited by Chester Hartman noted that “Racial oppression and institutional discrimination in modern-day America is a real and all too tangible aspect of the social fabric.” This illustrates the language used in much scholarship in which Racial Prejudice, Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Racial Oppression are considered separate concepts that are related in a dynamic way.

Here are some thumbnail definitions as used in many social science studies:

Prejudice (Belief - an "ism")
(Gordon W. Allport, Elisabeth Young–Bruehl)
Discrimination (Action)
(Gordon W. Allport, Elisabeth Young–Bruehl)
Power (Relative Leverage)
(Frederick Douglas, C. Wright Mills, G. William Domhoff, Sara Diamond)
Oppression (Dynamic Outcome)
(Paulo Freire, Audre Lorde, Peggy McIntosh, Marilyn Frye, Colette Guillaumin)

I use the phrase "Relative Leverage" based on the idea that "power in general is the capacity to produce effects. Not the production of effects, since such production may be blocked or overcome by other powers, but rather the potential to do so" (RJ Rummel, Understanding Conflict and War, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications). [1]

A popular way to discuss relative power in a society is to speak of "Leverage" and "Relative Leverage."

Prejudice (Belief) + Discrimination (Action) + Power (Leverage) = Oppression (Dynamic Outcome)

The Problem with Current Slogans

A much-used slogan in anti-racism work is "Racism = Prejudice + Power" or to us the clearer math/logic style of formula "Prejudice + Power = Racism." I am going to use this latter form because it makes it easier to see problems with the formula which has become a slogan of the anti-racist movement in the United States.

The formula "Prejudice + Power = Racism." is used used to map a formula for all "isms" such as Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, Ableism and more. Perhaps the first use of this formula was in the 1970 book Developing New Perspectives on Race by Pat Bidol and it was repeated in the 1978 book White Awareness by Judy Katz who cited Bidol's formula.

The concepts behind this formula are sound, and I am not challenging them. My criticism is that the formula itself expressed as a slogan is very problematic in several ways that undermine its value to for reaching a broader audience in a period of changing racial and gender dynamics around the globe.

A major flaw is that used a a popular slogan it starts out by assuming many people in a general audience are willing to redefine on the spot the most common usage of the term "Racism". In common usage in the United States "Racism" means a system of beliefs based on prejudice. This is certainly how most White people in the United States use the term Racism. But "Prejudice + Power = Racism" assumes that "Racism" means a System of Racial Oppression built on White Supremacy. My experience is that in many audiences this makes no sense and requires extensive explanations and redefinitions.

For example, one commentator tries to explain the problem with the formula this way: "racism – as in, actual racism – requires a power dynamic in order to work"

This illustrates that the formula "Racism = Prejudice + Power" is using the term “Racism” to mean a Conceptual Framework (Ideology) and a Dynamic Outcome (Oppression); while using the term "Prejudice" to mean a Conceptual Framework (Ideology) and an Act (Discrimination).

As a Conceptual Framework in most social science studies "Racism" is seen as a form of Prejudice, as are Sexism, Homophobia, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, and Ableism and more.

The above explanation that "racism – as in, actual racism – requires a power dynamic in order to work" is useful and logical if what it is trying to express is "Racial Prejudice – to create a system of oppression – requires prejudice plus discriminatory actions." And then we are back to:

"Prejudice + Discrimination + Power = Systems of Oppression"

The flawed formula “Racism equals Prejudice plus Power” is a simple slogan, easy to memorize and restate, but misleading for most people. The formula is increasingly problematic in a world with complicated racial dynamics.

This is what I have repeatedly been told when working internationally by scholars who are studying clear examples of oppressed peoples oppressing other oppressed peoples, usually as a proxy for a dominant or powerful group or force such as neocolonialism, imperialism, or corporate exploitation and manipulation.

In an example closer to the United States, what about the tense racial tensions between Blacks and Koreans in New York City in the 1960s?

A discussion of this requires adding in the factor of different forms of Oppression. The term oppression literally means "to press down" or "to add a burden of weight." But there a several types of social oppression:

Individual --- individual or small group interactions
Systemic --- widespread throughout the society as in a "Norm."
Institutional --- maintained through a set of organized groups
Legal --- enforced through laws; as in Apartheid in White-ruled South Africa

So with the strife between Blacks and Koreans in New York City in the 1960s:

Prejudice + Discrimination = Ethnoviolence (Individual acts of Oppression)

Without a significant differential in Power on a societal scale the situation did not create a System of Oppression

Prejudice + Discrimination + Power = Systems of Oppression

So is Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan a "Racist"?

Using the formula "Racism = Prejudice + Power" then No.

Using the formula "Prejudice + Discrimination + Power = Systems of Oppression" then Yes; because Farrakhan and his followers lack the Power to create a System of Oppression.

The First Amendment

"Prejudice" is a set of beliefs generally protected by the First Amendment "Discrimination" is an action which is often illegal in the United States.

The flawed formula "Racism = Prejudice + Power" blurs the distinction between belief and action and undermines Freedom of Speech protected by the Bill of Rights.

When We Started this Discussion

Back in 2001 Surina Khan and I, while at Political Research Associates, began to raise these confounding issues:

Chip Berlet and Surina Khan, 2001, "A Response to 'Digging Out of the White Trap' by Marian (Meck) Groot and Paul Marcus; both in Chester Hartman (Ed.), Challenges to Equality: Poverty and Race in America. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.

The Groot and Marcus essay is here: Our response is not online. (I am going to track down our text and post it on this website).
I then expanded on this argument in Chip Berlet. 2004. “Mapping the Political Right: Gender and Race Oppression in Right-Wing Movements.” In Abby Ferber, ed, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. New York: Routledge.