Racism bothers me too

I’ve been reading a lot of news reports about a racist party in Delaware. On May 5th, several members of the Phi Sigma Pi honors fraternity at the University of Delaware held a racist party in which white students dressed up as stereotypes of Latinos.

The “South of the Border” party held on Cinco de Mayo featured white students with racial epithets on their shirts.

The University of Delaware Campus Alliance de La Raza and the Phi Sigma Pi leadership held a town hall meeting to discuss the impact of this event on students at the university.

These types of racist parties have most likely been held on college campuses for a long time. The creation of Facebook and its ease of photo posting has lead to a more public profile of these awful events.

Racist parties seem to be very trendy amongst white college students. A party seems to draw national attention about once every couple of months. They are happening everywhere.

The cycle of events usually goes like this:

  1. White students hold a racially themed party (that’s news speak for, a bunch of white students did something overtly racist).
  2. A party attendee decides to post pictures of the party on Facebook because it was so much fun and they want everyone to see how much fun it was to make fun of people in oppressed groups.
  3. Another student on Facebook sees the photographs and lets the dean of students, a campus organization of students of color, or another administrator know about the photos.
  4. An organization of students of color holds a forum to discuss why the party was hurtful, harmful, horrible, etc.
  5. The president of the university issues a statement saying that the university does not endorse such awful events and that the university is committed to diversity
  6. News outlets all over the country interview students of color to hear their thoughts regarding the party
  7. White students apologize saying they did not realize that having a racist party featuring racist epithets and stereotypes would be seen as harmful or bothersome and that the party is not a reflection of their “true” selves. (*Note: Honors students are especially exempt from having any knowledge of systems of oppression, racism, and/or discrimination.)
  8. Situation over. Apologies have been sent out along with press releases and smiley face stickers. The end.

This bothers me…a lot. I read this particular paragraph on a news site and it really made me think about how the media frames these “parties” and how the university responses are typically portrayed:

Students in the honor society Phi Sigma Pi called it a “South of the Border” party. They dressed as gardeners, Latino names on their front and ethnic slurs on the back. When the photos surfaced, many minority students were outraged.

Okay, but what about white students being outraged? I was very upset when I saw that yet another group of white students had held yet another racist party.

By framing these situations in a way in which folks of color are the only people who get upset by these events, it basically excuses white folks from dealing with their own inner junk as well as working with other white folks to end oppression.

Where are the quotes from white students saying that they are upset and appalled that this happened on their campus?

What kind of message is being sent by the media and university administrators when folks in historically marginalized groups are forced to fight against these injustices?

They might as well be telling their white students that it’s okay to ignore folks of color. Because that is what the underlying message is.

I am a white guy and racism upsets me.

  • FinanceBuzz

    You mentioned oppression in your post. Who is oppressed? Hispanics? I don’t think so! There are many Hispanics that have come to the United States and have been able to benefit from the opportunities of our nation and have successful careers and lives in general. Does not sound like oppression to me. In addition, there is a large segment of the Hispanic population living in the United States who are here illegally yet they hold jobs and go about their lives with impunity. In fact, the government itself in many ways goes out of its way to cater to those who have broken our laws to come here. Does not sound like oppression to me. Finally, many companies cater to the Hispanic market by frequently using Spanish in their product marketing. No oppression there. Overall, you made a reasonable post but I cannot see the rationale behind your position on oppression.

    On the Delaware matter overall, I think this was one situation that was actually handled fairly well. The actions of the students at the party were rude and insensitive. I certainly do not condone or encourage such actions as I generally do not believe in hurting anyone’s feelings. However, I would stress that being rude or insensitive is not a crime. The university is right not to have punished and, while I doubt that this would have been the case, I would like to think that they would have taken the same actions had the event been held on campus. That being said, for the Hispanic student group to voice their displeasure over the offensive actions and for the student who attended the party to come and apologize is the way these things should be dealt with – people to people discussing their differences. It was refreshing to not to see any comments from any of the interviewed students that bordered on hyperbole.

  • Racism is a form of oppression. The students at that party were engaging in racist behaviors. I’d say that qualifies as a form of oppression. Having to deal with white students portraying your existence as a stereotype is a form of oppression.

    I just love how you say “our nation.” Do you see how language can be used to “other” folks who are in marginalized groups? Who exactly is a member of the club, “our nation”?

