Power, Privilege and The Myth that is ‘Reverse Racism’ part one

“There’s no such thing as Reverse Racism – it’s just a myth. I’m sorry that you missed out, but it’s not racism.” I said. “But I was discriminated against because I’m white! How can they let her in and not me, when my score was higher?” She asked, frustrated. “Are you sure you were discriminated against, or were you just denied the privileges you’re normally entitled to as a white person?” I asked. She opened her mouth to speak, but then stopped herself. “Hmm. But I beat her fair and square!” She said. “Did you?” I asked. “Because it’s a fair bet, that it wasn’t a fair fight. Sometimes to create equality, you have to be unequal.” She nodded. “I guess I didn’t think of that”. 

This conversation was probably a good year ago now – it was between a colleague and I, we were discussing the fact that she had missed out getting entry into the medical degree she wanted to do, but an Indigenous mutual friend had been accepted, despite having a lower score in the admissions test. I was reminded of it recently, and remembered a great article about Reverse Racism that I had come across – it was in the Daily Kos, a site devoted to activism and civil rights. Despite being a US article, lots of what is discussed can be applied to an Australian context. I’ll link it at the end. 

In any discussion of racism and it’s alleged “Reverse,” it’s crucial to start with the definitions of prejudice and discrimination, to lay the foundation for understanding racism in context.  There’s a reason these three terms exist, and a very good reason not to conflate them, as I’ll demonstrate below.

Prejudice is an irrational feeling of dislike for a person or group of persons, usually based on stereotype.  Virtually everyone feels some sort of prejudice, whether it’s for an ethnic group, or for a religious group, or for a type of person like blondes or fat people or tall people.  The important thing is they just don’t like them — in short, prejudice is a feeling, a belief.  You can be prejudiced, but still be a fair person if you’re careful not to act on your irrational dislike.

Discrimination takes place the moment a person acts on prejudice.  This describes those moments when one individual decides not to give another individual a job because of, say, their race or their religious orientation.  Or even because of their looks (there’s a lot of hiring discrimination against “unattractive” women, for example).  You can discriminate, individually, against any person or group, if you’re in a position of power over the person you want to discriminate against.  White people can discriminate against black people, and black people can discriminate against white people if, for example, one is the interviewer and the other is the person being interviewed.

Racism, however, describes patterns of discrimination that are institutionalized as “normal” throughout an entire culture. It’s based on an ideological belief that one “race” is somehow better than another “race”.  It’s not one person discriminating at this point, but a whole population operating in a social structure that actually makes it difficult for a person not to discriminate.  

Now to “Reverse Racism.”  It’s crucial to maintain the distinction between the above three terms, because otherwise white people tend to redefine “Discrimination” as “Racism”.  Their main argument is that because both blacks and white can discriminate against each other, that “Reverse Racism” is possible.  But the truth of the matter is that black people: 1) have far less opportunity to discriminate against whites than whites have to discriminate against blacks, overall; and 2) black people lack a system of institutionalized support that protect them when they discriminate against whites.  

It took black and white people working together for one hundred years to get programs like Affirmative Action installed in the U.S., but it took one white man (Alan Bakke) only a single Supreme Court case to get those programs dismantled because he felt he didn’t gain entry into medical school based on his white race.  

“Reverse Racism” would only describe a society in which all the rules and roles were turned upside down. That has not happened in the U.S., however much white right wing ideologues want to complain that they’re being victimized by the few points of equality that minorities and women have managed to claim.  White people who complain about “Reverse Racism” are actually complaining about being denied their privileges, rather than being denied their rights.  They feel entitled to be hired and not to be discriminated against, even though the norm is white people discriminating against blacks. If, in a rare instance, a black employer discriminates against a white job applicant, that’s not “reverse” anything — it’s simple discrimination.  It’s to be condemned on principle, but it’s not evidence of some systematic program by which whites are being deprived of their rights.  

The right wing popularized the term “Reverse Racism” because they were really angry at having their white privileges challenged. Anyone who uses that phrase, whether they are right wing or not, furthers the right wing’s cause.  This is what I tell Democrats and progressives who I hear using the term — not only are they being inaccurate, but they’re helping out their opponents.

The above arguments can be applied to any institutionalized structure of oppression, affecting any race, ethnic or religious group, and can be used to to oppose claims of “Reverse Sexism” too.”

All things to consider. 

Link: http://m.dailykos.com/story/2010/07/15/884649/-Why-there-s-no-such-thing-as-Reverse-Racism


4 thoughts on “Power, Privilege and The Myth that is ‘Reverse Racism’ part one

  1. Pingback: Cultural Appropriation: not your idea.  | a dingo named gerald

  2. I’ve never heard anyone speak of “reverse racism.” I’ve heard many people talk about “reverse discrimination” which obviously does exist, as it is exactly what is described by you in your editorial. While I understand where you are coming from with the terminology, it seems rather unfair to dismiss reverse discrimination as something that is necessary, as “sometimes to create equality, you have to be unequal.” And if your friend really responded with “I guess I didn’t think about that” than maybe she didn’t deserve to get into medical school because she sounds like someone who can’t think for herself. The bottom line is, all applications should be judged on the strength of their qualifications, not the color of their skin or their cultural heritage.


    • The overwhelming majority of Medical School places go to non-Indigenous students. Being part of a marginalised group means that Indigenous students are far less likely to be able to enter medical school based on ATAR/STAT/GAMSAT/UMAT scores alone, because they aren’t afforded the same educational opportunities earlier in their schooling. Aboriginal people are over-represented in terms of chronic health conditions. We NEED Aboriginal clinicians so that we can better meet the needs of Aboriginal patients. If we can set aside 5 places out of 120 for Aboriginal students; with slightly different benchmarks (ie the Indigenous Entry Stream) which assesses students and their ability to thrive in an academically-rigorous curriculum – then no one looses.


      • And imagine the different situation we would be in if indigenous medicine had not been oppressed! If Ngankari knowledge was tested for on the entrance exam! There would be many more opportunities for aboriginal youth to train as doctors. But given that practice was oppressed by white people, they no longer have the opportunity to become traditional doctors, they must then somehow fight through the schooling system, though all the odds are against them. You must not have understood the article very well.


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