Written by Furqan Mohamed.
Edited by Abby Strangward.
We hear the phrase “reverse” racism come up a lot when we speak about improving the lives of men and women who face actual racism. The concept of reverse racism can be confusing because of the term ‘racism’. To fully understand why the idea of reverse racism is complete and utter – pardon my French – bullshit, one must first understand that racism operates on both an individual and institutional level.
SO – WHAT, REALLY, IS RACISM?
Racism, at its true core, is the systemic oppression of people. Oppression, by dictionary definition, is the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment of a demographic of people (the key word being “prolonged“). From the stealing of land & resources from Indigenous/Native persons, to the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust, to discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community, to the methodical oppression of African Americans.
Oppression comes in many forms, and it seeps into the systems intended to work for everyone. The cracks in our societies’ educational, healthcare, judicial and democratic systems have allowed the distribution of power to be only amongst the dominant culture. Thus, power becomes a side effect of what happens when systems meant to benefit all only help the few.
You end up with demographics that have better standards of living, with their children inheriting these same benefits (such as access to higher education, quality healthcare, better employment and fair representation in government). These are necessities, and when our societal systems provide better for some, these necessities become more and more exclusive and synonymous with specific demographics (such as heterosexual, cisgendered, and white).
Racism is that entire snowball effect.
WHAT DO THE REAL EFFECTS OF RACISM LOOK LIKE?
It looks like black women having the highest birth mortality rate in the US. Canadaian black students having a higher school suspension rate than any other demographic. Persons of Aboriginal descent in Australia being some of the most incarcerated in the developed world, only to be out-imprisoned by African Americans. It looks like Canada, a country with an applauded healthcare system, having health institutions repeatedly failing and abandoning First Nations people.
When we look at the governments of diverse (industrialized) nations, parliaments are consistently filled with fewer minorities, not reflective of these countries actual populations.
Moreover, fewer teachers of color in classrooms results in fewer perspectives and ideas from minority groups being considered. By not including their view, we miss out on their contributions solely because of their race. Most authors we study in school are white, and most celebrated thinkers presented to us are white as well, thus implying the idea that there are no black intellectuals to study.
This is just a few examples of how racism manifests itself, and what racism looks like in ‘progressive’ nations.
WHAT IS PRIVILEGE?
Social systems continuously fail people of colour, whereas white people are nearly always less affected by the failings and bias of these systems. This, in the simplest of terms, is what we call privilege.
Privilege, by dictionary definition, is defined as a ‘right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed by a person beyond the advantages of most.’ Privilege looks like receiving lenient punishments, better medical care, and being the majority voice in politics. In this context, privilege is the ability to change and influence the direction of society, because if you are on the receiving end of better social systems, you’re better equipped to attain power.
The cracks in our educational, healthcare, judicial and democratic systems have allowed the distribution of power only to be amongst the dominant culture. This does not mean that white people cannot have difficult dealings with law enforcement, or education. However, it does mean that they will never have to factor in their race when these hardships occur.
Kathleen Ebbit said it best when she wrote that ‘having privilege does not mean an individual is immune to life’s hardships’, but it does mean ‘having an unearned benefit or advantage in society by nature of their identity’. White identity has always been a golden ticket. White supremacy rallies get police protection while BlackLivesMatter protestors clash with law enforcement. The Parkland school shooter was “just a troubled teen who liked guns” when Tamir Rice was shot for playing with a plastic one on a playground.
When a young white girl goes missing, an Amber Alert is set out, and when a young Indigenous girl was murdered, Canadian media put her mug shot up instead of the killers’. When a white person grows marijuana in their backyard, they’re an “entrepreneur,” and when a black man does, he’s a drug dealer.
SO – WHY IS REVERSE RACISM SIMPLY BULLSH*T?
Reverse racism can never transpire because it requires the aforementioned systems to turn on white people, and fail them only on the basis that they are white. It needs people of color to run these systems only to benefit themselves or those who conform to their standards. But neither of these things is ever going to happen.
The “I’m a victim too!” pathology, inherent to the idea of “reverse racism”, is incredibly frightening, because it takes away from legitimate racism and waters down the experiences people face because of their ethnicity. I implore everyone who has supported the idea of reverse racism to do some homework, and realize the world has too many real problems for us to fight over ones that don’t actually exist.