I recently came across an online article written by a former high school classmate about racial tension on the campus of her southern college. The title immediately piqued my interest. With race relations currently at the forefront of the media, I thought the piece would give interesting insight into the experiences of people my own age on a college campus in the south.
When I actually read the article, I was shocked, and not in a good way. It was about reverse racism rather than actual racism. To be more specific, instead of discussing the everyday experiences of people of color on her campus, my classmate claimed that she herself was racially discriminated against for being "white and preppy."
She compared being "mocked for drinking Starbucks and wearing sorority letters" to the actual racism experienced by minority groups at her 80 percent white and 50 percent Greek life-involved university. To add insult to injury, she claimed she could not be racist due to once dating a biracial student at our high school, and even included a photo of them together before the homecoming dance of freshman year.
To say backlash on the piece was swift and heavy would be an understatement. Online comments ranged from constructively critical to completely outrageous. Many urged the publication to remove the article, which they felt was a poor representation of their school and its values.
This particular article, which has since been removed by its publisher, serves as a reflection for much of the race-based discussion taking place in the media today. We tend to hear just as much, if not more, about "reverse racism" and its effects on the white community as we do about actual racism and its effects on racial minorities. This is not only completely unfounded in fact, but also entirely problematic in nature.
I’m not going to deny stereotypes about white people exist. I’m not going to deny these stereotypes sometimes hurt. What I am going to deny is the discriminatory nature of these stereotypes. To clarify, there is a difference between discrimination and prejudice, and the inability to understand this difference is one of the most pervasive problems keeping us from moving ahead as a country and closing the social and economic gaps between races.
Prejudice is a negative or incorrect attitude about a particular group. Prejudice is what keeps us telling jokes about white people loving mayonnaise and being bad dancers. Discrimination is a negative behavior or action directed toward a certain group. Discrimination is what keeps large numbers of minorities from living in certain neighborhoods and pursuing higher education.
Reverse racism does not and cannot exist by definition. While racial minorities can certainly hold prejudices against white people, they cannot be "just as racist as white people" or "just as discriminatory as white people" because they do not hold the same economic, institutional and political power.
Often, claiming reverse racism serves as a defense mechanism for the majority group. For those of us who don’t harbor racist attitudes ourselves, it is natural to come to the defense of our entire race in an effort to defend ourselves by making blanket statements like, "Not all white people are racist" and "Not all cops are racist."
It is redundant to say, "Not all cops are racist." To put it in a way that is easy to understand, if you are presented with a plate of cookies, and one cookie on the plate is lethally poisoned, you’re definitely not going to grab one at random. You’re probably not going to eat any cookies out of fear that one might kill you. Obviously not all cops are racist, but there are enough cops with racist attitudes to make it a problem.
It would serve us far greater to recognize that while the majority of cops are definitely just good people trying to make a living, there are some that harbor enough racism to make racial minorities afraid of the entire group. Similarly, it would serve us far greater to recognize that while not all white people are racist, there are enough racist people to limit the upward mobility and social advantages of racial minorities. When we can face these truths, however uncomfortable they may make us, we may finally be able to empathize with disadvantaged minority groups. We may finally be able to move forward together.