Reply turned post, reverse racism style

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:

The myth of reverse racism.

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!


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21 responses to “Reply turned post, reverse racism style

  1. Hey, thanks for linking me. I was just about to do the same for you, so again, “great minds,” etc. 🙂

    I assume you mean Peggy McIntosh’s white privilege checklist? (That link doesn’t work … funny, I had linkage trouble today too.) I had used McIntosh’s article with my students, and that is *precisely* when they brought up “reverse racism.” It was a classic case of resistance to questioning one’s own privilege. I don’t mean to hold myself above my students, because 1) I’ve been there, and 2) no amount of self-reflection will ever put us somewhere *beyond* racism as long as it’s endemic in our society. Resistance is a predictable reaction, so my frustration is very much with my own failure to move the conversation beyond that derail.

    Anyway, thanks for a thoughtful post. And thanks also for the link to Tim Wise. I’ll pass that on to my students.

  2. Pingback: “Reverse Racism,” Redux « Kittywampus

  3. Ah yes, reverse racism. Often accompanied with what I now term “racism reversal”.

    I’m not racist, you’re racist! For mentioning race! Padow!”

  4. Well, those who study Social and Political Philosophy on a scholarly level (as my pre-law self does) can attest to the fact that it’s a whole lot more complicated than saying “one race has it worse off than us.” In fact, Taylor (and a host of other philosophers) would argue that’s nothing more than a racist statement on the grounds that we, as white people, paint the whole black fight as having the same goals and same ideas. There are many, many more layers to oppression, and it doesn’t always have to do with skin color.

    I’ve taken Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege checklist and I can tell you that my upbringing did NOT afford me much of that “white privilege.” Being born white didn’t give me some sort of free pass, meaning no, I could not move into a “more white” neighborhood when my whoever-was-raising-me-at-the-time felt like it. Teachers treated me as a second class citizen that needed to be watched because the homeless girl might steal something – this is what being born into ANY kind of poverty will do for you. I go to school at 31 years old because I could never afford to do it before, and I’m only in school because my hard-earned scholarships pay for every penny. Everything I have I worked my tail off for. But everyone who grows up in a middle class neighborhood assumes that all people with light skin have it like they do.

    IF you want to go talk to some nice little middle class girl who got to go to high school and was guaranteed a bed to sleep in every night, then I’m quite sure she’ll have no problems with her white privilege. But so far, all it’s gotten me is people expecting that I had it a whole lot easier than I did. Anyone who’s grown up poor – black or white – will tell you that the minute you start doing okay for yourself, people will act like you have no perspective on poverty, pain, or oppression. Being a girl born a girl, conceived by a 13 yr old child, gave me all those things before I came out of the womb.

    Do I think there’s still plenty of racism around? Sure, but I’m not letting anybody tell me that I had it so much easier because of the color of my skin. It’s a sweeping statement that is untrue and unfair. But there are certain people who cannot handle a deeper look at problems like this. They want to believe that all white kids are well off, and all black kids need saving. If only it were that simple.

    • MomTFH

      Well, we will agree to disagree. Racism is a lot more than class and poverty. I never said this was simply about “one race has it worse than Feminist Breeder” or “one race WINS for having the worst treatment.”

      When I was referring to scholarly writings on racism, they discuss power differentials and not just one person responding to another person’s race.

      I am sorry you were raised poor, but I think using that to argue down discussions on racism is misplaced. I don’t think everyone thinks all white people had it easy, or that anyone would argue poor whites have it easy, or anyone thinks you had it easy. But, that’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about racism.

      You may not have had the money to move to a safer, white neighborhood then, but you are only 31, and I think you have left, right? You were able to move out to a place with more people who looked like you, accepted you, and where there is a lower crime rate. Black people do not have that option. Even if they make tons of money, they have to move to a place where they do not fit in to get safer. You never can earn out of the black bracket. You now are not followed in stores for your skin color, and can still watch movies and access media that recognizes people who look like you as the hero, as the normal, as the default. White privilege has nothing to do with how much money you had growing up.

