Skip to main content

"Wait, reverse racism isn't a thing?"

As a quick followup on Chanda's guest post yesterday about unintended but real consequences of the words our leaders use, allow me to make one fact abundantly clear: There is no such thing as reverse racism. If you believe in such a concept, then know that you are falling into the same category as the dude (why is it always a dude?) who writes to you about how general relativity is wrong, or that the Sun is made of iron.  

Racism is a system that supports and reinforces the belief that white people are superior to non-white people. It can be manifest through personal actions, but often more importantly it is systemic and undergirds the history and present nature of our country's society and culture. Here's one particularly useful sociological definition (see also Halley, Eshleman & Vijaya 2011):
Racism extends considerably beyond prejudiced beliefs. The essential feature of racism is not hostility or misperception, but rather the defense of a system from which advantage is derived on the basis of race. The manner in which the defense is articulated - either with hostility or subtlety - is not nearly as important as the fact that it insures the continuation of a privileged relationship. Thus it is necessary to broaden the definition of racism beyond prejudice to include sentiments that in their consequence, if not in their intent, support the racial status quo (source).
I like this definition because it is functional rather than theoretical; it's based on research rather than off-the-cuff opinion or personal motto. Racism is best seen and identified by looking for its consequences. For example, a University can claim to support diversity, but if it's faculty is only ~1% Black outside of the African American Studies department, the we can clearly see that it actually supports---passively and/or actively---racist mechanisms and policies. After all, race has no biological basis (Lewontin 1972; Barbujani et al. 1997; Sussman 2012). The number of Black individuals talented enough to be on your University's faculty should be equal to their representation in the population. Their underrepresentation must therefore be the result of a program of active exclusion rather than the result a meritocratic selection process.

Racist words and actions are not just rude interruptions to polite society, like a belch during a faculty meeting. Instead, these words actively support this systemic process by reminding non-white people that they are inferior to white people, that they are less than human, that they do not belong. This messaging starts at a young age for people of color in this country, particularly Black, Latina/o and Native people. Whether the speaker of racist words means to or not, their words reflect the economic, political and social power of white people and the lack of power for everyone else. This is why intent does not matter. The impact is real and felt daily by people of color. It is manifest in higher rates of hypertension in Black people, increased rates of depression in Black children, and lower performance in schoolwork and standardized tests. 

Thus, it is ridiculous and perverse to accuse a person of color of being racist. How can people who have no power, and have never held power in this country systematically oppress white people? How can our words toward white people ever possibly communicate to them that they are inferior, when they are, in fact, systematically advantaged as a group in every aspect of American life?

It's perverse because the word "racism" is what allows us people of color to name the source of our pain. Having words to describe emotional and mental distress gives us a tiny bit of agency, a sliver of relief in a world designed to relegate us to a lower position in society. Otherwise it just feels like chaos. Accusing, say, a Black woman of racism turns the name of our pain back on us, redoubling our pain. It is like pulling a knife out of the victim of a mugging, and then promptly stabbing it back in, all while denying that they are in pain or need of help. 

Accusations of reverse racism are cruel, and result in real pain for people of color. Actual racism and its consequences are nothing like the embarrassment and temporary bruised feelings of white people who are accused of saying something racist. Indeed, anyone with a modicum of curiosity and empathy can see that being accused of saying something racist is far, far less painful than being the target of racist words and actions. In short, accusations of reverse racism are a mechanism of supporting and propagating actual systemic racism. We need to move past the childish notion of "reverse racism" if we are ever to move toward social justice for all people in our country. 


Popular posts from this blog

On the Height of J.J. Barea

Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea standing between two very tall people (from: Picassa user photoasisphoto).

Congrats to the Dallas Mavericks, who beat the Miami Heat tonight in game six to win the NBA championship.

Okay, with that out of the way, just how tall is the busy-footed Maverick point guard J.J. Barea? He's listed as 6-foot on, but no one, not even the sports casters, believes that he can possibly be that tall. He looks like a super-fast Hobbit out there. But could that just be relative scaling, with him standing next to a bunch of extremely tall people? People on Yahoo! Answers think so---I know because I've been Google searching "J.J. Barea Height" for the past 15 minutes.

So I decided to find a photo and settle the issue once and for all.

I started by downloading a stock photo of J.J. from, which I then loaded into OpenOffice Draw:

I then used the basketball as my metric. Wikipedia states that an NBA basketball is 29.5 inches in circumfe…

The Long Con

Hiding in Plain Sight

ESPN has a series of sports documentaries called 30 For 30. One of my favorites is called Broke which is about how professional athletes often make tens of millions of dollars in their careers yet retire with nothing. One of the major "leaks" turns out to be con artists, who lure athletes into elaborate real estate schemes or business ventures. This naturally raises the question: In a tightly-knit social structure that is a sports team, how can con artists operate so effectively and extensively? The answer is quite simple: very few people taken in by con artists ever tell anyone what happened. Thus, con artists can operate out in the open with little fear of consequences because they are shielded by the collective silence of their victims.
I can empathize with this. I've lost money in two different con schemes. One was when I was in college, and I received a phone call that I had won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. All I needed to do was p…

The GRE: A test that fails

Every Fall seniors in the US take the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), and their scores are submitted along with their applications to grad school. Many professors, particularly those in physics departments, believe that the GRE is an important predictor of future success in grad school, and as a result many admissions committees employ score cutoffs in the early stages of their selection process. However, past and recent studies have shown that there is little correlation between GRE scores and future graduate school success.
The most recent study of this type was recently published in Nature Jobs. The authors, Casey Miller and Keivan Stassun show there are strong correlations between GRE scores and race/gender, with minorities and (US) white women scoring lower than their white male (US) counterparts. They conclude, "In simple terms, the GRE is a better indicator of sex and skin colour than of ability and ultimate success."
Here's the key figure from their article: