I don’t put much stock into the idea of “reverse racism”…at least not the brand that most young white Americans champion these days, and it’s mostly because I just find it very, VERY difficult to see how they can compare the hundreds of years of physical and psychological abuse leveled against people of color, not only in this country, but across the globe…to the hurt feelings (often lovingly referred to as ‘white tears’) that rise after a person of color or someone else offers them a reality check (see Jane Elliot’s GREAT work here and here.) It’s annoying. It seems like anytime someone gut check’s a racist statement uttered by a white person (even if it is accidental as it often times is) the gut checker is accused of being a reverse racist. It’s a ludicrous notion which I believe is brought about by inadequate education on the term “racism” and all that it encompasses and implies. After one carefully examines the history of racism abroad and in America I believe it’s fairly easy to come to the conclusion that it’s impossible for black people to be racist.
Or at least that’s what I was led to believe up until recent months.
While I’ve always been interested in race relations, as I mentioned in my last post, it wasn’t until recently that I felt the need to publicly add my voice to the larger conversation in an attempt to help progress. Seeing detriment in only clinging to my personal beliefs and ideas, as a part of my efforts I sought, and am very much so presently seeking, communities within the burgoening social mediasphere where I may learn and help others to learn about the debilitating disease that is racism in modern society. I’ve been on Tumblr for quite some time and I quickly fell in love with this method of blogging, but my blog at the time was primarily just a blog of personal tastes. During the time that I began to expand my activism I was able to locate blogs that catered to social justice/awareness and raised critical points and valuable commentary. The ones that I began to follow delivered their truth in a quirky/jazzed manner that was also informative and I found that to be refreshing.
But then my experience went a little sour. I noticed that one (or two?) blog(s) in particular began to post, reblog and respond to submissions/asks in a way that increasingly became counterproductive to social progress, particularly when it came to interacting with some of their white followers. In comparison, while one blog was able to gut check and enlighten simultaneously, this particular blog appeared to ultimately alienate white bloggers from the race conversation, regardless of if they were way off base in their commentary or not. What makes this even more frustrating is there seemed to be a concentrated effort to target these white followers as with Tumblr one has pretty much complete control to moderate whose comments can be displayed on your blog and engaged by your followers through your blog. The blogger’s followers often use the anonymous feature to detach their blog/identity from their comments, which I do admit sometimes are presented sideways; but it doesn’t matter in the case of this blog because if you challenged this particular blogger, or you said something that they deemed “ignorant” or “stupid”, you were either ignored or came under their harsh, sardonic fire. I for one sent in a message (sans anonymity) expressing my concern regarding their treatment of their white followers and whether their approach was ideal in furthering social harmony. My comment was never acknowledged. The blogger chose not to engage me either in public or private. It kind of smells of cowardice to me, but in any case, I decided that I would continue to follow this blog and only unfollow once they really crossed the line because, like I said, some of their material was good…
And then it happened.
I’d had it. Enough is enough. In case you don’t really follow Tumblr blogging patterns the material closest to the right of the screen is that which was posted by the original poster. In this case, the original blogger decried the treatment of white people who wore dreads. No big deal, right? It’s a free country. This kind of freedom is where America shines.
But then you have bloggers (I’m assuming all black?) who responded in a fashion that I found to be exceedingly rude. The backlash began with a blog that specialized in (apparently black) dreadlocks and the rude, dismissive comments trickled down until it found its way on my dash by way of the aforementioned militant blog. Feeling really annoyed, I decided to respond with my own message attached to the blog.
And I meant every last bit of what I said. So there. I was hoping to get some kind of reaction or feedback from the offenders, but they remained quiet. I don’t know if they just disregarded me or if they recognized the reason in my comment and decided to chill, but either way the response to my post was relatively quiet until I received this email.
At first I was pretty taken aback to be approached in this manner. Then I got really excited because someone was engaging me. But then I got bummed because the sheer…lack…in this…comment weighed me down with such a “so much work to be done” feeling.