    Yes, undocumented folks in this country go about their daily lives with “impunity.” They never have to worry about being separated from their families, dealing with racism, earning a living, paying for college, etc. Undocumented life is such a dream.

    Labeling what those students at that party did as being “rude or insensitive” is a way of using language to diminish what really happened. White students held a racist party.

  • FinanceBuzz

    The results of the behavior at the party is not oppression in my opinion. How did the actions of those students (setting aside any moral or consideration question) infringe upon the rights of any other person? They did not. No Hispanic student had their rights violated. Had their rights been violated, I would be inclined to agree that they had been oppressed. They may well have been offended – and understandably so – but do not consider that oppression. I am not excusing the actions of these students, but they did engage in freedom of expression. In this case, that expression was hardly “polite,” but it was their right to express themselves. While we may well agree that their actions were ill-advised, given that no one’s right were infringed, I fail to see how someone engaging in their freedoms, in a popular manner or not, can be called oppression.

    As for “our nation,” I think you are being a bit too picky on wording. I am including everyone who is a citizen or legal resident. Also, I am simply expressing that some people have come to the U.S. from other countries and as a result they have enjoyed the great opportunities and freedom this country offers. There was no attempt there to offer any type of hidden segregation.

    As for illegal aliens having anxiety about being separated from their families – hello! They are here illegally! When you break laws there is often a degree of anxiety that comes with that. I am not wishing ill-will on people because of their immigration status, but they are the one that came to the U.S. and ignored our immigration laws. The fact that they can earn a living and even pay for college while in a persistent state of technically criminal behavior demonstrates that their life in America enjoys a certain amount of impunity.

  • Michelle Marie

    Just to clarify: Racism is not defined by hurt feelings. Racism is one of many systems of privilege and oppression in which the lives of individuals in a particular group (in this specific case, Latinos) are marked by predictable, identifiable, constant, and institutionalized limitations -while the lives of individuals in the dominant group (in this case, whites) are marked by predictable, identifiable, constant, and institutionalized benefits.

    (Of course, I am not saying that oppression doesn’t cause emotional pain, because it certainly does, but having one’s feelings hurt does not constitute systematic inequality.)

    It is often difficult for whites to recognize our unearned privilege; Peggy McIntosh has written eloquently about this subject, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ll give an example from my own experience.

    I’ve a blue-eyed, blond-haired white child, and it is sobering to realize that I am raising her in a world that grants her unfair advantage based on race. She will automatically be given the benefit of the doubt, she will not be followed by security when she shops, vacant apartments won’t suddenly become unavailable when she arrives to see them, and (this one really gets me) teaching her how to not be arrested by the police won’t be part of our reality. We are members of the dominant group. We don’t have to worry about these things. The system benefits us.

    Although it always feels slightly inappropriate to be speaking on their behalf because – as a white – my understanding of being the target of racism is entirely secondhand, people of color live in a very different world. They are disadvantaged by every possible measure.

    Just a very few examples: Nonwhites report that when they arrive to view apartments, they are regularly told that formerly available units are suddenly unavailable. They are routinely followed by store security. They are presumed ignorant until proven otherwise. They are paid less for doing the same work. They (especially black males) must be extremely careful when interacting with law enforcement. They are members of an oppressed group. The system targets them.

    Personal expressions of hatred/discrimination – such as the party Eric discusses – are manifestations of racism, of course, but racism exists independently of each person’s behavior (or each person’s hurt feelings).

    I agree with Eric; when whites do not register disgust in response to racism – when whites are not expected to even comment! – we are indeed part of the problem.

    And as for immigrants’ “persistent state of technically criminal behavior,” I would just like to make a point about the government system that created those laws. It was instituted by men whose violent takeover and occupation of the North American continent can be aptly defined as being executed with “impunity.” How is anyone not of Native American descent a legitimate citizen under such circumstances?

    Perhaps those of us who live in this particular glass house should not throw stones with such impunity.

  • FinanceBuzz

    I suppose I am not afflicted with some type of “white guilt” that many on the left seem to be. I treat people as individuals and have non-white friends and that, I think, is the key. Treat people as people and take them one at a time on an individual basis. Some people will not do that and there will be people who likely will continue to treat people of other races in a different manner. However, that does not make for “institutionalized” racism. In fact, the overwhelming majority of institutions go out of their way to avoid any appearance of racism to the point that many people of color receive far more leniency when they cross the hypersensitive color line than when whites do the same. Al Sharpton one week leads a charge to have Don Imus fired for his insensitive remarks, while going unscathed when making insensitive remarks of his own about Mitt Romney. So based on that and many other incidents, I cannot buy into this idea that there is broad-based, institutionalized racism in the America of 2007.

