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May 5, 2017

There is no such thing as ‘reverse racism’

(Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT)

(Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT)

A few weeks ago, my colleagues and I were having a discussion regarding the underrepresentation of students of color in state universities across the United States. I attributed the disparity, in part, to highly segregated public education systems and Supreme Court decisions, which ban race-based college admissions decisions. In response, my colleague (who just so happened to be a white, heterosexual and male-bodied individual) stated that he does not believe in affirmative action programs because it is a form of “…reverse racism, which results in white students being unfairly targeted because of their skin color.”

“That’s simply not true,” I instinctively replied.

“It’s true to me,” he insisted.

His life experiences led him to accept concepts such as “post-racism” and “reverse-racism” as truth. That was his truth, but it is certainly not mine.

I am a person who is very particular about language and words. I pride myself on knowing the history and underlying meaning behind words before I use them, especially if those words directed at someone.

“Reverse racism,” just likepost-racial,” is an asinine term for a bankrupt notion. People of color cannot be racist because racism is institutional. Racism is systemic. Racism is normalized. People have to understand that the term racism is an indicator: it identifies a network of structures and institutions (the state, the police, universities, corporations, banks, etc.) used to oppress and marginalize entire populations. Allow me to further illustrate this:

Black people cannot enslave, colonize, marginalize, imperialize nor politically and/or economically disenfranchise white people. We do not have the capacity to enact “white codes” or impede on voting rights of white people because we do not have access to privileges, systems and resources to do so. Racism is not one person blatantly being discriminated against; it is an entire group of people operating within a structure where the idea of racial inferiority is woven into the fabric of the society, so much so that it makes it difficult for a person not to discriminate.

The rise of “reverse-isms” is indicative of the current racial/political climate in the United States in that whenever a person of color or a member of an oppressed group demands resources which will help fulfill their needs as human beings, the automatic assumption is it has to be a zero-sum gain. If we give something to ‘the minorities,’ the majority group will be losing out.

One of my favorite examples of such a mentality is this: It’s unfair that Black students have a Black Student Union when white students do not. To put it simply, the University of Massachusetts is a white Student Union.

The same narrative is true for other “-isms” that exist in our society. If the College of Natural Sciences launches an initiative geared to bring more women/female-bodied individuals into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, it is not reverse sexism. It is merely a method to provide an equitable playing field for those whose lives have been systematically devalued by a society, which places the emphasis on straight, white and Anglo-Saxon males.

Please do not misunderstand: Do some people of color have unsubstantiated beliefs about individuals based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or cultural backgrounds? Of course. Is there hate, intolerance, discrimination, stereotyping, bigotry and prejudice found in these communities? Of course. However, racism is not a term that can apply to people of color because we still operate from an oppressed position in this society as compared to white people.

I personally do not believe my colleague is racist. However, one does not have to be racist to benefit from a racist system. This is why when he looks in the mirror, he sees a man. When I look in the mirror, I see a Black man. The same holds true for my female-bodied colleagues, as it is a fact that this society does not let us forget.

Unless one is arguing that people of color are “naturally inferior” to white people (which is an explicitly racist position), there has to be an admission of some mechanism which limits opportunity. That mechanism is racism: the existing social, political and economic rule systems that discriminate against people, either overtly i.e. racial profiling or covertly limiting the Black electorate through redistricting, red-lining, etc.

We admire and revere the individualist who succeeded by pulling themselves by their bootstraps. However, I cannot pull myself up if someone takes my boots away and prevents me from obtaining another pair.

When one blows the “reverse-ism” horn, they succeed in making the issue all about them. They draw attention away from the fact that there are groups of people who are not represented in certain arenas due to persistent historical and institutional barriers.

Josh Odam is Collegian columnist. He can be reached at jodam@umass.edu.

Comments
17 Responses to “There is no such thing as ‘reverse racism’”
  1. Kris says:

    Your headline is at least right. There is no such thing as “reverse” racism, because the institutions you describe are just plain racist. What do you want to do when you get out of college, Josh? I hope it’s in academia or professional activism. When any other employer Googles your name and see a statement like “People of color cannot be racist…,” I don’t think they’re going to want you too badly. Plain racism doesn’t have to be institutional, INSTITUTIONAL racism does. Stop treating racism as your ace in the hole to win arguments, and stop using it as an excuse for your hardships. By the way, Secretary of Diversity is not a real thing.

