Reverse Racism is Not a Thing – Why the Terms We Use Matter

Reverse racism is not a thing.  Some of you may have clicked on the article because you knew this would reinforce something you agree with.  Either way, welcome.  In the wake of the white supremacist terrorist act in Charottesville, There has been increasing pressure and debate over racism, free speech, and political correctness.  The purpose of this article is not to shame anyone.  I am not trying to get you to agree with my political views.  I am trying to get you to understand why the terms we use when having these discussions are important.

Some of you probably got pissed off and came here ready to leave an angry comment or debate with me.  There’s probably a few who haven’t even read the article and are commenting just based on the headline.  I love debating.  Aside from studying psychology in my undergraduate college, I also studied Philosophy and Political Science.  This gave me plenty chance to debate in college.  Philosophy and Political Science taught me many important things and I wouldn’t be half the therapist I am without having had some really incredible professors at Stockton College in New Jersey.

One of the most important foundations of philosophical discussion and debate is that upon beginning a debate, you have to define and agree upon the meaning of terms that will be used and discussed.

In this article, I’ll explain what I mean by “Reverse racism doesn’t exist”, the confusion of the terms racism and prejudice, why understanding these terms correctly is important, and lastly, why I am writing about this in a psychology blog.





The Web Shrink - Definitions
Confusing Prejudice and Racism

A problem that I see over and over again as I scan social media is a comment that goes like this “Black people are just as racist towards white people.”  In the general context of how sociologists and social/political philosophers define racism, the statement of “Black people are just as racist towards white people” does not make any sense.  Here’s why

Prejudice, in regards to prejudice towards individuals or groups, as defined by The Merriam-Webster Dictionary is as follows


a (1) :  preconceived judgment or opinion

(2) :  an adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge

b :  an instance of such judgment or opinion

c :  an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.


For those that are saying “Black people are just as racist towards white people.”  I’m fairly certain that they mean “Black people are just as prejudiced towards white people.”  You may think that this is just apples and oranges, but take a look at this.  The Merriam-Webster definition of racism is as follows:


Definition of racism

1 :  a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

  • 2a :  a doctrine or political program based on the assumption of racism and designed to execute its principles

  • b :  a political or social system founded on racism

  • 3 :  racial prejudice or discrimination


    Yes.  The 3rd definition says racial prejudice and discrimination, so essentially they can be taken as one in the same.  However, when sociologists discuss racism, they more often are referring to the concept of institutional racism.  Follow the link or look up the concept if you want a better explanation than I’m going to give.

    In a nutshell, institutional racism occurs when the group with the most political power has created a set of rules (whether written or unwritten) to provide advantages for members of said group while disadvantaging members of minority groups by political, economic, and other institutional means.  Essentially, prejudice and discrimination can come from people of all shapes and colors, but racism is something that only comes from one, whatever group holds the most political power.  S.E. Smith wrote a great article on this subject that’s worth a read.  





    The Web Shrink - Confusion of Terms

  • Problems Caused by the Confusion of Terms

    I’m hoping that the discussion of definitions above has provided some clarity on the differences between racism and prejudice.  I expect that some readers may have the belief that “minorities don’t face any disadvantages anymore and racism is a thing of the past.”  While I disagree with you, that argument is a separate one.  I see two major problems that are caused when these terms racism and prejudice are confused.

 

1. When someone makes a comment, either in real life or on the internet similar to “Well black people are just as racist as white people”  when they actually mean “Well black people are just as prejudiced as white people”  the entire conversation is derailed.  This seems to be due to the issue  terms that are going to be used in the discussion have not been clearly outlined and instead of having a possibly productive discussion about prejudice, the discussion devolves into an argument about terminology and in some cases shaming of someone who may have only been using the term racism when they meant prejudice out of ignorance rather than an outright denial of institutional racism.  Without terms being defined or agreed upon, it’s like you’re speaking separate languages while trying to have a discussion or debate.

2.  Using the term racism when you mean prejudice and are referring to the actions of an individual or group who are part of a minority gives off the appearance that you are denying that the inequalities that exist in our system are real.  I’m hoping it’s the case that for the majority of you who may have misused these words, this was not your intention.  If you continue choosing to use the term racism when you mean prejudice, especially after you’ve read this, you are voluntarily taking an action that will mean your voice and meaning will be lost in the conversation.





The Web Shrink - Question
Why are you writing about Reverse Racism in a mental health blog?

I’m writing about this now for a number of reasons.  The first being that while unfortunately I can’t say I’m shocked about the recent terrorist attack in Charlottesville, I am angry.  Given recent events and the current political climate in the United States we are more divided than ever.  For many, prejudice is being celebrated rather than something to fight both within ourselves and out.