      Do people think you have no voice on poverty when you were raised in poverty? That is wrong, and again, has never taken place on my blog. And, I am confused why acknowledging institutional racism means that people think you in particular have nothing to say about poverty.

      Poverty is awful. Poor children have it really bad. That has nothing to do with institutional racism.

      There is no quota for having it bad. Admitting racism is a problem doesn’t mean that poor white girls born to 13 yr old mothers have it easy.

      I think it is strange that you are saying people can’t look at this issue deeper, when you are the one who thinks were are only talking about poverty and experiencing violence as a child. Racism is more nuanced than that.

    • The Ferret Mom

      “But everyone who grows up in a middle class neighborhood assumes that all people with light skin have it like they do.”

      There. Right there is where you exhibit white privilege. Take a good look at that statement. It isn’t featured in Peggy McIntosh’s checklist, but it could be. That is a white-privilege assumption there, where middle-class whites assume they are the norm. Guess what? People who belong to ethnic minorities do not get to make that assumption. No matter what income bracket they, personally belong to, they know that their ethnic group is associated with poverty, with “ghetto”, that more affluent members of their group are seen more as having clawed their way out of a poorer lifestyle, than having simply been in their current class all along.

      Also, to say “white privilege” does not deny the other isms at work in the world. I am white, female, disabled, lesbian. I am affected by sexism, by ablism, by homophobia. My white privilege does not save me from these. But it does mean that I carry fewer burdens on my back than the woman who is, like me, female and disabled and lesbian, who like me is fat and poor and belongs to a minority religion – but is also not white. Because she deals with racism as well, and I do not.

      White privilege is not a panacea that guarantees a good life. It just conveys certain advantages, which are there no matter what disadvantages you are already dealing with. A dark-skinned girl placed in your exact situation would have dealt with every single one of the disadvantages and inequalities and lacks and hurts that you did, PLUS EXTRA. That is what white privilege means

      • MomTFH

        Thanks for this post, and sorry it took so long for me to post a reply.

        I want to say “hear, hear”, and also say yes, people of color are still considered “ghetto”, even when they make it out of poverty. All one has to do is look at the coverage of Obama’s children and compare it with coverage of the Bush twins.

  5. And by the way, if you want to get technical, I’m of Native American decent. My maternal grandmother was born on a reservation, and raised the way most poor mountain folk are. I don’t think any of the kids who beat me up really gave a crap whether my ancestors were tortured, enslaved, and robbed of their country. Because like everyone else, they thought white skin equaled the enemy.

    • MomTFH

      Most people who consider themselves to be Native American do not consider themselves to be white. If you are only 1/4 of native American descent, you can and apparently did “pass” as white.

      Again, this is not an oppression olympics. Do you think acknowledging racism somehow means we are denying the horror of what happened to Native Americans? How about if we acknowledge the racism and oppression they still face? Does that mean we are saying white poor kids don’t suffer?

      I think you are focusing on violent anecdotes from your childhood and trying to apply it to racism in our country. I am sorry kids in your neighborhood targeted you for appearing white. Kids in my school beat up black kids. We can swap anecdotes, but that isn’t what I was talking about on this thread.

      If you look at violence in our country’s history, systemic violence against blacks, including the torturing and enslaving you mentioned, were overwhelmingly problems suffered more by people of color.

      I am focusing on the big picture here. You sound like you still need to process personal interactions.

  6. I’m not downplaying racism. I’m just saying that the entire premise of “white privilege” systematically implies that “all whites” have X over “all minorities.” It was clearly invented by a person of middle class background who could look around and see privileged sameness among her peers. I see it all the time. Those who never had to struggle for anything have a really easy time making broad generalizations about people they assume are the same as them. Saying All “this race” anything is racist in itself. The word racism applies to ALL race – not just people of color. Nobody’s saying people of African decent didn’t have it bad, but so did a LOT of other people (including my ancestors) who are now considered racists (by people like Jimmy Carter) simply because of their skin color. Frankly, I’m tired of other white people assuming anything about me because we share a similar color skin-tone.