  2. Kevin Bush says:

    Ministry of Academic Justice Kommissar Ms. Crabtree says ..all students of Chinese descent must now attend all classes blindfolds and ear plugs!..

  3. will says:

    One of the dumbest columns I’ve ever read. Good luck Josh.

  4. Ioannis Gatsiounis says:

    Kris. Well stated. The writer’s outlook is typical of undergrad’s and seeks to minimize the feelings of all while raising the importance of other’s. It is a cliched argument that is, ultimately, an impediment to improving race relations. Yes there is institutional racism – but it is hardly the only type of racism. When we pretend it is, really we’re promoting a lack of accountability and giving license to hate and racism.

    I frequently do podcasts on race issues that examine the gray and the need for SINGULAR SOCIETAL STANDARDS (and a healthy dose of sensitivity ALL AROUND) if we are to improve race relations. Here’s a recent clip I did on the topic of “reverse” racism should you be interested.

  5. Richard says:

    Cry me a river. Tell it to Bill Cosby, Josh. He’ll give you an earful of truth. This looks like it was lifted from a white UMASS professor’s teaching materials. Racism as a topic is completely played. No one is listening. In a country where white births are now under 50% of the population and we are being attacked by illegals on our southern border, this nonsense about institutional racism is increasingly inconsequential and, frankly, boring. Stop acting as though Jim Crow laws were still in effect. How about writing something bold (and truthful) about the fact that the vast majority of black on white crime in the U.S. is inherently racist, and most all of it should be classified additionally as a hate crime. Go to the ‘hood and they’ll tell you like it is – whitey gets attacked for being white, nothing more. We’re living it down here in NYC, every day.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Forget the above comments. This op-ed is on point. What the commenters above fail to realize is that there is a distinct difference between racism and discrimination. The definitions of both words are different, but they are using them as if their meaning was the same. It’s easy for people with privilege to erase the struggles of people of color and then claim that they are the ones now facing oppression. Discrimination against white people exists, as the author explicitly points out, but it is not racism. Racism is systemic, and the day people finally get that is the day we can start moving forward.

  7. Sylvia W. says:

    Is it any surprise that Josh Odam is sold on white, institutionalized racism and the white-oppressor societal model?

    I am a college professor, and this is exactly what is taught in social science and humanity classes in our nation’s institutions of higher education. It is the quintessential stoking of hatred, divisiveness, and an us-versus-them outlook on life. That’s the REAL racism infecting our society. In fact, the same people who fought for integration in the 60’s and 70’s are now the “progressive” academics who teach their students to segregate by race, albeit self-segregate. That self-segregation by color and race comes in the form of Black Student Unions, Hispanic Clubs, etc. These self-righteous college professors have hypocritically stood “The Dream” on its head. Martin Luther King must be turning in his grave.

    A note to you, Josh, although I can tell that your critical thinking abilities have been thoroughly eclipsed by ideology.

    1. There is no “reverse racism”, there is only “racism.”

    Giving preference to ANYONE on the basis of skin color is racism. That is, if you prefer one person on the basis of race, you automatically disadvantage another person
    on the basis of race.

    2. Equality is achieved when the government does not discriminate.

    We have plenty of laws on the books that forbid racial discrimination in public life. Does that mean that there are no longer racists among Americans? No, but unless you engage the thought police to monitor every American’s feelings and intimidate, marginalize or otherwise punish people for disagreeing with your views (an already alarming trend in our universities), you will just have to live in today’s America — one of the least racist countries in the world (I know you’ve been told otherwise, contrary to the facts).

    By the way, how about your next article being on the disproportionate killing of blacks at the hands of blacks? Now, Josh, there is a topic for expounding on racism. But I’m afraid that doesn’t fit into your narrow world view of white oppression, right?

  8. Truth says:

    “Black people cannot enslave, colonize, marginalize, imperialize nor politically and/or economically disenfranchise white people. We do not have the capacity…

    Thanks for admitting you don’t have the capacity. That’s the truth. Neither did anyone in sub-Saharan Africa have the capacity to invent much of anything, including a written language. Every intelligence test ever devised illustrates this lack of capacity.

  9. Ioannis Gatsiounis says:

    What Stephanie above means to say is that there is institutional racism and racism, and all people are capable of the latter. But she certainly didn’t intend to unwittingly suggest that people, because of skin color, are not capable of racism. That would indeed be a very racist position to own.