Everyone has some level of prejudice towards groups and individuals that are different from themselves.  It’s unavoidable, it’s destructive, and it’s isolating.  In my practice when I’ve been asked this question countless times

“Well…. after everything I said tell me honestly…. Do you think I’m crazy?”

I’ve given the same response of

“Of course I do.  But keep in mind, I think you’re crazy, I’m crazy, and everyone out there walking around the streets are crazy.  It’s just a matter of what way and how much.  If you’re able to admit that, figure out what way and how much you are, you’re already 10 steps ahead of anyone who continuously denies it.”

I think the same logic can be applied to prejudice.  I don’t think there’s anything more destructive than the individual who completely denies their own prejudice, refuses to explore it, and ignores the chance to overcome it.  This avoidant behavior is not something unique to any race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation.

The best way to gain insight into your prejudice, explore it, and discover ways to overcome it is through discussion and connecting with others (especially those different from you).  I think now, possibly more than any other time in my lifetime, we need to have open and honest discussions regarding prejudice and the hate that it can fuel.  We need to have personal discussions about our own feelings, where they come from, and what we can do about them.  Doing this will help bring us together.  It will help open our worlds to individuals we may have avoided.  Lastly, healing relationships has to begin with contact and communication.  Let’s correct this error in the misuse of terminology now.  It’s really a terrible reason to stop or derail the important conversations before they get started.

 

If you found this article helpful, please share on social media via the buttons below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts whether they be on the article itself, your feelings regarding the recent attack in Charlottesville, or anything else!  Please leave a comment in the comments section.

 

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8 thoughts on “Reverse Racism is Not a Thing – Why the Terms We Use Matter”

    1. Care to elaborate? I certainly do have my prejudices. I’m human. I’ve also benefited my whole life from a pretty racist system. I’m a straight, white, middle-class, dude, that grew up in the burbs of a major east coast city. Very few people in this country have had more advantages. So yes, in sense you could say I’m racist as I benefit from a racist system, and making a blog post about it really isn’t enough.

      1. This is the same pseudo-intellectual garbage that is being posted all over the internet by neo-marxist fauxgressives. Why don’t you be honest and just admit what you’re trying to do here? By shifting the goal posts and making racism and original sin that only the “privileged” group can perpetrate you are essentially creating a class of people that can be openly mocked and scorned without societal retribution. This is Saul Alisnky claptrap, and you as a healer and thinker should be ashamed of yourself. This is disgraceful.

  1. I doubt this will be posted, but here goes anyways.

    Racism is already a useful term for prejudice based on race. Institutional is a modifier to distinguish racism done by institutions, as opposed to individuals, which is just racism. “Reverse racism” is a meaningless term, because it implies a directionality that doesn’t exist. Sort of like “reverse punching”. It wouldn’t matter if a stronger individual is punching a weaker individual, or the other way around. It’s a punch either way. There’s no such thing as a “reverse punch”. There are modifiers for specific kinds of racism (anti-x racism, let x be any race you’d like)

    The reason racism is obfuscated to either “institutional” or nonexistent is to apologize for certain types of racism, whether you like it or not. It’s a form of denial, that it’s “not the same thing,” or “it’s OK when we do it”. It’s not even the same thing as institutional racism (racism within the institution), because if you actually take any time to look at it, you realize that institutional racism would have to be embedded in the law, and therefore unconstitutional. All you’re left with, then, is the racism of individuals. Furthermore, the only actual policies in place that can be considered to be racist are ones that are attempting to force equality of outcome. In other words, are “reverse racist”. Which is just another word for racist, so it’s no wonder they don’t work. The real incentive is not to help people escape the traps of poverty and crime, but to weaponize an oppression narrative. You see this in the hostility against people who are supposed to be in an oppressed class, but break free and try to disarm the weaponry. They would be supported, not attacked, if the actual goal was justice, and not a bludgeon to beat whoever is considered to be “privileged”

    But that’s “derailing the conversation”, another term I’ll unpack. Derailing implies that a “conversation” must be one sided, going down a predetermined track, with a predetermined outcome. In other words, for derailing to be considered to be a bad thing, a conversation would have to be one person talking at, not with, the other. No input is allowed from the receiver, except unqualified agreement. In other words, it’s not a conversation, but a lecture or sermon. The talker gets absolute control or authority, to impose his will on the audience, at least until a “derailment” occurs (Hi!). This creates the potential for an actual conversation. Conversation is not desired by the person in charge, and so accusations of derailment are simply a way for them to assert their authority. An actual, meaningful conversation is “derailment” on both sides by its very definition. Both people have ideas, which, if the other side takes seriously, will change the views, or derail, the other. This can be scary to someone who isn’t willing to give up absolute control.