  • I’m not sure where either Michele or I said anything about “guilt.” Guilt does not motivate someone to fight against injustice. It mires them in place and does not serve as a strong place to be a social justice advocate.

    How many times do I have to hear from another white person that they have friends of color? It does not matter how many of your friends are people of color. It’s not like you get a point for each friend of color.

    Treating people as individuals is terrific…if you honor their lived experience and validate their dignity. The lived experience of folks of color in this country is not the same as the lived experience of white folks.

    If people were treated equally, slavery would not exist, nor would the genocide of Native American populations. Institutionalized oppression is very real. It saturates this country.

    Please read Suzanne Pharr’s The Common Elements of Oppressions. It is a quick read on oppression, institutional power, and defined norms.

    Now, back to my original post and point:

    Where are the quotes from white students saying that they are upset and appalled that this happened on their campus?

    What kind of message is being sent by the media and university administrators when folks in historically marginalized groups are forced to fight against these injustices?

    They might as well be telling their white students that it’s okay to ignore folks of color. Because that is what the underlying message is.

  • FinanceBuzz

    If people were treated equally, slavery would not exist, nor would the genocide of Native American populations. Institutionalized oppression is very real. It saturates this country.

    This is such a gross overstatement. Some instances of institutionalized oppression may be real, but I fail to see an argument for it saturating the country. This is simply not realistic and denies the reality where those who do not view their fellow man as equal members of society and who would consciously deny their freedoms are few and far between. I read most of Pharr’s piece and there is so much that deserves rebuttal and probing questions. However, it too follows this same perspective that we live in an America that existed half a century ago but is, by and large, a relic of the past.

    When I, a white male, mention that I have non-white friends, I am not seeking “points.” I am simply countering this notion put forward by those who think like Pharr that white men are busying themselves looking for the next person to oppress. Because some people do not immediately concede to the liberal viewpoint on race relations that highlights only the worst, fringe elements of society over the massive improvements made in this area over the last 40-50 years, does not mean we conform to those who populate Pharr’s America.

    I would be interested to hear a few examples of just how this oppression saturates America. We have a black Secretary of State who replaced another black Secretary of State. A black man and a white woman are serious contenders for the Presidency (though I worry about this country if they get elected, not because of their race/gender, but their politics!). We have black and women CEOs, Congresspeople, Senators, and media stars. I work with Indians, Asians, Hispanics and women as I would imagine do most people who will read this blog. So please tell me, where exactly do I find this institutionalized oppression that is saturating America?

    Maybe things are not perfect, but we live in an imperfect, fallen world. However, there is much opportunity for people of all walks of life. I think that we should focus on that positive aspect as opposed to wallowing in the remaining instances of negativity that will likely never be totally eradicated simply by the law of averages.

  • FinanceBuzz, I agree with you wholeheartedly that we need to focus on positives and not “wallow’ in negatives, and I think Eric might agree with that as well. I see your claim that he is “wallowing” as similar to your claim that he feels “white guilt.” Wallowing is nihilism. Instead, we need to critically examine the facts to determine whether they are negative or positive and then assess how we can make change for a more just world.

    In the case that Eric blogs about, we have a group of white people who throw a party making fun of another group of people. The media covers the event and gives no voice to white people who are outraged, only people of color who are outraged. The white students apologizes, the university swears they don’t condone this behavior, and we move on.

    Eric’s point that when the media fails to cover white people’s outrage, they paint racism as a nonwhite person’s problem, when in fact, it is actually white people’s problem because it is white people who are failing to respect the dignity of others, and therefore, I believe, failing to respect their own dignity as a whole person.

    Much of the above conversation seems to revolve around the definition of oppression. Eric claims that Hispanic folk are oppressed in this country; you claim they are not. Eric is working from Pharr’s definition of oppression, which, is akin to the definition I would use, from Philip Hallie.

