Reverse Racism: (Is There Such A Thing?)
Good Day Anishpat!
Thank you for your question: 'Reverse Racism' -- Is there such a thing? If you don't mind, let's start off by keeping to the United States, which is what I know best. I don't know how much you know about the history of the United States, but there is one or two things we must sort out before we can even attempt to answer your question. We have to be clear about what we mean by the term 'racism,' before we can even consider anything about it possible 'reversal.'
What is racism?
This seems like a simple question that we think we know the answer to. But if you talk to social justice activists who work in the field of anti-racism, you will learn that we do not. You have to distinguish between racism and bigotry, which, it seems to me, you are talking about, Anishpat. Let me explain. Remember, we're keeping to the United States of America.
As I understand it, anyone can be bigoted. Anyone can hold prejudicial feelings (consciously held or unconsciously held) about other people of different 'races' (a scientifically problematic concept in itself), religions, nationalities, ethnic groups, or even geographical areas (for example a common bigoted expression some urban, city people say about rural folk is to call them 'country hicks' or 'hillbillies,' and the like).
We can go further. One can take that bigotry and apply by way of 'discrimination.' This discrimination can take at least two forms: one that is dubiously complimentary and another that is uncontroversially negative. Let me explain.
1. The dubiously complimentary: For example, suppose I've gotten myself into some trouble of some kind, and I need a lawyer or an accountant. Now suppose I express a preference for and seek out a Jewish lawyer.
A. On the surface my preference APPEARS to be complimentary, an indication of my high opinion of the skill with legal argument and numbers of Jewish lawyers and accountants.
B. First of all, this preference is, by definition a discriminatory bigotry against lawyers and accountants of all other 'races' and/or 'faiths.'
C. In reality, such an expressed preference for Jewish lawyers and accountants is NOT at all complimentary to Jewish lawyers and accountants. Such a preference comes from what is actually 'anti-Semitic' bias. That is because this preference comes from a bigoted image that has dodged Jewish people for centuries -- that they are avaricious and litigious to an extreme that 'regular' people cannot hope to match. In this hypothetical situation, I prefer a Jewish lawyer or accountant because I think of him/her as a pitbull when it comes to the courtroom or in dealing with numbers (perhaps I think that nobody can get you as many IRS deductions on your taxes as a Jewish accountant.
Where does this bias come from? Well, it comes from centuries of medieval European history, when what can be called INSTITUTIONAL RACISM/RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION was applied to them. They tended to be barred from the trade guilds -- it was hard to make a living if you couldn't join a trade guild. So, they were effectively pushed into positions like tax collection and jobs having to do with finance. Obviously, all Jewish people were not/are not good at math, finance, business, etc. A very tiny minority of Jewish people became moderately prosperous in this way, but the majority had a really, really, really, really (Did I say 'really'?) rough time of it. You see there was a jingoistic Christian anti-Jew ('Christ-killers') bias going on. But notice, this 'discrimination' against the Jews affected their ability to make a livelihood! This is a vital point I shall return to!
2. The uncontroversially negative: Suppose I am the owner and proprietor of a private golf club and that I'm interested in attracting 'the right people.' Now suppose I have a feeling about Italians/Italian-Americans. Suppose I have the belief that 'they just don't fit in.' I can act on that by excluding them from membership of the golf club.
Now, please notice two things about this. Remember, we're keeping to the United States.
This discrimination does NOT affect the ability of Italians to earn a livelihood in the United States, the way other forms certainly did in the early twentieth century.
Italians, blacks, indigenous-Americans, Asian-Americans (i.e., Chinese labor forcibly conscripted to work on the railroads), and the like NEVER had the ability to apply any 'reverse discrimination.'
You have to remember that for a long time in this country's history, the dominant political, socioeconomic group (i.e., people of Western European/British descent) had the formal, legal right to 'discriminate' against the non-whites, essentially, in all kinds of ways. Once upon a time my right to exclude even Italians from membership in my private golf club was formally enshrined in the law, backed up by the state as the only legitimate purveyor of violence.
