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.

All Too Familiar

Some days, I feel like that little kid in "The Sixth Sense" -- although, the line in MY head is "I see white people." I'm surrounded by them, by choice for the most part. In my personal life, I surround myself with all sorts of people, but the one thing they have in common - usually - is that they "get it." I don't have to think/talk/educate about race with my social group because they "get it." But, my job is to not surround myself, necessarily, with people who get it. My job, my passion, my task at hand, is to increase my circle of people who do not get it and help to facilitate learning, growth, and transformational discourse.

I love engaging in difficult conversations about diversity. And, yet, reading articles like the one from Diversity Inc give me an unsettling feeling of job-security....

Got turned on to Diversity Inc's "Why Whites Can't Get Over Color".

Essentially, a white woman writes this:

I am a white female and I can tell you that I don't talk about blacks for fear I will be called a racist or be called to the table, especially in the workplace, for discrimination. We (whites), at my company, are not allowed to talk about blacks or any other ethnic group because we would get fired. I will say that whites are very sensitive now because we are discriminated against. Blacks can have the NAACP, BET (Black Entertainment Television), Black History Month, United Negro College Fund, etc. If white people were to start something like the before mentioned there would be a huge uproar.

Here are some other highlights:

Another point I would like to make is blacks that keep bringing up how their ancestors were slaves need to look a little more into history books. Blacks were not the only ones who were slaves, all races have had slaves, and even whites. I have heard many times from blacks in my community that they did not ask to come to America. Well, my answer to that is of two fold...Nobody is forcing anyone to stay in America, you are free to leave whenever you please (and that is for every race), and, nobody took YOU personally from Africa or Asia or Spain or Italy or from anywhere else.

Or how about this one...

I teach my children not to see the color but to see the person. It is getting harder to do when all they hear about in the news, school, or articles is color.

Had enough? Here's one more, in case you missed her point...

Get over the color!

Thankfully, the person who responded actually thinks, and therefore, responded with this joyous following:

Given your current state, I would most strongly recommend you avoid racial discussions at work. This is good advice for most people. Your e-mail gives ample reason why many people will say something worthy of being fired. I don't think you intended it to be offensive, but I'm afraid much of your e-mail is.

I'll start with your comment about the NAACP, UNCF, etc. Black people founded these organizations to counter discrimination directed against them by white people. Keep in mind that the discrimination people faced today is NOTHING like the discrimination that existed when these organizations were founded. In our recent past, "discrimination" included thousands of African Americans being lynched and lawful bigotry like segregation.

Too many people have forgotten (or never bothered to learn/realize) that this every day threat of lynching was happening to people we know. It's not some way-back-when moment in history. It was still occuring just decades ago (and I would agree that this fear exists still today) where Black people were forced to fear for their families and their lives - and many still do as a result of a system of institutionalized and social racism.

The NAACP was founded because legislation was passed in the early 20th century that prevented Black people from voting. Another reason the NAACP came together was lynching -- until federal legislation was passed in the 1920s, thousands of Black people were murdered by hanging. The reason why federal legislation was important is that the local white-run law enforcement and judiciary proved to be incapable of prosecuting the white murderers.

The reason why I never watched "Friends" or "Sex in the City"

A few years ago, a major retailer sponsored an entire issue of The New Yorker and ran New Yorker-style cartoons as ads. One of the ads was a subway scene - with ALL white people (if you are familiar with New York, you will know that this is laughably impossible). This wasn't an isolated mistake -- around the same time, the parent company of The New Yorker mounted a sequence of billboards on a building in Manhattan. The theme was how people enjoy reading magazines. However, out of more than one dozen images, there was only one non-white person - an Asian woman looking at a magazine (with a white person on the cover). Now you know why there are magazines like Black Enterprise and JET.

Yup. I face this same fact when I question why people make assumptions about students of color not "being available" for college.

I recently visited another major New York media company, to discuss "diversity." At the time, they had 35 corporate vice presidents -- one white woman and 34 white men (all non-Latino). Representation like this takes real effort to accomplish in New York -- a city whose population is 65 percent Black, Latino and Asian.

As a child of immigrants, I often heard the "go back to your country" threat

With the exception of recent Black immigrants from countries in Africa, Black Americans -- African Americans -- are descendents of enslaved people. Enslaved people were taken here against their will and were subjected to the worst deprivations that people commit against each other. Tribal languages and histories were lost because white slavers forced families apart and purposefully prevented enslaved Black people from learning to read and write. Slavery lasted for more than 200 years in our country and legalized discrimination lasted almost another 100 years during the Jim Crow era.

You knew it was coming, right? The Colorblind Comment.

Your demand that we "Get over the color!" is an expression of white privilege. It's only possible to "get over" it if you are in the majority culture. Assuming you're white, YOU can "get over the color!" but it's simply not possible for people of color to get over who they are, what that means and the damage our society has purposefully done over the centuries by color.

I just might tattoo this one on my arm.. I love this quote here regarding the use of the word "melting pot":

The "melting pot" is about subjugating your culture and forcing a person to "melt" into the white culture. Melting who you are into a pot is not what makes a person American.

Thank goodness for big arms, I would tattoo this one, too....

When you hear criticism, you may want to consider that it is displeasure over our country's inability to completely live up to the promise - and potential - of what truly makes us American. The more we work toward that ideal, the more "we will get along."

The writer is much kinder than I am... and certainly good about not silencing the very voice that needs to be heard and transformed.

P.S.: I am withholding your name because it's fairly unique and I'm sure you would be easily identified where you work. That's not my concern -- I just don't want to dissuade other people who think like you do from writing us.

And, the crowd said, "Amen."