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“Reverse racism” does exist. It’s racism.

September 16, 2016

The picture on the left is a mash-up of two results you get when you Google “racist eggs”. The bottom one was what I was looking for – the one above is new to me, but something I was hoping to find.

I was expecting someone to have reversed the racist eggs to put the white egg in the minority. The fact that someone arranged the eggs in this fashion, and the fact that the image appears at the top of the Google page, shows us that there are those who perceive that in a racist egg situation, the white egg can be the victim.

This perception matters. The perception frames the direction of race discussions all across multicultural countries, causing arguments about who can legitimately be considered victims of racism. “Reverse racism”, a term pitched as being somehow the opposite of racism, is the idea that dominant racial groups can and do face racism in society.

The trouble with opposites is that the person who invents the concept opens the door to an infinite chain of opposites. If you can have reverse racism, you can have reverse reverse racism. Then, you can have reverse reverse reverse racism, and so on and so forth. This chain exists because of the need to assign blame.

Racism, reverse racism and anti-reverse racism are all concepts which are based on assignment of blame. “He started it,” say one camp. “No, he started it,” say the other, back and forth ad nauseam. The beginning point of the process is mapped differently by different camps, who refuse to draw a line under it all and instead prefer to rage cultural battle.

Wars, civil wars, neighbourhood fights and border disputes all obsess over which of the two groups started the grievance, and who should therefore pay the bigger price. Civilised society finds compromises, because it can’t afford not to; this often means a swift ending to the infinite assignment of blame, with no one winner determined.

This is something that Tumblr social theorists haven’t yet understood. When people rage against the concept of “reverse racism”, they are engaging too strongly with the racist concept of Who Started It, and therefore, who is able to claim victimhood. One set of people have their suffering legitimised, and the other does not.

In reality, the legitimacy of the suffering is not the relevant point, because legitimacy cannot be determined by an objective party. It is the existence of the suffering in the first place that counts. This is something which is tangible, sympathetic and it is agreed that no one has motivation to to fake being aggrieved. Grievance, as an emotion, is real.

Those who are against the concept of reverse racism confuse several different elements of prejudice and discrimination with each other. First, they think that racist feeling and institutional racism are the same thing. Because there is no institutional racism against the ethnic majority in any given society, people who are against the concept of reverse racism say that none of these people are subject to racism.

However, they are analysing only the practical reality. Institutional racism affects people’s wealth and job prospects. Yet, in their everyday life it is not just institutions that matter; it is social interaction, which affects wellbeing.

When there is no systemic racism inside your institutions, you can still be subject to everyday racist slights, and these can still upset you no matter how privileged you know you are. The most liberal white person in the world would hardly think it acceptable for a black person to lamp them in the street and stomp them repeatedly simply for being white.

Where expressions of black-against-white racism are less extreme, for example simply name-calling, there is no point saying that the victim should just suck it up. The point is that they won’t. People don’t tolerate harassment and violence against them for any reason, and consider themselves victims.

Similarly, you cannot ask them to ignore the motivation. Everyone seeks to understand why they have fallen victim to misfortune or malice, and will take the interpretation most obvious to them; if racialist language was used, it was a racially motivated attack.

It’s all very well for people in privileged areas to nag about how white people always get the best of everything; these are classist arguments. Alienated working class white people become more racist as a result of being ignored when sharing their real experiences with mutual racial tensions, and liberal middle-class sentiments are looked upon with disdain if they are too obviously out of touch.

The expression of anti-reverse racism is out of keeping with general liberal theory. Progressives tend to support minorities more than conservatives. However, unestablished minorities within majorities are underrepresented, if not derided and ignored. The few white people who have been victims of racist aggression are one such minority.

Such theories are subject to what I call a self-defeating prophecy. In a self-fulfilling prophecy, whatever is said becomes true as a result of being said. To use the old sociology example, a pupil who receives a negative label from a teacher will sometimes live up to that label in response, even though they had been unfairly labelled.

A self-defeating prophecy, then, is when whatever is said becomes untrue as a result of being spoken. The ultimate self-defeating prophecy is the claim: “It is impossible to be prejudiced against X group of people,” or “X group of people don’t experience any discrimination.”

To illustrate with example, I will start with the relationship between gay and bi people. Gay people will sometimes say that biphobia (prejudice against bisexual people) does not exist. To be more accurate, the claim may simply begin as stating that they experience less prejudice.

This may indeed be true. However, the eventual perception that bi people experience comparatively insignificant prejudice creates problems when bisexual people dispute it, and straight people start to listen.

Some gay people feel annoyed that the agenda of bisexuals is being served, when in their view the bisexuals had no right over their agenda because it was based on fantasy; their own agenda is more important, and should take central focus and total precedence. The gay response is a classic backlash; they purposefully undermine negative bisexual experience by comparing it to their own, peppered with scorn, derision, dismissiveness and callousness.

As a result of this process, bisexual people are now subject to prejudice: from gay people. Therein lies the self-defeating prophecy; as a result of the determined claims that bi people face negligible prejudice, a substantial prejudice is created – a level that gay people would not stand for if it was happening to them.

This thread can be found in race discussions and feminism (either versus trans people, or versus men). Reverse racism doesn’t exist, and nor does misandry. Trans people have it so much better than women.

It is simply impossible to be prejudiced against men, says Jezebel, while going on to list a load of tired old clichés about men and their inferiority. Or male-born people, says Germaine Greer, while going on to roundly insult transwomen in terms so offensive, a traditional-style Daily Mail columnist felt compelled to describe it as “unnecessarily cruel”.

The problem with people who peddle this notion is that they are supporting a concept that is intrinsically unstable. As opposed to striving towards equilibrium, as we do when we encourage people to be courteous to each other regardless of difference, they instead help create a weighing-scale dichotomy.

The struggle for equality ceases to be positive-sum (whereby anti-discrimination benefits all members of society) and instead becomes zero-sum (whereby an increase in the protection of the rights of one set of people instantly leads to a restriction in the rights of another).

This is not necessary. The first step is to acknowledge the present fallacy and emerging false dichotomy; real struggles versus majority mithering, earned feelings of oppression versus unjustified ones.

The only truth is that the best conversations in equality are fair to all people; they include zero-tolerance to racism, sexism and whatever-ism to all groups of people. Reverse racism is just racism, and therefore exists. Misandry is just sexism, and exists.

To say otherwise is not just self-defeating, but also hypocritical and against basic common sense of ethics; if no one wants to be a victim, no one should make a victim out of anyone else. It doesn’t matter who the victim is, or the perpetrator, or their shared history.

This is a notion that progressives support when discussing war and foreign policy. It begs the question of why they abandon it when it comes to equality and anti-discrimination.


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