Blacks, Italians (until they were assimilated as 'white'), Asians, 'Native Americans,' Mexicans, and the like NEVER had any legal right to form clubs, associations, trade groups, and the like and exclude 'white' people in the United States. In other words, 'minority' groups never had any legal rights of 'reversal,' if you like. The extent to which minorities did form clubs, professional associations, and the like, which happen to predominantly black, indigenous-American, Chinese, in membership is a reflection to which these groups had been excluded from such institutions of American life FIRST! We have to get the historical chronology right!
But discriminatory laws have been removed from the books (not to mention the fact that we have a black President), therefore we are a 'post-racial' society, and the REAL problem is 'reverse racism' or 'reverse discrimination.'
Well, let's look at that idea critically, assuming that we all believe that words have meaning. The word 'reverse' has a meaning! Did the removal of the discriminatory laws from the books cause a 'reversal' in the power of discrimination? In other words, did the removal of discriminatory laws from the books result in blacks, indigenous-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, women, gay, bisexual, or transgendered people, now being able to 'reverse' discriminate against white, heterosexual, men? Is that what happened? Is that how the situation 'reversed' itself?
Of course not! The very idea is absurd and should always inspire gales of near-hysterical laughter! I'll wait for you to settle down, :D
Its time for definitions
People whose activism takes them in this area, do NOT see racism as even synonymous with bigotry or prejudice.
Racism is defined roughly like this: Racism is the exhibited political, social, and economic power of one group to FORMALLY discriminate against another group or groups of people, based on 'race,' to the detriment of the targeted groups ability to fully participate in the wider society and earn a livelihood.
In the United States, minority 'racial' groups never had such power over white males.
But, once again, race-based discriminatory laws have been removed from the books, therefore there can't be any more white-directed racism against people of color, right? The problem is the 'reverse racism' of people of color, isn't it?
What's interesting here is the way our popular ideology, in a way, both denies the existence of prior racism (after all we're a 'post-racial' society) and yet affirms the existence of 'reverse' racism or 'reverse' discrimination. But again, if words are to have meaning, we should understand that something has to be present and active in order to be REVERSED! You cannot 'reverse' something that does not exist and is not active. In truth, then, the term reverse discrimination contains within it the tacit admission that straight 'racism'/'discrimination' are still in existence.
Something has to be present and active to be 'reversed.' The word 'reverse' is also, therefore, a chronological term, is it not?
Today, no one has the formal or legal power to discriminate against anyone, thereby preventing them from fully participating in American society and earning a livelihood. That's true, but people engaged in this realm of social struggle will tell you that there is such a thing as institutional racism. We are talking about effective 'racism' in the practical sense. Let me explain.
With racism we are talking about the discriminatory use of a power relationship of one group against other groups. Institutional racism says that even though formal laws of racial discrimination are no longer on the books, a habitual pattern of behavior has been set, over the course of centuries, in the public school system, criminal justice system, health care system, the banking system, the housing system, and the business structure, that, nevertheless, discriminate against racial minorities, compromising their ability to fully participate in American society and earn a livelihood to the advantage of the 'racially' privileged group. There are many, many statistical studies that bear this out.
You know, I glanced at one hub dealing with this issue of 'reverse' racism/discrimination. One of the comments said something to the effect of: It's reverse racism when a white high school senior with a great SAT score and the most wonderful GPA, yada, yada, yada.... is denied entrance into Harvard in favor of a person of color with much less sterling academic credentials.
Okay, for that to be true there would have to have been a 'reversal' of power relations. In this case, then, we should be able to look at the faculty, administration, and people who make the admissions decisions and find that they are predominantly, say, black. Is that what we would find if we looked at Harvard or any Ivy League school, or any major college or university in the United States? Was I asleep during the revolution?
But as I reflect upon the term 'reverse racism/discrimination,' and the fact that x has to exist and be active in order to be 'reversed,' perhaps reverse racism means something slightly different. Reverse racism/discrimination, in this instance, suggests that, say, blacks and whites in the United States of America, have roughly EQUAL power relations -- roughly equal power to discriminate against EACH OTHER politically, socially, and economically in such a way as to compromise the ability of EACH OTHER to fully participate in American society. Is that true?
A kind of 'tit-for-tat' situation is envisaged. There is a suggestion of a Manichean struggle: You discriminate against me here, I discriminate against you there.
But has such a thing ever happened in the history of the Earth -- at least this Earth in this particular time-space continuum? Think about it.
I'll leave it there. Thank you so much for reading.
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