Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why Reverse-Racism Doesn't Exist

First I recognize it is 9/11 and that I should probably write something about any of the myriad of issues that come up as a result of mentioning this topic. But since I'm not going to write about the topic today you should probably go here:

To check out this amazing poem written by Emmanuel Ortiz, my friend and brother in the struggle.

Anyway, Does Reverse-racism exist?
Ok see you next week...

Fine you win. I guess I’ll say a few words.
But first in keeping with the upcoming election let’s have a quote from Joe Biden:
“In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”

If you can't believe it check it out here:

Well on that note let’s define racism shall we?

a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

That’s according to When people are talking about reverse-racism the basic idea is that a white person is applying for a job and a black person gets it instead. The reason the black person gets the job is less about who is more qualified and primarily about "hiring a black person is the right thing to do", because: black people never get good opportunities, or because a black person will understand this job better or because mostly black people work in this office including the boss.

Isn’t this reverse-racism in action?
Well I think it depends on your definition. I think most people define racism consciously as “hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.” Based on this definition anyone can be a racist. However under this definition it is impossible to be a reverse racist because by definition, reverse racism would require a starting point to reverse from. You’ve never heard of the term reverse-hatred. If I hate you first and you hate me second it’s still just plain old vanilla hatred, possibly shared hatred but you wouldn’t say it’s reverse-hatred.
The concept of reverse racism recognizes a primary racism from which one reacts to, with more racism. This primary racism in the United States context would be the racism of white people against various groups including African, Native and Asian people. I think the reason that people believe in the concept of reverse-racism is that consciously or subconsciously most people in the United States recognize that white racism, that is racism historically executed by white people in the history of the US, has been worse than the so-called racism that from time to time is perpetrated on whites. Basically it was really, really bad that people with white skin hung people and enslaved and raped them, but it’s kind of bad when you call me a cracker, and if you continue down that path, you may one day, enslave me, and that would be REALLY REALLY REALLY BAD!(exclaims the white person) Point taken, except for the giant leap that involves white people being enslaved. For the record I’m not saying that white people have never been enslaved or lived in slave like conditions. I’m saying that white people have never been enslaved by people of color in the United States (Or the world for that matter, but let's stick with the US in case someone knows some obscure historical fact that I don't ) And therefore have not had such enslavement, sanctioned and facilitated, by the government. In other words I think racism in the United States has been: plantations, blankets filled with small pox, the burning of churches and the internment of American citizens with brown skin. And continues to be: the insane incarceration rates of Black Americans, the discrimination against immigrant Latinos, and the deplorable education system that disproportionately underserves children of color. White people, as a whole, have never lived in these conditions in this country. I think when defining racism you need to look at “a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.” Or as I chose do define it as: “domination of one race over another”. So if I say “Kill Whitey!” (And for the record, my white mama -RIP- would have laughed at that comment) And I have no governmental apparatus to facilitate my rallying cry or historical precedence of such institutional support, than they are merely words. However if one of our white readers decides to exclaim: “Kill Niggers!” Than they have a Four-Hundred-Year Archive of support. And even though the current laws are much less amicable to such a doctrine, the current social, economic, political and legal system was created by people that either actively or passively supported that very sentiment.

Therefore if your child goes to school and is beat up by some brown kids, you ought to be angry, in fact furious. You should confront the issue and ensure your child’s safety. But you shouldn’t cry reverse-racism because the evidence just isn’t there.

I apologize to those of you that hoped I would write a scathing indictment of the comments of Joe Biden but I think they speak for themselves.


  1. So how does 'reverse racism' work?

    Being white means the TV says I can't jump or dance. It hurts because it's true.

    (Of course, being a potential father means the TV says that if that day ever comes I'll be transformed into a clueless doofus consistently outwitted by his hipster kids. That I hope is false.)

    So this is an interesting post. I too dislike the term 'reverse racism' because to me the definitions you quote above speak for themselves.

    I usually follow along with your argument here in explicitly unpacking what we think of as racism into two components.

    One describes *personal* contempt for people who appear and/or act a certain way (which can be strictly racism or cut across class and culture, or all three at once). I'd argue that "reverse" forms of this are quite common. I call them "racism," full stop.

    Then there is another phenomenon which is structural mistreatment of the members of various populations by institutions, with 'institutions' broadly defined to include not only govt, law enforcement, employers and economic institutions but also popular art and media, such nebulous concepts as 'conventional wisdom,' and whole categories of other things too numerous to list.

    I think it's reasonable to say that, by and large, white males are free from the effects of the latter; i.e. that, as you say, "reverse racism" doesn't exist if racism is *defined* to be mistreatment of people of color by what amount to white insitututions.

    I don't think it's productive to restrict the definition of racism this way, however, because human interaction is largely person-to-person.

    For instance, I have experienced personal mistreatment based on race, though only in one particular case did this turn seriously violent. It would be difficult to argue that was was said and done was not racist in intent.

    At the same time, I also observed the fallout from this situtation, and witnessed grandstanding by education and govt officials who were "addressing" it. This behavior shocked me in its blatantly racist opportunism. In the end I came to the humiliating conclusion that, being a victim of particular appearance, I was a conventient means to a racist end.

    So there were some important lessons there, and one of them was to note the relation between personal interactions and institutional treatment of individuals. Those people who composed and dictated the institutional response were motivated by personal interest.

    So how can privelged individuals approach this conversation on solid moral ground? To diagnose sincerity (or lack therof), what I tend to come back is what I think is the cardinal indicator of a person's intent: emphasis is everything.

    For instance: there is a principled argument against affirmative action, on the grounds that it is nothing more than institutionalized racial preference and advantage, which we take to be by definition evil. I don't accept that argument, but it can be advanced with sincerity.

    But in my experience the people making that argument don't seem principled. They are outed by their emphasis.

    They tend to be very (very, very) concerned about, say, a particular (and often hypothetical) A- white student not getting into some law school when a B+ black student did. Meanwhile there is very little mention of the structural disadvantages that (possibly hypothetical) black student would have faced.

    So in the end I think it's self-evident that folks like me can be the victims of racism in personal interactions.

    In interactions with institutions, on the other hand, while it's theoretically possible for a particular white person to be disadvantaged because s/he is white, it just doesn't register as a concern at the level of policy.

  2. oh joe biden, good thing you're the VP now.

    i always liked the People's Institute's definition of racism:

    "Racism is race prejudice plus power"

    "A Racist is one who participates [as a member of the dominant "race"] in a social system in which race prejudice is backed up with power."

    I also like this:

    NON-RACIST - A non-term. The term was created by whites to deny responsibility for systemic racism, to shift responsibility for changing a racist system from whites, to blaming people of color for the racist system [called "blaming the victim"].

    A non-racist is "color blind."

    Responsibility for perpetuating and legitimizing this racist system rests both on those who actively maintain it, and on those who refuse to challenge it.