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As we go through Jona Olsson's essay on spotting the Detours regarding racism in America together, one day at a time, one point at a time, there are clearly some elements that are more frequently a problem than others. This time, we're looking at one that has been getting a lot of play lately.

3) Reverse Racism

(a) “People of color are just as racist as white people.”

(b) “Affirmative Action had a role years ago, but today it’s just reverse racism; now it’s discriminating against white men.”

(c) “The civil rights movement, when it began was appropriate, valuable, needed. But it’s gone to the extreme. The playing field is now level. Now the civil rights movement is no longer working for equality but for revenge.” or

(d) “Black Pride, Black Power is dangerous. They just want power over white people.” (Include here any reference to pride and empowerment of any people of color.)

Reality Check and Consequence

(a) Let’s first define racism:

Racism = Racial Prejudice (white people and people of color have this)


Systemic, Institutional Power (white people have this)

To say people of color can be racist, denies the power imbalance inherent in institutionalized racism.

Certainly, people of color can be and are prejudiced against white people. That was a part of their societal conditioning. A person of color can act on their prejudices to insult even hurt a white person. But there is a difference between being hurt and being oppressed. People of color, as a social group, do not have the societal, institutional power to oppress white people as a group. An individual person of color abusing a white person - while clearly wrong, (no person should be insulted, hurt, etc.) is acting out a personal racial prejudice, not racism (by this power definition.)

(b) This form of denial is based in the false notion that the playing field is now level. When the people with privilege and historical access and advantage are expected to suddenly (in societal evolution time) share some of that power, it is often perceived as discrimination.

(c + d) c is a statement by Rush Limbaugh. Though, clearly he is no anti-racist, both c + d follow closely on the heels of “reverse racism” and are loaded with white people’s fear of people of color and what would happen if they gained “control.” Embedded here is also the assumption that to be “pro-Black” (or any color) is to be anti-white. (A similar illogical accusation is directed at women who work for an end to violence against women and girls. Women who work to better the lives of women are regularly accused of being “anti-male.”)

Here we have a major stumbling block to any discussion of racism in America. The definition of "racism" is not seen the same way by white people and black people. If we can't even agree on what the word means, how can we even begin to talk about this issue, let alone resolve it? Decades, even centuries have passed with this defining issue being... well... a defining issue.

This definition problem speaks directly to self-image and the myth that white people are, by default, always good and always right. If "reverse racism" existed, then nobody is better or worse because everyone is doing it. We are collectively sharing in the bad behavior. But, that doesn't jibe with the fact that oppression is something black people have no ability to wield over white people in this white supremacist nation, and it's oppression that creates the problems we are discussing when it comes to this topic.

It's important to be very clear: the United States, being a white supremacist nation, is part of the reason why many white people refuse to examine the proper definition of racism. If you can overlook the privilege of the position that white people have in our society, you can continue to believe that the playing field is actually level and that everyone has a fair chance to succeed.

Inherently, we know that the US is a white supremacist nation. And that is also why there is fear of "retribution" on the part of white people, afraid of "revenge" from black people. Better to continue to oppress and avoid any chance of that occurring.

Of course, all of these assumptions of why black people are "causing issues" or "what they might do if they had the chance" are based in white fear fantasies, in "what would I do if that were me" imaginings, in echo chamber discussions with other white people who may not even know or speak with any persons of color who are friends, neighbors or relatives. And that has its roots in our distant history.

The big issue that Jim Crow created, aside from the obvious advantages of property ownership, better schools and all of the elements that white people demonstrably benefited from during that era, is that there was no opportunity for white people to empirically view exactly who black people were, just how they behaved, just what they wanted for their lives and families, just how hard they were willing to work for this country, for their freedom, for themselves. After all, look how hard they worked as slaves. They literally built the cities, roads, and provided vast wealth from their labor. It's both saddening and telling that when they simply wanted to be treated as the humans they are, black people started being treated with hate and ridicule, being called "lazy" and stereotyped as "do nothings" by white people.

To me the issue of defining the word racism is possibly the single biggest element that is preventing our discussion of race in America, and that has to be by design. It's easy to clarify any word, to find its meaning, to know what we collectively are discussing when it comes to any topic. How could it be so challenging to understand the meaning of this one word?

Will we all come to an agreement on what racism even is? Or will we continue to postpone the discussion we must have in order to work through this issue once and for all?

Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory

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