I spend a lot of time on the internet. I write in various places on the internet, I interact in lively and active commenting communities at different websites, and I partake in a multitude of online forums that have an ongoing and pretty continuous stream of communication between the contributors. Ya know what I’ve noticed? Any time a PoC starts to talk about their experiences with racism, a white person chimes in to derail the conversation and talk about their own experiences with ‘reverse racism.’ And yes, I’m going to say ‘any time’ and not ‘sometimes’ because I have never once been in an internet dialogue amongst commenters and observed a PoC bring up their experience with real, actual, systemic or overt racism and not encountered a white person trying to make it all about their experiences with perceived racism. Not once. It happens every time. Ya know what else? That shit is tired, played out, and incorrect. So let’s talk about why reverse racism isn’t real and why white people need to let that one go.
Racism exists when prejudice+power combine to form social constructs, legislation and widespread media bias that contribute to the oppression of the rights and liberties of a group of people. Racism is systemic, institutional, and far reaching. It is the prevalence of racism within social structures and institutional norms, along with implicit and explicit enforcement by members of a group, that allows racism to run rampant and unchecked. America is a country seeped in white privilege, and our social structure is built on colonization and forced slave labor that then turned into further systemic and ongoing oppression of PoC. We have a culture that presents whiteness as the norm and all else as ‘other’ or different. White is presented as the beauty ideal, the main face in the media (unless we’re talking about criminals, then PoC get unfairly misrepresented), the standard, the regular. It’s a structural problem that affects the perceptions of jurors in criminal cases, admissions to colleges, funding for public schools, welfare and food stamp programs, the redrawing of district lines that affect where we vote, who we see represented on T.V. and how, what schools people have access to, what neighborhoods people live in, an individual’s shopping experience, access to goods and services; it’s extensive and a part of the fabric that let’s whiteness remain dominant in American culture.
When I’m online talking to people and a PoC is sharing their experience with racism, I’m listening and I am learning. This is an experience I will probably never have in my lifetime, simply because of the skin I was born into. I need to know what I can do to be a better ally and to make the world a more equal place one interaction at a time. So I observe, I listen, I join the conversation, and I try to understand. Inevitably, here comes a white person either claiming that they have a similar experience because they grew up in an all black neighborhood and got chased on the way home from school a few times, or because their black friend tried to touch their straight hair one time without permission and OMG THAT IS SO RACIST and it is the exact same thing, or some other such bullshittery, and they expect that ignorance to be suffered in silence and with respect. If you are that kid who got chased after school, that’s horrible, and I feel bad for you. And if you are that person who had another person try to touch you without your permission, that was wrong of them, and I’m sorry that happened to you. But dudes, that shit is not racism.
The situations in which you, fellow white person, were involved were unfortunate and inappropriate, this is true. But to claim that these experiences were ‘reverse racism’ both diminishes and minimalizes the real and actual experiences of PoC who really do encounter racism. There is no system of oppression in America that actively works to oppress and subjugate white people. Sorry to break it to you, but your individual suffering is just that, individual. The individuals acting against you do not have the institutionalized power to actively oppress you in every facet of your life, nor would their racism be upheld and supported by government, media, and legislation if they did. Because you’re white.
Reverse racism isn’t real because we live in a culture that supports and enforces whiteness as the norm and PoC as other. If you experience discrimination, prejudice, or bigotry, it’s valid to be upset about it and want to talk about it. It is not valid to claim that it is reverse racism, and certainly not valid to claim that it is racism on par with anything like the institutionalized racism that PoC will come into contact with. When a white person starts talking about reverse racism, what they’re really doing is derailing a conversation to make it about them. Their white privilege leads them to believe that what they say both matters and needs to be heard and is important and the conversation should stop to focus on their perceived ills. You know what? When somebody is talking about racism they have experienced, that conversation is not all about you, nor should you expect it to be, so stop with the derailing and just listen and learn.
When white people complain about experiencing reverse racism, what they’re really complaining about is losing out on or being denied their already existing privileges. And while it may feel bad to realize your privilege is crumbling and the things you’ve taken for granted can be taken away from you, it is unfair, untrue, and disingenuous to call that experience reverse racism.
What do you think? Do you ever get tired of people trying to make ‘reverse racism’ an active part of dialogue? Do you feel like people are derailing when a PoC is discussing racism and another person tries to claim they have experienced ‘reverse racism’? Do you think ‘reverse racism’ is real and this whole piece is off point? Meet me in the comments and let’s talk about it.
LOL Reverse Racism image by Mark Aguhar.