Reverse Racism: Is it a real problem?

As I continue to do the work to actively learn how to be anti-racist, I find myself having similar conversations with various white men. While some of these men engage in actual conversation before throwing the question out, many simply use the statement as a reason why they aren’t trying to learn more about how to become an anti-racist. What is this question I hear?

“What about reverse racism?”

This is usually followed by some anecdotal story, or some talking point which they heard from a conservative news talk show by someone paid to promote fear and push misinformation.

What is this “reverse racism” people are speaking of? Why don’t white people need to worry about this? Most importantly, why should we be concerned about the argument that people who are anti-racist are anti-white?

In simple terms, reverse racism is the idea that a person who is a member of a dominant or privileged group is discriminated against because of his place in that group. Often the argument goes, “Well, what about when I’m treated differently because I’m a white male?”, insinuating that it is simply the color of his skin that keeps him from getting a job or getting a place in an organization instead of a lack of qualification.

There is no such thing as “reverse racism”. Can non-white people discriminate against white people? Absolutely. Is there a “systemic racism problem” against white males? No. Why? Because racism comes from a place of power. The clear history in America (that even our biased history books teach us) is that white people have ALWAYS been the ones steering the ship. A person CANNOT be a victim of racism if the system has always been designed to benefit him. 

With the topic of Critical Race Theory continually in the news many conservative news programs have started using the phrase “anti-white” when talking about people who are actively anti-racist. This goes hand in hand with those who like to use the phrase “reverse racism” to cry foul when they feel the power dynamics shifting. The term “anti-white” is concerning as this is a main argument that White Supremacist groups use when spreading hate and fear to the masses. This phrase was made popular by Robert Whitaker, a well-known White Supremacist, who wrote it in one of his final pieces titled “The Mantra”. In this writing Whitaker wrote, “They say they are anti-racist. What they are is anti-white. Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white.”

These ideas are as old as slavery in the United States. Every single time a group tries to give more rights (or equal rights) to Black people there is always push back from White Supremacists. During the Civil Rights movement of 1964, opponents of the movement claimed that giving Black people equal rights would harm white people. During a Presidential Campaign speech in 1976 Ronald Reagan is quoted as saying, “If you happen to belong to an ethnic group not recognized by the federal government as entitled to special treatment, you are a victim of reverse discrimination.” Phil Gramm stated in 1995 that giving another group preference is automatically going to discriminate against the other group of people not receiving preference. I could fill up an entire blog post with just White Supremacist quotes and other dog whistles, but I digress.

When someone claims that there is such a thing as reverse racism, it is showing their underlying fear of losing their place as the one holding the power in the room. When we fight for diversity, equity and inclusion they automatically believe that this will cause them to miss out on things they believe they are entitled to. Often those are things they received simply because of the color of their skin and not because of their qualifications. When injustice has always benefited your particular demographic, you feel it when it begins to right itself.

What can we do about this? When we have these conversations over and over again; when we hear the scared white man in the room yelling about his rights and his liberties at risk; when there’s opposition to making room at the table for all; how can we respond?

Sometimes we can have productive conversations. As a white woman I feel that it’s my responsibility to take on those difficult conversations with my white peers. I can ask them the hard questions and listen to them and try to point out the facts. But sometimes we have to walk away and know that until they can listen to other perspectives, they will never see the truth.