    We must recognize the racist hurt that people – of all colors and creeds – are capable of inflicting on each other. Failing to do so is to politicize racism.

    Further clarification found here:

  10. Jeremy says:

    you’re right, there is no such thing as “reverse racism.”

    affirmative action, for example, is not “reverse racism” it’s just plain “racism.”

  11. Jon says:

    What hogwash, racists come in all colours and creeds, some sections of society even use it to stop people talking about supposedly ‘taboo’ subjects, branding people who try to point out real facts as racists and xenophobes to gain an advantage and to censor subjects that they don’t want highlighting, let’s face it, if racism was a black only affliction, you would not have the large proportion of successful black businessmen and women that thrive in all countries and sections of society!

  12. Angry white girl says:

    There is such a thing as reverse racism. Remember: racism is racism, no matter what race on what race. You are trying to say that there is no such thing as reverse racism in order to silence Caucasians when hate crimes are committed against us, and we are discriminated against due to affirmative action. They are trying to say that racism against Caucasians, is not really racism, and then try to explain it by making things up such as a “power structure” and “privilege”. It is true that we are somewhat priviliged, but it is a myth that we are given college admissions, high paying jobs, and an easy life just because we are white.

    For much of my childhood, I despised my whiteness. I saw myself as “bland” and “boring” and a priviliged brat because my ancestors are from Europe. All non whites were special, unique, and contribute to the planet’s diversity, while whites were neither of these. When I thought this way, I thought that anti white racism was just putting all the spoiled brats (white people) in their place.

    Go ahead, call me a racist if you want, but when I see racism against Caucasians (or any other race), I will speak out against it. How is denying the existence of anti white racism going to move is forward to racial equality?

  13. Zac Bears says:

    Because this country is white supremacist and comparing a history of slavery, lynchings and segregation to the “discrimination” white people face from affirmative action and “feeling bland” in a multicultural society is a disgusting false equivalence that completely devalues and ignores the history of the black experience in America.

  14. UMass student says:

    Josh,
    This was beautifully written. Please keep writing. Please keep talking. Please keep inspiring people to say what they mean and mean what they say. I wish you all the best. Never let anyone make you feel that your opinions should not be heard.

  15. Jim says:

    I completely understand where you are coming from, Josh. But what is holding back the Black community now that advantages like Affirmative Action are even necessary. Jim Crow laws have been banned for years. What institutional racist policies are holding back Blacks? And I don’t want to hear “cops are racist, judges are racist, blah blah blah.” I want something quantifiable. Something concrete. If anything, it seems as though system is catering to Blacks.

    Also, what of the Japanese community. Not too long ago, waaaaay more recently than slavery, the Japanese were taken from their homes and put in to interment camps as a direct result to Pearl Harbor. Most of them lost everything they possessed and had to start over. Where’s the government sanctioned cheese for them? Why don’t they get any? Why don’t they NEED any? They were barely compensated for their troubles, yet seem to advance out of that struggle quickly. Slavery has been over for nearly 150 years.

  16. nick says:

    I was almost beaten to death by a group of about 7 African Americans, who where shouting ” Kill the white mother f?>*er, Cap that Cracker” Luckily I somehow survived covered in blood. If this isn’t a race attack (I wasn’t robbed of anything) then what is it?
    To me it was straight up racism, I hold no grudges against general black people, have many black friends, enjoy black culture etc, but the fear that causes many whites to be weary of black people isn’t some fictional idea in ones head, it actually happens.
    ( the media almost never reports of racism against white people)
    Racism needs to be addressed from all sides, its to simple to keep blaming whites and the system.
    Racism is a complex issue, not a simple one sided problem,

  17. R Wise says:

    I appreciate your article, Josh. It is apparent by some of these sarcastic and very ignorant comments that the privileged folks do NOT want to admit the truth. To shed light on the fact that “reverse racism” really does not exists only highlights all the oppression their group is guilty of. Like one writer stated: “It’s not that they feel their rights are being taken away; they feel their privileges are being taken away”. On top of that, what do whites lose when society attempts to equalize opportunities for blacks and other non whites? I’ll tell you this: The only reason I can determine as to why some of these white are outraged is because they KNOW that equalizing things gives them fierce competition. If you’re a white person who is more intelligent than black people then why are you afraid something is going to be taken from you? Are you afraid that if given the chance, a black person will in fact prove he/she is just as intelligent if not more? Otherwise, just sit back and watch us fail. We don’t fail when we are determined to make a better life.

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