This post pertains to the political theory of Prejudice Plus Power, a.k.a. R = P + P, which redefines the word "racism" as "prejudice plus power," meaning, among other things, that only whites can be racist-- by definition-- in the United States. The doctrine was promoted by the United States Department of Health during a conference held in 1973. Here is a link to the action manual they used.

The document as written clearly focused solely on the relationship between white Americans and black Americans; while prejudice could exist in other pairings, racism is reserved for institutional oppression such as slavery.

The text contains no instances of the word "Asian" or the phrase "person of color," although it does contain the word "Orientals" twice. "Hispanic" and "Mexican" are not used either, although they appear in the bibliography section many times. It is not clear why the literature was cited but not mentioned. Overall, the action manual appears to be silent on the issue of third party minorities, and whether they can be racist, or whether whites can be racist toward them.

My question is-- according to the latest R = P + P doctrine, as evidenced by the extant Sociology or Political Science literature-- can a white be racist toward an Asian? Can a Mexican be racist toward a white? Can all of them be racist toward African-Americans, or only whites? How exactly do these "third party" races fit into the theory?

The following answers will not be accepted and will be downvoted.

  • Do not post your opinion about whether P + P = R applies to third party races. I am looking for references in critical theory literature, authoritative sources, or at least the opinions of influential figures.
  • Do not post your opinion about whether P + P = R is valid. PPR is a stipulative definition and is therefore not falsifiable.

I am looking for an objective answer that describes the the definition of the concept, not anyone's judgment on its soundness.

1 Answer 1


R = P+P Isn't an Academic Theory

This R=P+P theory isn't something that appears directly in academic theory. As stated in the question, it's an idea that came from political groups. In the political theory world, we distinguish between "political theory" which is a logical, philosophic approach to ideas and "political thought" which is the ideas of political actors. Although political actors might sometimes have great insights, they aren't philosophers and their thoughts typically lack the degree of rigor that we like in theory.

However, some of the critical theory literature agrees.

However, this theory matches the expectations of some views in critical theory. Critical theory is a set of normative theories that aim to free people from different kinds of social constraints. As such, it is not a scientific theory and it isn't verifiable by any kind of empirical evidence. A common example would be Karl Marx's theories, which aren't just of academic interest. They were intended to free humanity from the constraints of capitalist power structure.

Fuchs (himself well-known in critical theory) wrote up a nice summary here.

A common approach in critical theory is to focus on how power relationships influence things. This is especially true in post-structural theory, which is mostly known to people through the works of Derrida and Foucault.

In this view, the structure of a relationship should be questioned. Imagine two people who work together discussing whether to have lunch together. A person asking their boss to have lunch is different than the boss asking their subordinate to have lunch. Both of these are different than if the two people are equals in the hierarchy. This is something that is often difficulty for people outside of critical theory to grasp on to: exactly identical actions can mean entirely different things based on who the parties involved are.

In this view, yes white people could marginalize any other race. Nothing about any race is particularly relevant, except that one of them has access to the majority of power in a society. From that position, it is possible to marginalize any other race.

This is not limited to race. The same critique has been applied to gender, religion, economic groups, states, and many other things. The only real requirement is that some power structure exists which puts a group ahead of another group.

  • I have a syllabus with some references at home. Will update this later once I find it. Mar 14, 2018 at 14:51
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    Isn't this normally considered on a macro level? You make a micro example which clearly fits, but causes a person to switch from being racist to not throughout a day, including making 'reverse' racism expected which I though was more or less the point to avoid.
    – user9389
    Mar 14, 2018 at 16:04
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    @notstoreboughtdirt - IANACT (I am not a critical theorist), but I suspect labeling someone a racist from a single interaction would be premature. It's probably more accurate to say that they engage in racist behavior (or not) at various points throughout the day. Mar 14, 2018 at 16:07

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