Reverse Racism?

I promised my friend Jeff that I would get to this entry before the end of the week - so props to Jeff who has pushed me to finally get it done. Okay, so this whole conversation -- one in which many smart diversity folks find themselves in -- has surfaced yet again. Reverse Racism. Does it exist? CAN it exist? By definition, is it as non-sensical as "Jumbo Shrimp" or it based on similar myths of advantaged affirmative action?

As most people even finding their way to this blog know that I have very strong opinions, I think the term "reverse racism" is a bunch of crap ridiculous. Putting it out there, I think that, by definition, it can't even exist.  In the interest of not taking up all of my web space or tying up a server, I do think this whole thing can be summarized in a few points. So, here goes -- the cliff notes version of Liza's take on Reverse Racism:

Define it please?" So, when I ask people (students, classes, friends, etc) to define "reverse racism", here is what they usually come up with:

  • "policies in the United States that give people of color advantages over white people"
  • "giving people of color something that white people can't have"
  • "segregating a population based on race, and then giving the people of color opportunities that white people can't have"


So, aren't programs and opportunities offered for a particular underrepresented group considered "reverse racism?" No. It's not. Let's talk about practice -- opportunities given to underrepresented groups, or, better stated, groups with little to no institutional power, are not designed to disempower majority or power groups. Rather, they are really attempting to level a playing field that, for years/decades/centuries has not been level at all. Truthfully, people who are not in power are intentionally and systematically (whether you want to believe that or not) kept disempowered. 

Visual person? Here's a way to picture it...

So, imagine a race, a starting line. Some runners are at the start line, have the best shoes, have had adequate time to stretch, hydrate, and carb-load the night before the race. Some runners are coming to the start line having already run 3 miles, with backpacks, and with people yelling at them. Will the outcome of the race be fair? Will it accurately represent the talent, skill, and fair competition of the runners? Is it disadvantaging the runners at the start line if you give the runners who are exhausted a drink of water? Will the words "Hey! Why do those people get a drink of water? I was here first! I should get a drink of water, too!" make sense? Will you consider that an "unfair advantage"?

A runner at the start line may say, "But, I was here early! I prepared! I stretched!" or "Why do they get water and I don't? It wasn't like I was one of the people yelling at them as they ran the race prior to this one? I didn't do anything wrong to them!" or "It's not my fault they are tired and thirsty!"

True. You may not have personally disadvantaged the tired person at the finish line. However, you benefitted from not having to run the previous race. You benefitted from being given a sports drink by those who were also at the start line with you. You benefitted, even when you didn't ask to. So, is it a fair race? Does your win accurately reflect true competition?

Is it "reverse racism" or is it "prejudice?"

I find that what most people like to call "reverse racism" is actually "prejudice", which is a belief system. In my diversity sessions, I highlight that we are ALL prejudice. We all prejudge - whether it be a biological (fight or flight) reaction, a cognitive reaction, or an emotional response, we all prejudge. (note: the point of awareness exercises is to raise our level of consciousness about reasons why we do this).

So, yes, we can all be prejudice.

But, we cannot all exert "reverse racism." Racism is a system of power. And, as a member of the numeric minority group, I do not hold the same institutionalized power as the majority group. I may be able to exert power in individual ways, however I still operate within an institutionalized set of rules (laid forth by white people in power).

"Reverse racism" - a way to ignore white privilege

Sorry, can't credit where I heard this, but I admit to it not being my own...

One of the best "holla!" things I had heard someone say about "reverse racism" was that it was a way for white people to ignore the privilege they have as white people. By saying that people of color are exerting "reverse racism", they are using the term to give themselves an out, an excuse, and a way to not take responsiblity for the larger system of racism from which they benefit.

So, that's my brief, brief, brief version of something that could be written about in 100+ pages. There is so much more to it than what I've written here, but it's a start for those who are just trying to wrap their brains around it for the first time.