The stickiness of so-called “reverse racism”
Unravelling complicity, emotional pain, and the role of modern news media in racism.
“Reverse racism” has been debunked many times. It’s a bogus idea.1 2 3
Unfortunately, it is also a bogus idea that is widely believed.
Like other rightwing tropes such as “the nazis were socialists,” or “trans people are dangerous”, it might even be gaining ground.4 5
The idea is intuitive to white people. And once a person, especially a white person, has heard the phrase, it seems to stick. It’s a pernicious case of misinformation.6 7
I’m not an expert and I don’t really understand it deeply. And I doubt that I’ve ever succeeded in talking someone out of their belief in reverse racism. These days I usually just send believers the link to Aamer Rahman’s bit on reverse racism, from Fear of a Brown Planet. And then I follow up with Franchesca Ramsey’s piece from Decoded, 5 Things You Should Know About Racism.
“If reverse racism were an issue, it would mean that we live in a world where all racial groups have equal, institutional, social, and systemic power. We don’t.”Petiri Ira
The thing about believers in “reverse racism” is that they’re essentially deniers of the power and structure of actual racism. This fits the pattern. White people are regularly underestimating the reach, power, and duration of racism.
On top of this chronic underestimation, there is also emotional resistance. We don’t like feeling pain. And the emotional and spiritual pain that comes with acknowledging our complicity with institutional racism is a very real barrier. We would rather be innocent. We would rather relate and identify with those impacted by racism.8
These days I’m most interested in the way that news media contribute. Talk radio, print journalism, and cable news all contribute to the ongoing popularity of the misguided notion of “reverse racism.” It’s not just media personalities like Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan. White journalists like Rex Murphy, Ezra Levant, and Jonathan Kay, for example, continue to write and talk about the “racism” that white folks experience. And publishers like the Calgary Herald, the National Post, FOX News, and the Daily Mail continue to print articles that use the phrase “reverse racism.”
There’s a lot of cultural inertia behind “reverse racism,” but it seems to be fuelled by rightwing journalism. On one hand, it’s red meat for the base. But it’s also tantalizing bait to draw in new readers. Especially white readers.
If this is right, “reverse racism” is, in other words, a wedge issue. And rightwing news media use this issue to draw [mostly white] people into their audiences, while riling up their existing base.
And if this is right, we all have a duty to keep helping people to understand, as best we can, why reverse racism is a myth.
Don’t listen to me. Aamer Rahman says it much better.
- See, for example Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos’s explainer, “No Such Thing as ‘Reverse Racism’. When the scientific community announced after the Second World War that there was no scientific basis for race and racism, they probably didn’t anticipate the difficulty of expunging white supremacy. But here we are. See Ramin Skibba on the resilience of scientific racism. This Wikipedia article is a nice overview of this history of scientific racism.
- For a succinct overview, read Tina Changoor, PhD, Director of Measurement and Analytics at the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. Or see Rational Wiki.
- This resource by the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre is helpful: Reverse racism is a myth. Also, Manisha Krishnan interviewed Anthony Morgan for a piece on reverse racism: “If your default reaction to these discussions is to see white people as victims of reverse racism, Morgan has some advice: educate yourself.”
- See for example the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada falsely repeat this.
- This is a nice article demonstrating how the New York Times has piled on hate of trans folks; this fits the historical pattern of NYT also hating gay folks.
- “Reverse Racism, Explained,” by Michael Harriot, is a nice exploration of this. See also “People’s Obsession with Reverse Racism,” by Nicholas Hune-Brown.
- See also Robin Diangelo’s original article on white fragility from 2011 (PDF)
- For great insights on our collective race to innocence see Mary Louise Fellows and Sherene Razack in “The Race to Innocence: Confronting Hierarchical Relations among Women.” Their work focussed on “competing marginalities” between women, but it’s wider applicability remains.