Racism: A Definition

“Do you think ‘reverse racism’ exists?” Two weeks ago, The Phillipian polled the Andover student body with a series of questions concerning academics, wellness and campus diversity, with this question included in the mix. The responses were split 50-50, with half of the respondents stating that they believed that reverse racism did exist. I was horrified. At a school like Andover, where we usually strive for social progress and political correctness, the alarming number of students who think “reverse racism” exists shows that our community still has a lot to learn.

In general, many students do not know what racism actually is, often using the word “racist” interchangeably with “prejudicial.” Racism is the promotion of a system of institutional oppression based on race. Thus, in order to be racist, you must have privilege, which in the United States is a societal advantage granted to whites.

People of color in the United States are not in a position of power over white people, which is why reverse racism, a systemic discrimination against a dominant or majority racial group, is a concept that is inherently contradictory. For the same reasons, people of color cannot be racist either.

Still, however, some people point to attempts to rectify systemic injustice, such as affirmative action, as supposed examples of reverse racism or white oppression. This is utterly false: affirmative action and similar policies were not created to make life harder for the majority, but rather to undo generations of inequality and underrepresentation of minority groups in college and in the workforce. Affirmative action in no way permits people of color to “steal” jobs from white candidates: just the notion of that seems ridiculous, considering these policies are only giving people of color the chance to be seen as equal to their white counterparts.

On campus, I have noticed that the term “reverse racism” is frequently used whenever white students feel excluded from certain clubs, organizations or groups that are specific to a race or ethnicity. I have heard numerous students complained how clubs like Afro-Latino-American Society, Alianza Latina and Asian Society are “racist” because they are geared toward people of color. This is simply untrue, however, because these clubs are in fact open to all students. CAMD clubs that involve racial or ethnic discussion are not examples of “reverse racism.” I find them to be examples of community and unity between Andover students since they aim to educate as many students as possible about issues of race, ethnicity and diversity.

Of course, on an individual and even organizational level, there is such a thing as white prejudice, defined as an irrational dislike of a certain group of people – just look at the New Black Panther Party. But again, this is not racism. While prejudice is something that should not be tolerated regardless of its target, there is nothing that systematically oppresses white people. Racism, not prejudice, is the denial of the things you need, such as education or employment.

Because the word “racist” is so often misused in common conversation, Andover needs to educate its students about the realities of racism and what reverse racism would mean if it really did exist. The word needs an “F=E” treatment: within just two years, the student movement has enlightened a large portion of the student body of the true meaning of the word “feminism.” In the similar way that many assumed “feminism” meant the hatred of men, “racism” is often assumed to be a hatred of any race – but in reality, the word means so much more.

In order to tackle the issue of true racism, we need to make clear the difference between racism and prejudice. Once we have established who are the oppressed and who are the oppressors, then we can finally do away with the flawed idea of reverse racism for good and move forward with putting an end to the very real problems of racism that do exist.