Black History Month. Gaines-Oldham Black Culture Center. Affirmative action.
What do all of the above have in common? There’s the celebration of a culture, the tacit memoir of a history of a people, a conception of social justice through opportunity, and catalysts for a senseless dialogue about “reverse racism.”
The idea of this so-called “reverse racism” is a common sentiment that escapes the vapid mouths of the privileged whenever the experiences of people of color are brought up in conversation. “Why isn’t there a white history month? Why isn’t there a white culture center? Affirmative action isn’t equality, it’s biased in favor of minorities.” And so on, so forth.
Of course, that’s only the first part of the equation; there are also those who immediately respond with the clichés “Everything outside the Black Culture Center is the white culture center!” or “There is a white history month; actually, there’s 11 of them.” While the content of such sentiments ring true, they’re far from being candidates for a satisfying answer to the initial query of “why isn’t there a white culture center?” and serve little purpose other than to illustrate one’s checked privilege and sarcastic sense of humor.
Indeed, if you respond with abstractions like “United States is white culture!” you’re actually doing the broader discourse on racism a disservice; you’re skirting the actual issue with an indoctrinated response, when people of color deserve a genuine dialogue as to why reverse racism is a matter of complete and utter fiction.
I myself am incredibly guilty of the above responses, so I’ll dedicate the remainder of this column to deconstructing the idea that “reverse racism” exists in any meaningful sense.
To begin, it’s necessary to have an operating definition for the word ‘racism.’ While I usually offer more lexical descriptions for terms, the dictionary isn’t really going to help here; Merriam-Webster doesn’t use a social constructivist basis for their definition of racism (nor should they), and seeing as how deconstructing “reverse racism” requires a good bit of constructing, I’ll be offering more in the way of anecdotal definitions, illustrative of a social hierarchy.
Racism, above all else, is something that is consistently felt in a negative way for the individual impacted; it’s both an explicit and implicit series of actions and inactions directed at people of color that they have to live with every day, The resulting consequences are discrimination, profiling and prejudice.
Unfortunately, quite a few people envision racism as little more than slurs and hate crimes, and I’ll argue that’s both misinformed and unfair. Hate crimes and epithets, while certainly expressions of racism, are hardly indicative of what contemporary American racism actually is, and to equivocate the two results dismisses the experiences of persons of color.
A far better example of racism might be someone sitting alone in their car waiting to pick someone up; they see a person of color approach and instinctively lock their car doors, wherein they would fail to do so if it was a person of a lighter complexion indicating European descent approaching their vehicle. Still another example could be the empirical fact that a white man with a criminal record will have a far easier time finding white or blue collar employment than a man of color with no criminal record whatsoever.
Racism, then, is an institutionalized and indoctrinated series of implicit and explicit actions that persons of color experience in regrettably visceral capacities.
With such an operating definition of racism, what would “reverse racism” entail? In essence, it would involve the idea that white people live with similar institutional discrimination on a daily basis; that if a white person were to be walking in a gated community in small town Florida minding their personal business, they’d be shot dead by the neighborhood watchman in the aureate name of “self-defense.”
That doesn’t happen.
With that said, what could be a potential solution that we, as MU students, could enforce on campus in the hopes of quelling the “reverse racism” dialogue? I’ll argue the simplest and most effective solution would just be to listen; when a person of color is opting to discuss their experiences of racism with you, resist the instinctive urge to interject with your own conceptions and acknowledge their experiences as both valid and real.
Conversely, as a person of color, let your voice be heard if you’ve experienced racism in any capacity. There are certainly places on campus that can be considered veritable bastions of inclusivity, and I’m fairly positive someone would be willing to lend an attentive ear.
Listening breeds acknowledgment, acknowledgment begets appreciation, and appreciation is the veritable genesis of a nurturing, productive society that values people for their character and output, as opposed to their designated seat in a hierarchy.