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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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