As always, over the past few years social commentators, politicians, media figures and members of academia have been creating and analyzing a number of phrases and ideas that seek to explain and address complex socio-political, socio-economic and cultural events. One of those phrases that I've heard coming up in conversations concerning race and ethnicity in America is reverse racism. Often used to explain the practice or perceived practice of "preferential treatment" or consideration being given to people of color in areas of employment and education that have been historically dominated by whites, reverse racism seeks to challenge the so-called racist exclusion of whites, particularly white heterosexual males, from social and political sectors as a means to "diversify" these populations. But the issue here is that the idea of reverse racism is not the core problem in our society in regards to race relations. The core problem is racism itself! You can't have the reverse of something if that something does not exist. And to an extent when whites cry out and employ this notion of reverse racism they implicitly and perhaps unconsciously acknowledge the existence of racism itself. Yet, many of the individuals who speak about reverse racism shy away from actually speaking about racism head on! In some instances I have even seen the notion of reverse racism used in a racist manner.
For example, I recently graduated from Rutgers University and I was selected to be one of two student speakers. In addition to being given the honor of speaking, I was presented an award for my academic achievements and intention to attend graduate school. And to top it off, I was selected by the university as an “outstanding graduate” and profiled by a university publication, The Focus. It was such an honor to receive such recognition and while many classmates, parents and members of the university congratulated me, one student wrote an article on a website called the Johnsville Press in which he criticized my speech and the graduation ceremony overall.
Some students supported the author's criticisms while others supported my speech and the graduation ceremony. But most disturbing of all, one gentlemen employed elements of reverse racism in his argument to suggest that the only reason I was selected to speak and received such recognition was because I am Black and the university wanted to show off its diversity. It shouldn't take a genius to see how racist this accusation is. But it turns out that racism is so embedded in the minds of some people in our society that they can't even see the hoods hanging over their heads.
What this man was suggesting was that I was only selected because I was Black; not because I am intelligent, not because I have spent countless hours working to better the Rutgers community, not because my many accomplishments resulted in me becoming a member of Cap and Skull, the Senior Honors Society of Rutgers which only admits 18 students a year out of the 26,000 undergraduates on the New Brunswick campus. The same society that selects its members based on their LEADERSHIP, ACADEMICS AND CHARACTER. But I had only achieved what I achieved because I was the university's token Black guy, not because I was capable and successful.
And for this undeniable and unconscious racist, myself and the other student speaker, an academically successful young white woman who is bound for success, represented a new challenge against the progression of white heterosexual males in America . For this man and many others like him, reverse racism is a very real and imminent danger for white heterosexual American men, who have been so oppressed throughout this country's history. Yea right!
People of color, and other "minorities" are the ones who have been victimized. Non-whites, women, and, as recent history has shown us, homosexuals are the ones who have been historically locked out of employment, education, housing, and healthcare. And while many white racists want us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, when we make progress and begin to get a piece of the pie, we and our supporters are the ones who are being racist? Give me a break. The truth is that reverse racism is just another way for some folks in our society to ignore the existence and perpetuation of racism in this counry.
I don't want to hear about reverse racism until we talk about reversing the impact of racism altogether. And unless you're honest enough to have that conversation, I urge you to remember that this country was built on the backs of people of color. And those of us who have been the victims of racism are going to continue making progress which means that perhaps someday racial privilege will be eliminated and our children , children of all races will not only compete in the same world, but will be given the same tools and resources to work with.