    In “From Cruelty to Goodness,” Hallie describes a model of institutional cruelty and describes the four criteria of institutional cruelty. First, there must be substantial cruelty, meaning the maiming of dignity and crushing of one’s self-respect. Hallie is clear to define cruelty in this way because previous definitions of cruelty are either superficial (i.e., “bloodshed”) or because they do not take humiliation into account (i.e., “giving pain”). In order for cruelty to be institutional, it must be part of social institutions, such as religion, family, government, economy, or education, being built into their structures. The third component of institutional cruelty is that it is invisible to those who do not want to see it, especially to those with privilege. It exists on the edge of awareness, and a person can see it if one wants. The last criterion of institutional cruelty is that a power difference must exist, and this difference must be institutionalized. For example, white men control government and laws and thus have institutional power over women and people of color.

    We see in the case of the party in Delaware all four of Hallie’s criteria: The stereotypes portrayed by the white students were cruel and maimed the dignity of Hispanic folk. It meets the second criterion, being institutionalized: we see images of Hispanic folk is the media (TV, movies, etc.), and Hispanic folk are marginalized in education (we do not study American history from the point of view of Hispanics who were conquered and had their land taken away in SW USA; instead we study it from the point of view of white conquerors). Next, white folk have institutional power compared to Hispanic folk (there is a disproportionate number of white folk running the government, media conglomerates, institutes of higher education, etc.). It is obviously invisible to those who don’t want to see it, as it was to those students who thought nothing of it when planning and enacting the party, and as it is to many who still do not see the party as harmful.

    If we use Hallie’s model to understand oppression, then it’s apparent that this is a case within a larger system of oppression. FinanceBuzz, you state that you don’t agree with Pharr’s definition of oppression, but you don’t not state why. I’m curious about what you find at fault in her definition.

    I’d like to make one last point here. You write, “No Hispanic student had their rights violated. Had their rights been violated, I would be inclined to agree that they had been oppressed. They may well have been offended – and understandably so – but do not consider that oppression.” You are right that oppression isn’t about being offended. If this were so, I would claim that I have been oppressed whenever I am told something about my character in a rude way, but that is not the case. This is because oppression isn’t about being offended, but rather about institutionally-backed maiming of dignity. I do not think oppression is about rights, but is instead about humanity. Being a human doesn’t mean being able to vote, have a job, have health care. Instead, it is about being treated as a full human with your dignity intact. When a group’s dignity is attacked from by others who are in a place of institutional power, then it is oppression.

  • a (white) UD Student

    White student at UD, checking in: this whole situation made me upset as well. Although I’m not 100% why the rest of the white population didn’t show much reaction, I can definitely share why I didn’t speak up at the public Town Hall forum — I often feel that, as a white person, my thoughts on diversity and racism as insincere. Nevermind the fact that I came from a lower-middle class household, or that I’m female, or that I’m ethinically Polish (and have gotten a fair amount of crap for that in my day)…I still feel as if the generalized white comment of “Oh, racism against minorities offends me!” will be met with the generalized minority response of “Why? You’ve never had to deal with it; don’t fake it”. Despite my good intentions, I am scared to speak up because I fear a response like that.

    I do agree that the media paints this as a non-white problem. The town hall forum was filled with mostly racial minorities (it seemed), and I think that was in part because the entire university wasn’t notified about this issue — the Campus Alliance de la Raza informed their “action list”, or something of the sort, and I assume most recipients on this list are minority students/individuals (although I was on the list, as I work with several folks in CALR). I do wish their list included all members of the campus so that the white kids wouldn’t potentially feel left out of an issue that they should all be concerned with.

  • Michelle Marie

    Michael, thank you for emphasizing that oppression isn’t about being offended. I would add to your explanation of oppression that it is also about being assigned by society to a group which lacks power relative to another group or groups.

    And now in response to FinanceBuzz’ assertion that institutionalized oppression is grossly overstated. First, it is important to note that oppression is not caused by “white men … busying themselves looking for the next person to oppress.” Certainly some white men do go out of their way to take actions that directly oppress others; however, one of the defining characteristics of systems of oppression is that (as I pointed out about racism) exists outside of each individual’s behaviors (as does institutional cruelty).

    Rather, systems that oppress certain groups and give advantage to others (it is important to keep both directions in mind) are embedded within social institutions (government, family, religion, media, sport, the economy, education, health care, and so on). The manifestations of oppression within institutions are many and varied; there are a lot of “remaining instances of negativity.”

