The (Un)Reality of Reverse Racism

don’t think I even know 258 white people at this school. So I was quite shocked when I found out that such a large number of white students believe in reverse racism.

According to this year’s State of the Academy (SOTA), 43 percent of white respondents believe in reverse racism — that white people can be systematically discriminated against because of their race. The fact that almost half of white students believe in reverse racism is striking. Reverse racism does not exist, and using the word “racism” to refer to prejudice against white people trivializes actual racism.

Racism and prejudice are two different concepts. In her book Race, Class, and Gender in the United States, author Paula S. Rothenberg defines racism as “not only a personal ideology based on racial prejudice, but a system involving cultural messages and institutional policies and practices as well as the beliefs and actions of individuals.” Racism is described as “prejudice plus power,” with “power” referring to white privilege.

It is true that Merriam-Webster defines racism as “hatred of or discrimination against a person or persons based on their race.” However, dictionary definitions do not always capture how certain concepts are actually used and viewed in society. Dictionary definitions also do not account for centuries of oppression and subordination. Merriam-Webster also defines “depression” as “a state of feeling sad,” but depression and sadness are not actually equivalent. In real life, more specialized definitions, such as sociological or medical definitions, are necessary.

When I first heard of the distinction between racism and prejudice, I did not understand its significance. I did not think it mattered if we used the word “racism” for some groups of people and “prejudice” for others. But when a white person becomes indignant about a joke about their unseasoned food, and falsely labels it “racism,” it belittles the people who grow up hating their appearance due to the color of their skin; the people who struggle to get a job because of their “ethnic” name despite having sufficient qualifications; the people who have to live in fear of a justice system that is supposed to keep them safe. These are real instances of racism.

Every time I come across a joke about white people on social media, there is always somebody in the comments section saying something along the lines of, If I made a joke like that about [another race], everyone would call me racist. While this is true, it is not because of the glaring hypocrisy of people of color and undiscovered racism against white people. There is a difference between a comedian making a joke about white people not seasoning their food and a white person making a joke about how Asian people eat weird, smelly food. The first joke will not affect white people in a larger, more detrimental way, because no matter how bland it may be, white people’s food is seen as “normal”. There is no power in the equation, so there is no racism. On the other hand, the second joke is the kind of joke that encouraged the kids who made fun of me when I was younger by ridiculing Indian food. The stereotypes that these kids heard about “weird” foods gave them power over me, which had a larger effect than the joke itself.

Solidarity and allyship are supposedly prized at Andover. But in order to be good allies to marginalized groups, we must all be aware of our own privilege. Acknowledging the difference between racism and prejudice is essential for white students to show solidarity with students of color. In addition, many white students at Andover feel silenced on topics of race because they don’t want to face backlash. This is understandable, because white students are often excluded from race discussions. Admitting that you do not face racism is a good way to preface these discussions, because that way, everyone can speak about their own experiences without equating their own struggles to others’ struggles. Knowing the difference between prejudice and racism would allow white students to speak freely on their experiences without seeming like they are speaking over students of color.

I hope that in next year’s SOTA, the statistic of white students who believe in reverse racism is less than 43 percent. When this number decreases from 258, the Andover community will benefit from healthier allyship and more productive dialogue about race. A deeper understanding of racism and prejudice will help us resist their effects.

May 19, 2017