In any case duty called and I had to answer. I launched into a lengthy explanation, complete with citations of internet sources, as to why the posting trend was, in fact, bullying; how white people wearing dreads isn’t a case of negative cultural appropriation; how dreadlocks have been popular among various ethnic groups for hundreds of years and so on and so forth (see the full response here). While cultural appropriation in its negative incarnation runs rampant in America at the (subconscious?) will of white Americans (see the likes of Miley Cyrus) I could not see how white people, or people of other races other than blacks, donning dreadlocks constituted as a legitimate offense. I’m just a fan of dreadlocks all together, and even though my opinion tends to lean toward the fact that black people “wear them better”, it doesn’t make me feel that black people are entitled some kind of copyright to the hairstyle.
But alas, the more energy I put into trying to demonstrate the true, main offense here (bullying), the more I began to consider how this may be only part of a larger problem. This hostility toward white people who don’t just sit back and take the berating of militant brown activists may very well be a manifestation of racism toward white people, or “reverse racism” after all. To better understand my thinking let’s look at some definitions.
Merriam-Webster (my main go to for definitions) defines “racism” in short, as follows:
“poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race” or
“the belief that some races of people are better than others”
The long definitions are
- “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race” and
- “racial prejudice or discrimination”
Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races”, and further “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”.
Now let’s put these into context. Given these definitions, at first glance, when a white person cries “reverse racism”, it doesn’t necessarily seem palpable that the definitions can be applied to a case of white people being the victims of racism in the same way that it applies to black people being the victims of racism. The main reason for this, most believe, is because white people make up the majority of the population in America, they almost always have and, in addition to that, they overwhelmingly and historically hold a vast majority of power in almost every regard in the country (the president is exempt as his powers are granted to him by the citizens of the country who, again, are overwhelmingly white…so the will of the white people, so to speak). HOWEVER, once the definition is dissected down specifically to the parts mentioning “prejudice”, “discrimination” and “antagonism” or “poor treatment” towards a certain people, it beings to make sense to me. The drastically uneven ratio of white to black versus black to white ill will due to racism doesn’t absolve the black to white portion of the equation. Empassioned with their angst, (young?) black people can, have and do, without a doubt, make white people a target of their aggression, whether it’s “justifiably” fueled by white on black racism, or just for kicks. To try and completely disgregard the notion is just silly. I’m well aware of the fact that historically white people have been THE champions of racism and its infiltration of social systems and institutions, but racism is a human construct. It is not an innate part of our nature. Racism is learned by humans. As a black person, if I deny even the smallest idea of “reverse racism” am I denying, too, that I’m somehow more human or less human than white people? Am I implying that since I am a part from the “white race” that I am incapable of learning racism? Isn’t that…racism?
I get it. In lots of ways black people (and other people of color) are just as downtrodden now as we were 60 and 70 years ago. Things are better, but they’re not at all great. The little successes that we have, we’ve had to fight and scrap tooth and nail for it and that makes us a proud people–but it shouldn’t take us to a height where we see ourselves as being above “reverse racism”, a term that is believed to have been coined in 1966 by Hosea Williams, the Southern program director for MLK’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in the April 25 publication of The Chicago Dailey Defender. I won’t accept it. That simply isn’t The Dream Dr. King laid out for us during his short time here on the Earth. Frustration runs high and well in our black American lives, and understandably so, but the answer is not found in leveling harsh comments and attitudes towards our white brothers (for their obstinance or ignorance) while hiding behind a shield of self-righteous entitlement. That will take us, if anywhere, backwards…certainly not forward.
Don’t get it twisted. I’m not arguing on behalf of white people to claim “reverse racism” any time they get their feelings hurt or they’re being rightfully chastised for deliberately or offhandedly being racist, nor am I advocating the allowance of rampant appropriation of black culture in America for the pocket padding of some otherwise irrelevant public figure. What I am standing up against is abuse at the hands of young black Americans of the legacy of sound activism forged by Dr. King and so many of his contemporaries in the name of modern social justice. Slamming white people isn’t where it’s at.
I believe there’s a better way and we had better find it and exploit it before destroy each other.
p.s. In case you didn’t notice, my Tumblr presence is zeloveinitiative.tumblr.com and you’re welcome to follow me there if you’d like. It’s a place that reflects my random, less serious, quirky side where I sometimes engage in some of the same material here (as you can see). See you there?!