    Therefore, your request for further evidence – “I would be interested to hear a few examples of just how this oppression saturates America” – can be readily satisfied. Just a few frinstances, in addition to the examples of racism I already gave:

    > The media portrays whites and white culture as normal; when present, people of color and nonwhite culture are tokens or are portrayed in a stereotypical fashion. (System of oppression: racism)

    > Women live under the nearly constant threat of rape/sexual assault. Men – except for men in prison – do not. (System: sexism)

    > Heterosexual couples are permitted to form state-sanctioned partnerships which provide them with a wide variety of rights. Same-sex couples are not. (System: heterosexism)

    > The material and cultural environment is largely constructed in a manner which defines mobility device users and other disabled individuals as ‘disabled’ – while people who do not or are not are defined as ‘normal.’ (System: ableism)

    > White women, men of color, and women of color earn progressively less than white men for the same work. (Systems: racism and sexism)

    > Higher education (and the resulting advantages over the life course) is available only to those who have (or whose parents have, or who can borrow) the required sums. (System: classism)

    However, in response to “… please tell me, where exactly do I find this institutionalized oppression that is saturating America?” I have to admit that the answer just might be that you, as a white man, may not find it. Your whiteness and maleness serve as shields (Eric’s very useful metaphor) to protect you from recognizing the oppression of others.

    Also, part of white privilege – I think Eric has a link to “White Privilege and Male Privilege” by Peggy McIntosh on here somewhere – is the ability to ignore the ways in which we receive unfair advantage from these systems.

    It’s not fair that I don’t have to think about the fact that my daughter is expected to be articulate, well-behaved, and intelligent – just by showing up – whereas the daughter of a black woman can expect to encounter the astonishment of others when she turns out to be articulate, well-behaved, and intelligent.

    And as for accusations of “wallowing in … negativity,” I of course acknowledge that society has come a long way. However, we have certainly not, by any measure, reached equality; we haven’t come far enough.

  • UD Alumni

    After reading the comments I would like to give my piece.

    As sad as I was to find out that this had occurred at Univ. of Del., however, I was not surpised at all. UD is very segregated in sorts.
    It has always been that way. It upsets me to find that these issues are on a cycle at this school. One group of students try to
    “fix” the racial problems at the school, then after that group, freshman – senior, all graduate, the same issues come up. It just runs the loop.
    But each time it comes around it is a little more harsh.

    I’m glad to know that there is “support” from the “white folk” toward the racial issues. Honestly, and I have heard comments from students that
    I still speak with that they wished more non-minorities attended the event. In a sorts, it is really preaching to the choir. What I found interesting, though,
    is only ONE of the students involved in the party decided to SHOW UP to the event. Although they all stated they wanted to help in ANY WAY to rectify
    their actions.

    What some people fail to realize is this “south of the border” themed party runs much deeper than just the party. In a way I view this as
    the “breaking point” or the “we’ve had enough” for alot of the minority students at the school.

    I have heard from latino students that they have been told by other white students they dont “belong” at UD because they are “minority.”
    I have experienced the “non-acceptance” in the classroom, study groups, etc. Yes in some cases, it is personalities, but others it is
    a definite line.
    The requirement (and higher cost) for certain “security measures” for an on campus party because it is a “minority event”
    The university not listening to your concerns in regards to the “treatment of groups” because “there’s not enough of your group” representing the school.

    So, all of the attention: it’s is much more than just a “south of the border” party and that it was racist/oppressive.

    We can not assume the action list was solely or mainly minority. The individuals in CALR are also members of other organizations and I can say in confidence
    that all of those organizations were contacted. But in a way, although this shouldn’t be a minority issue, usually when something doesn’t AFFECT you personally, many don’t care enough to take the time out for a “forum” to discuss “racial” issues on the campus. Just as those that participated in the party did not find it in themselves to attend, why should those that didn’t have anything to do with it.

    If anything….
    I will say that the news coverage, from the local stations all the way up to CNN was nice to see.
    I say this only because maybe NOW UD will be proactive and DO something instead of just sweeping the issue under the rug again.
    This party now has been associated with this university and maybe NOW they will take our, minority, concerns seriously.

  • Just stumbled upon this blog (which looks terrific, with some really rich discussions in the threads — congrats!), and wanted to echo the thoughts that “a (white) UD student” and “UD Alumni” shared: (1) not only is racism a problem for all students on white-dominated college campuses, but it’s a problem that should especially concern white folks; (2) a lot of white students who want to combat racism fear doing so because (a) they might say the wrong thing or be misheard, or (b) it would force them to interrogate their own racist habits; and (3) racism in institutions of higher education is about so much more than overtly racist parties.

