This is a reply turned post of one of my recent posts. When I posted my picture of a racist display mocking President Obama and the letter I wrote to my local paper, a commenter started talking about reverse racism that she experienced living in “the ghetto”. Here is my reply:
IMO, that was ugliness and prejudice. I am sure it felt awful and I am sorry.
We can argue and disagree on this, but most people who study racism in a scholarly way say that the power differential occurs when you as a white person gets to go home, see the heroes and beautiful people in ads portrayed on TV who look like you, all of the pictures in magazines of people who are supposed to be beautiful who look like you, and go put money in the bank who most like has a white CEO who looks like you, and just live in a society in which you know that, regardless of your lower class upbringing, you have a lower maternal mortality rate than a rich black woman, you have a better chance at getting a job, and many, many other privileges.
When is the last time someone said a president or Supreme court justice who looked like you got their position did it only based on their race, not merit? See how ridiculous that sounds to a white person? Or that the health care plan that you’re proposing is really reparations?
Here is a great essay by a fellow white person, anti-racism activist Tim Wise, who discusses this:
Here is an exercise that helps you look at this. I am sure many of these items, especially those in the beginning, you may be able to say …”See, we’re the same.” But wait until you dig a little further.
White privilege exercise.
(I have had trouble with this link. Right now it is set up for Firefox, since I can’t get to directly link to the .doc. If you do a google search on white privilege score, the exercise is the first link)
Once you leave that library or that situation with those black people and think about it, you know they are angry because of a LACK of power. They don’t think you’re lessor and use that to oppress you. They think you’re an oppressor and use that to attack you. They may make that judgment based on your race, but that does not give them racial power over you.
If an Iraqi soldier ends up alone and unarmed in a bunch of angry Iraqi insurgents and gets the crap beat out of him, that doesn’t change their power differential. Yes, the Iraqi soldier was “overpowered” by the Iraqis, but that doesn’t make it reverse racism.
I have lived in the “ghetto”, (that’s Racism Bingo card O2, by the way) and my husband grew up there. I did the white flight thing and moved from a neighborhood that was 90%+ African American in Miami Gardens Florida. If you want a trip in the police blotter, do a google search on “Miami Gardens” + the word “crime”. And, most of the crime is black on black. It’s unsafe to live there for them, too.
I felt afraid for my young, blond, pale white son there when I saw the kids at the playground glare at him and walk away when he asked to play, and was afraid of the gang bangers who tinkered on cars at the edge of the playground and jealously guarded their turf, cursing loudly enough for us to hear, every time we were there. I still feel extreme guilt for having the privilege and ability to move to a NICER neighborhood where more people look like me. I am proud of my multicultural neighborhood now.
But, can a black person do that? How often can a black person go to a safer place where more people look like them?
And, finally, the main problem I have with the term reverse racism is that it is used to deny that racism against people of color, especially African Americans, is a persistent, real problem with significant negative effects on a huge subpopulation of our country, and in the long run, negative effects on all of us. Your examples are a perfect illustration about how cultural and institutional racism against blacks can turn around and hurt white people. My last post linked to an article on how that racism denial, and I would like to add the competitiveness that lower class white people feel when people talk about racism, is what allows racism to thrive.
Edited to add: Kittywampus (with a little help from) Stephen Colbert does a great job discussing this here. Great minds think alike!