    Like I said, saying “all white people have privilege” is no better than saying “All X people have Y”. There is no ALL in this world.

    • MomTFH

      No, white privilege does not say all whites as a group have x over all people of color. It says there is a cluster of privilege one with white skin is more likely to have than a person of color.

      Just like feminism doesn’t say all boys have it better than all girls, or all men have it better than all women.

      Saying “this race”is not racism in itself, based on the definition I am using for racism on my blog, which defines racism as an institutional bias against a race that involves a power differential.

      Just talking about racism is not racist.

      Do not create a straw man in my argument. Talking about white privilege does not mean incredibly poor white people all have it made, and I think you know that.

  7. And BTW, it doesn’t matter what people “consider” themselves to be if nobody else acknowledges that. Read Charles Taylor’s “Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition” for a deeper understanding of this concept. I do not identify as Native American because nobody would ever look at me and assume I am Native American (save for the very few people I’ve ever come across who are Native American – people can recognize their own kind.) We are essentially only what people recognize us to be. It’s human nature. We have no concept of ourselves without the reflection of others.

  8. MomTFH

    Look, FB, I don’t have a problem with you, I just think you have a lot of work to do before you stop being so personally defensive about racism.

    I am going to leave you with this concept, and ask you to take a step away from my blog on this issue, if you don’t mind. You are welcome to post on other issues if you like.

    Since you brought up being of Native American descent, I thought you may relate to this poem. I wouldn’t have been able to handle this conversation 15 years ago, by the way. I got shown (with much resistance) the bigger picture by bell hooks first. So, there is this concept called “white woman’s tears.” It is when a white woman cannot take being associated with being an oppressor, and turns a conversation about racism into being about her pain. Her pain for being left out, her pain about it not being about her being the victim.

    This poem was written by a Native American woman named Chrystos:

    Those Tears

    of a white woman who came to the group for Women of Color
    her grief cut us into guilt while we clutched the straw
    of this tiny square inch we have which we need
    so desperately when we need so much more
    We talked her into leaving
    which took 10 minutes of our precious 60
    Those legion white Lesbians whose feelings are hurt
    because we have a Lesbians of Color Potluck
    once a month for 2 hours
    without them
    Those tears of the straight woman
    because we kicked out her boyfriend at the Lesbians only
    poetry reading where no microphone was provided
    & the room was much too small for all of us
    shouting that we were imperialists
    though I had spent 8 minutes trying to explain
    to her that an oppressed people
    cannot oppress their oppressor
    She ignored me
    charged into the room weeping & storming
    taking up 9 minutes of our precious tiny square inch
    Ah those tears
    which could be jails, graves, rapists, thieves, thugs
    those tears which are so puffed up with inappropriate grief
    Those women who are used to having their tears work
    rage at us
    when they don’t
    We are not real Feminists they say
    We do not love women
    I yell back with a wet face
    _Where are our jobs? Our apartments?_
    _Our voices in parliament or congress?_
    _Where is our safety from beatings, from murder?_
    _You cannot even respect us to allow us_
    _60 uninterrupted minutes for ourselves_

    Your tears are chains
    Feminism is the right of each woman
    to claim her own life her own time
    her own interrupted 60 hours
    60 days
    60 years
    No matter how sensitive you are
    if you are white
    you are
    No matter how sensitive you are
    if you are a man
    you are
    We who are not allowed to speak have the right
    to define our terms our turf
    These facts are not debatable
    Give us our inch
    & we’ll hand you a hanky

  9. Here is a great post from Alas, a Blog and Angry Black Woman with tips on how to be a good ally. Seems relevant to this and other recent comment threads. Please check it out.

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