    This spring, we had an incident at Harvard wherein someone called the campus police after an email conversation in a dormitory led students to question what “a bunch of random kids” were doing on “our Quad.” The “random kids” were, shockingly enough, Black students. They were hosting an annual event for the Black men’s and women’s student organizations; many were wearing official group t-shirts. Whereas a similar gathering of white students on the Quad would no doubt have seemed unremarkable, and probably wouldn’t have prompted someone to take the extreme step of anonymously reporting a suspicious sighting to campus security, in this case, student leaders were asked to show their ID cards to prove they were entitled to use their own school’s facilities. The college roiled with controversey for the next week, and we had the requisite town hall meetings chiefly consisting, as with a (white) UD student’s experience, of students of color (in this case, Black students) expressing outrage over the racial profiling and its testament to chronic problems of racism on campus, while the very few white students who bothered to show up either already agreed that racism was involved, or wrongheadedly levied counteraccusations of racism against Black students for “automatically assuming that race was a factor.”

    Given the significant obstacles, as Michelle Marie points out, inherent in revealing white privilege to the people who have it, I would love to hear folks’ suggestions as to how to get more white students involved in anti-racism work on college campuses. Writing about the problem in student publications like newspapers or blogs seems to help, but can anyone recommend other strategies for involving white people without just preaching to the choir?


  • I think it’s a good idea to embed conversations/readings about systems of oppression and privilege within university pedagogical structures. For example: I taught a class on academic success and included conversations on privilege, institutionalized oppression, etc. It was a holistic approach to academic success that looked at multiple factors of success.

    I feel that it’s important for anti-racist white students to be very visible and vocal when incidents like the ones at Delaware and Harvard occur. For other white students, this is important as it shows them that racism is not just an issue for people of color to address.

  • FinanceBuzz

    To Katie,

    Could you provide some details as to what exactly the group was doing that prompted the call to campus authorities? You don’t really provide any insight and I am hesitant to ascribe this to racism without more information. Based on what you said, this at best sounds like an episode of prejudice but not necessarily racism.

    I would love to hear folks’ suggestions as to how to get more white students involved in anti-racism work on college campuses.

    Really simple. Treat everyone with respect and dignity and stop taking everything in a racial context. If we treat everyone in such a manner and try to insert racism where it probably does not exist, I think everyone could well get along much better.

  • FinanceBuzz

    Just a note, I googled this situation and, in this instance, some complaints due appear to be warranted. While I think the use of the term “racism” is inaccurate, I do think that this was probably an incident of prejudice. That is hard to say because we cannot know the true thought processes of the person who made the report to the police department. It makes me think of a discussion I had with a coworker last week about a radio talk show’s suggestion that we, as citizens, should report suspicious activities to the authorities (I think he was speaking in the context of terrorism). My friend thought this was turning people into snitches. I, however, was more inclined to see it as being careful and better safe than sorry. My thinking was it you honestly think there is a chance of something underhanded going on, there is no harm on reporting to authorities. I am suggesting this applies at Harvard but I am suggesting that the real question comes from motivation of the caller. And that is something we can probably not discern. If it was not prejudiced and he/she says so, then those who were caused pain by this will dismiss that as self-protection. If it was prejudicial, he/she would probably not admit it and/or say the same thing – that it was not.

  • Why do you feel that it was an incident of prejudice instead of racism?

  • I’m barely following this thread right now, because I’m focusing on my thesis, but Stoller’s question echoes some of my confusion as well. Prejudice is generally defined as a belief or opinion, and discrimination is the action. Katie writes that she believes there was racism (discrimination based on race) involved at the Harvard incident, but I’m wondering what kind of prejudice (and thus, discrimination, since there was an action) you are referring to, FB?

  • FinanceBuzz

    Racism is the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over another (see definition). I see no belief in this. Perhaps the caller had more “default suspicion” (for lack of a better) or a large group of young black people, but that could well be based on well established prejudices. That does not automatically imply that these viewpoints are racist. In fact, I found a blog that was discussing this topic, Cambridge Common. One of the commenters even talked about the originator of the email about the group and his motives to comment, even saying he was hoping he was not acting out of some unconscious or conscious racism. If the motivation for the caller was similar, that hardly seems like an act of racism. Prejudice, perhaps, misunderstanding perhaps as well. But racism? I don’t see it.