Reverse Racism Exits, Misses Point
by The Milton Measure on Friday, February 10th, 2017
Nearly half of Americans (49%) believe that reverse racism, or racism towards white people, is “as big a problem” as discrimination against people of color, according to data from a poll released by the Public Religion Research Institute in June 2016. While I would hope that the Milton community would recognize that reverse racism simply does not exist on the scale that racism towards people of color does, my experiences have taught me otherwise.
Calling racism towards white people ‘reverse racism’ acknowledges that white people are the primary upholders of racism in this country. The main issue in saying that reverse racism is a large problem points to a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of racism itself and of the social and economic implications that have resulted from years of oppression against people of color. Racism in America goes beyond speaking in derogatory terms to people of color. While of course people of color can be prejudiced towards white people, people of color often cannot enforce their prejudice because they are usually not in a position of power over whites. Unlike whites, people of color are usually not in the social position to influence opportunities of whites to the extent that whites control the opportunities of people of color.
Sustained by institutions and governments now and in the past, racism extends much further than personal animosity. Blacks were enslaved for 250 years and were legally discriminated against under Jim Crow laws for another 100. While white people may face prejudice for being white, they have not experienced legalized discrimination. They are less likely to be homeless and to face discrimination in job searches, to be subjected to unconstitutional practices like Stop and Frisk, to experience police brutality or even to be killed by police. Reverse racism simply does not exist in the way that racism has existed in this country for centuries, and to say so would trivialize actual systemic oppression based on race — an insult to people of color everywhere.
Black History Month often results in people saying, “Why isn’t there a White History Month? Isn’t this evidence that white privilege doesn’t exist?” No, because history classes all too often focus on the achievements of white people over those of people of color. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter aren’t saying that other lives don’t matter and are rather just saying that black lives matter too. Attempts to level the playing field by balancing the legacies of racism — like affirmative action and racial quotas — are not attempting to give black people privileges and are not indicative of reverse racism. White people often bring up accusations of reverse racism when people of color try to speak out about racial issues, using supposed discrimination against white people to downplay the suffering people of color have faced for centuries under systemic oppression.
We need to recognize that racism towards white people simply does not exist in the same scope as racism towards people of color. If we start believing reverse racism is just “as big a problem” as racism, we are taking a step towards ignoring and dismissing all forms of discrimination against people of color, and perhaps even to supporting the discriminatory policies of President Trump — someone who has hired white supremacists as his senior advisers.
Trump’s presidency has brought widespread public response — the Women’s March on Washington is possibly the largest organized protest in this nation’s history. The Washington Post states that the American Civil Liberties Union has seen record-breaking donations of 24 million dollars, 6 times more than their annual online donations, in the weekend of January 8th alone.
On a more positive note, people are recognizing that their equal rights are being threatened, and they are fighting back. So fight back with them. Recognize that small cases of so-called reverse racism are trivial compared to the past and present racism against people of color. Don’t ignore activists fighting for racial equality just because you don’t think they touch on issues that affect you. Speak out. Take action. Attend a protest. Donate to the ACLU. Remember, as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
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