Reverse Racism

beer summit

Reverse racism is a term which refers to racial prejudice or discrimination directed against members of one’s own race. The term came into use as the struggle for African-American rights divided the white community.

In 1966, Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), publicly accused members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) of reverse racism in their efforts to exclude or expel whites from local government in Alabama to make room for blacks. Williams argued that SNCC’s (unsuccessful) ‘all-black’ campaign in Alabama would drive white moderates out of the civil rights movement. ‘Black racism’ was a more common term in this era, used to describe SNCC and groups like the Black Panthers.

The Supreme Court has held that racial preferences in university admissions for minority students do not violate Equal Protection in cases such as ‘Grutter v. Bollinger.’ In 2012, a monumental case involving this issue was heard by the Supreme Court in ‘Fisher v. University of Texas.’ The term gained widespread use in debates and legal actions concerning affirmative action. It appeared resurgent on the political scene with the successful candidacy of Barack Obama in 2008.

A recent study conducted at Tufts and Harvard sought to quantify perceptions of reverse racism by surveying Americans who identified as White or Black. The study’s title, ‘White People See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing,’ indicates its findings: that Whites feel as though they now suffer disproportionately from racism. (Blacks felt that anti-Black racism had decreased over time, but did not perceive increases in anti-White bias.) These results were constant for people of different ages and levels of education.

Critics of the term ‘reverse racism’ have called it a myth or an oxymoron, saying that racism entails systemic oppression and inequality. In this view, instances of discrimination, prejudice, or hate crimes against a dominant racial population do not amount to racism. In the United States, they argue that blacks and Indians are still not equal to whites, let alone able to enslave them, imprison them, or seize their land. Some have argued that fear of reverse racism has been cynically promoted by the Republican Party.

The term has been used actively by White and Black South Africans after the end of apartheid. Accusations of reverse racism have been leveled particularly at government efforts to transform the demographics of South Africa’s white-dominated civil service. Nelson Mandela in 1995 described ‘racism in reverse’ when Black students demonstrated in favor changing the racial makeup of staff at South African universities. However, students denied Mandela’s claim and argued that in fact a great deal of ongoing actual racism persisted from apartheid. Some charged that Mandela’s government moved slowly in other areas of social change, due to fears of being perceived as ‘reverse racist.’ Mandela was later himself charged with reverse racism—during 1997 proceedings of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission and for supporting the 1998 Employment Equity Bill.

Claims of reverse racism continued into the 21st century. Helen Suzman a prominent white anti-apartheid politician, has charged the African National Congress and the Mbeki administration of reverse racism since Mandela’s departure in 1999. In 2004, a group of young white members of the ‘Solidarity Trade Union’ locked themselves into a zoo to protest discrimination against whites. South African critics of the ‘reverse racism’ call it a defense mechanism attributed to white people’s refusal to take responsibility for apartheid. Mixed-race South Africans (designated as ‘Colored” during apartheid) have also sometimes claimed to be victimized by reverse racism of the new Black government. Similar accusations have been leveled by Indian and Afrikaner groups, who feel that they have not been dominant historically but now suffer from discrimination by the Black government.

2 Comments to “Reverse Racism”

  1. The term itself is nonsensical. Racism, a kind of bias, can be applied in any direction, not just majority toward minorities. “Reverse racism” would actually be anti-racism.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.