On “Reverse Racism” and “Reverse Sexism”

If you’ve been paying attention to things happening in the world in recent years, you’re undoubtedly aware that there is an ongoing debate about “reverse racism” and “reverse sexism”–viz., are such reversals possible and, if so, are they a problem?  It is perhaps already obvious by my inserting the terms between quotation marks that I am not convinced that such phenomena are real, and, living in the south, this is often a surprising opinion to express when the conversation turns political.  For this reason, I thought it might be worthwhile to briefly explain my reasoning behind this position.

I think it’s important to consider that if racism and sexism simply refer to prejudice based on one’s race or gender, then what black folks and women have historically faced is something much more harmful and pernicious than just racism and sexism.  Indeed, to say that the mere prejudice that can be expressed toward me as a white man by a black person or a woman (which almost certainly would nevertheless present no threat whatsoever to the privilege I enjoy simply in virtue of being a white man) is somehow the same as the historical, systematic domination of black folks and women strikes me as incredibly offensive.

Therefore, I think that either a) what women and black folks have faced is in fact racism and sexism, in which case, unless or until black folks and women systematically dominate and oppress white men for hundreds (or even thousands) of years, it makes about as much sense to speak of “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism” as it does to speak of “reverse antisemitism” when a Jew expresses prejudice toward a Christian.  On the other hand, if b) racism and sexism do in fact refer to nothing more than prejudice based on one’s race or gender, then, as I have said, what black folks and women have historically faced is something much, much worse than racism or sexism.

Either way, we need to acknowledge the difference between everyday prejudice on the one hand, and historical, systematic domination and oppression on the other, and quit ignorantly lumping them into the same category.

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