    1. Of course I would allow your comment. The entire point of this article is about being able to have a conversation with someone you don’t necessarily agree with. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the matter.

      I would argue I have taken a lot of time to look at it. I’ve worked as a therapist in poor and predominantly black and latino areas of Philly. I’ve studied some Social and Political Philosophy, African-American Philosophy, and a good amount of Sociology in college.

      Again, if we are going to use the terms I discussed in my article, it still sounds to me like you’re discussing prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry but not racism. No, it is never ok to discriminate based on prejudice or to harm anyone because of prejudice. People on all sides do this. I agree with you there. But it’s not racism.

      Lastly, racism doesn’t have to necessarily be written into the law. In many ways it’s simply the reverse. Prejudice towards a minority group exists. If there isn’t enough written in the law to protect them from powerful people acting out of prejudice, that contributes to institutional racism.

      As far as the derailment aspect goes. It wasn’t about being single tracked for the conversation but making sure the conversation or initial point is discussed from the beginning rather than an argument over terms that devolves into no further conversation on the matter.

      Above all else, whether we will ever come to a joint understanding on this, thank you for taking the time to read the article. It’s clear that you didn’t just skim it and gave some thought to your response.

      -The Web Shrink

      P.S. I’m curious about your background. I feel a bit uneasy here. I wanted to make this post because I feel like it might be helpful to people who actually do want to discuss prejudice but are using terms incorrectly. I also want to respond to comments and have discussions, but I also find it somewhat awkward, lacking, for 2 or several white people (if it is the case you’re also white) to be discussing institutional racism (when we’ve never actually experienced the downsides).

  2. I’m not sure I fully understand your argument, so please feel free to correct me.

    First of all, “reverse racism” would be tolerance wouldn’t it? There is just racism. Even if we accept your premise that non-whites aren’t racist but are “prejudiced” then if we agree that’s the case then why is this any more acceptable? So, can we agree here that people are being hateful and bigoted towards a group? What difference does it make if the term “racist” isn’t used to describe them if they are still hateful and bigoted?

    When you say “institutional racism”, then what are the laws and legislations in place that mean that these institutions are racist? It seems to me that the “affirmative action” or “positive discrimination” laws are the only signs of “racism” in these institutions. I’m happy to be shown evidence that this is not the case and would like to think that I’m someone who is prepared to change their mind based on new evidence being presented to me. I am all for rooting out racism from any institution and from society in general, but without examples of laws and statistics on how this racism exists then we are left with just the “feeling” or “idea” that it’s there. How is anybody supposed to put a stop to it if we don’t even know what it is we are trying to stop?

    Also, what about other countries and regions? White farmers in South Africa and Zimbabwe have had their land taken from them by force, they have also been kidnapped and murdered merely for being white and having the “wrong” skin colour. Would you agree that this is a sign of racism? Bear in mind that the white people in these countries are the minority in terms of numbers and have considerably less political influence. So, in these cases, is it impossible for white people to be racist in these countries based on your argument?

    I was born in Tower Hamlets in London, the population here has one of the lowest percentages of “white British” residents in the UK. Around 31% identify as “white British” while 32% identify as “Bangladeshi /Asian”. In terms of Members of Parliament who represent the borough, one is Bangladeshi /Asian British and the other is white British. As a white British man, as my demographic group is smaller than the Bangladeshi group and as the number of MPs is equal is it not possible for me to be racist either?

    I don’t understand why it matters whether someone saying something hateful and bigoted is termed as “prejudiced” or “racist”. I’ve seen this argument put forward quite a few times now and all it does it enable people to be hateful towards another group based entirely on skin colour alone and claim that it’s somehow acceptable because they are not “racist” even though their views exhibit the signs of being racist (if we take racism to mean hating a group based on their skin colour alone). I just don’t see how it’s acceptable if a white person is racist towards a PoC or a PoC is racist towards a white person. They should either both be called racist or neither called racist.

    I believe the alt-right is a reaction to the double-standards that many on the progressive left seem to have. It would be unacceptable and called racist (and rightly so) if a white person said a PoC is “evil/lazy/etc” based on the colour of their skin, so why try to play a game of semantics and say that a PoC can’t be called “racist” if they did exactly the same thing to a white person?

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you! This has come exactly when I’ve needed it. I’ve been trying to get this point across just yesterday. Soooo frustrating that people won’t allow the dialogue to happen. They don’t want to hear because it doesn’t suit their mindset. They want to feel aggrieved for some reason. I’m sorry I know this is not a popular viewpoint, but I just don’t get how people think that feeling angry because of the barriers put in their way by the majority means you hate all of the people in the majority when that isn’t the case. By refusing to acknowledge the reality they are effectively minimalising the reality of others. This results in people feeling more anger at having their feelings dismissed as relevant or important.

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