What is a Reverse Racist?

Rac•ism ˈrāˌsizəm
the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, esp. so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief. (New Oxford American Dictionary)

I’ve heard the term “reverse racist/racism” thrown around from time to time (most recently by Rush Limbaugh) and it has always confused me. We don’t use the word reverse this way for anything else I can think of.

Could someone please point out a reverse Catholic, reverse capitalist, a reverse nazi, or a reverse anything else? They don’t exist. You can’t be a reverse anything, including a racist.

What would a reverse racist be? Someone who doesn’t believe that people from one “race” posses certain characteristics and discriminate based on those beliefs?

I know that the people who use the phrase would say that it is when minority groups are racist, but that only creates more questions. Like: why aren’t they just racists then?

Rush Limbaugh seems to agree with the idea that racism needs power, going so far as to point it out after a long series of non-sequiturs defending his reverse-racism accusation. And if you keep reading the Rush Limbaugh’s transcript you’ll also see he says that Obama and Sotomayor do have power. I guess looking for logic in Limbaugh is like looking for hookers on the moon.

It seems that people like Limbaugh just mean racist, so why use the term reverse-racist?

To stir up racial tensions because they are afraid. And because they realize even with a black president America is still a country dominated by rich white people and they’ll sound like assholes calling a black or hispanic person a racist when the truth is white people in the US don’t really face racism at all.

Maybe I’m wrong though. Has anyone heard of a person not getting promoted or hired strictly because of being white? Don’t sing that affirmative action song, though, you’ll just sound stupid. It is one factor in many for hiring, promotion, and entrance to college. It is more a mythical excuse than a reality. Most of all it is bullshit though, white women are the largest beneficiary of affirmative action. So white people are doing alright by it too.

America is fast becoming a country where race isn’t the real issue anymore. It is class. The rich have power, the poor have none, and the middle class shut up and keep their heads down hoping to work their way into the upper class where they can have that power too.

Rush Limbaugh isn’t complaining about race at all. He is complaining that black and hispanic people are reaching more and more positions of power. He is afraid. He sees that the makeup of america is changing and fears that fat loud mouthed jerks might not get radio shows forever. I can’t blame him for being afraid, but I just wish he’d be more honest about it.


Imus Isn't the Problem

Listen. Imus might suck for saying stupid things but talking only about what he said is just dumb. Imus isn’t the problem. The problem with Imus is that he said something stupid and now people want to talk about what he said, and once the media is through with him we will all pretend America is alright again. But America isn’t all right. Race and sex are still major hurtles for Americans every day.

One problem is our reaction is tailored to be completely impotent, another problem is what we are teaching people. “Watch what you say and no one will bother you,” is all we are saying. That is worthless. The problem is the racism and sexism in this country, the words are just the expression of those feelings and ideas that are very real still in America. The reality is that even if these ideas are not voiced they will continue to exist. By shutting down the conversation we are doing nothing to change the situation.

Don’t be fooled. You can shut Imus up but in doing so you haven’t done anything. By focusing only on Imus and the larger issues (race and gender in America) the media only facilitates the band-aiding of those issues and is hamstringing good honest discussion. If they really cared about the issues and not the entertainment value of what Imus said they would be discussing these issues in relation to Don Imus.

If you want to affect change in America on the issues that matter you can not just oppress the hurtful and wrongheaded ideas that people have, you have to meet them head on with a rational, thoughtful, and unemotional dialog. But until then we can just keep telling people to keep their mouths shut and walk around in willful ignorance of the challenges people face in this country based on race, class, religion, and gender.

Imus isn’t the problem, the way we deal with a person like Don Imus is.


Michael Richards Redux

Today NPR had Michael Shermer on Talk of the Nation. On the show he echoed a lot of the things I wrote here about our reaction to Michael Richards. He also just wrote an Op-Ed piece for the LA Times. I’m not interested in Michael Richards, I’m interested in what people think of race in America.

One woman called in to Talk of the Nation to say how she wasn’t a racist, but that she did have prejudices. She said that having prejudices doesn’t make a person a racist.

It seems that for some strange reason people don’t like being called a racist, but they don’t mind admitting that they commit acts of prejudice. When we think racist we think of crosses burning and men marching like idiots while shouting “Sieg Heil.” Yes, those are racists! But are those the only kinds?

Is the store detective that follows the black kid who just walked in (instead of the white kid) a racist? Is she committing an act of racism? Or is she just prejudice? What is the difference? Really, I’m asking?

Does the black kid feel better if the detective just has a prejudice? How is that person not a racist or better than a racist? What difference does that distinction make? We don’t want to call our actions racist because we don’t want to belong to the KKK marching band (and who would?) but they are just the cheerleaders. We are the team.

Shermer ends his opinion piece in the LA Times with a Dostoevsky quote, which I will pass along here

Every man has [thoughts] which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind. (Notes From the Underground)

note: I’ve changed “reminiscences” to “thoughts,” because I think that reminiscences might be a bad translation.

As an interesting side note, there is a test on a Harvard website called Project Implicit which tries to test some of our real feelings. [edit: I seem to have been mislead, this is actually a pretty silly test and doesn’t seem relate to race at all.]


Racism & Classism

I have a lot of opinions on race and class, and I don’t know that any of them are solid, but I do think that both issues are the core America’s problems. There is a lot to say about both and other people can write in detail about both better than I can, so I won’t. But I will share a few observations from today.

Observation one. There is a “check’s cashed today” / money lending / whatever place just down the street from me. I haven’t really noticed it until today. As I passed I saw posters along all three walls, I just glanced but one thing stuck out to me, each poster had one person on it and only one poster had a white person. What’s more the other people were holding shopping bags and money and checks, while the young white man was holding a book. There’s a message there. But I’m not blaming the advertisers, I think that would be too easy. I am wondering what that says about the state of race and class in America. Don’t believe me? Look at a website from one of those companies like The Money Tree or at EZPaydayCash.com, go ahead… find the white person.

Observation two. I caught the end of Bill Maher’s show Real Time with Bill Maher on HBO (a perk of Travis & Monica’s hospitality). One topic was about immigrants learning English. There was the usual arguments pro and con. Pro English shared the usual boring and wrong headed ideas like “my parent’s had to learn and they did” and “it is important and steals valuable resources from our country to cater to others.” The con argument of course was the well thought out “it’s racist.” (side note: it was interesting was how angry the reaction against calling it racist was, when clearly the line is blurry so there is no need for righteous indignation) What was more interesting to me was that this wasn’t approached at all from a class perspective. Whether or not it is racist to decide everyone must speak English, it is certainly classist. The fact is that if you are in this country, don’t speak English, and are poor, English is not an option. There isn’t enough time in the day, not to mention the money that language lessons cost, not to mention the time and energy it takes. What’s more, if you are raising a family you need to spend time with them and save money for children’s college because it is getting more and more expensive while scholarships and grants are getting harder to get. Even if you are middle class you might not have the luxuries of time and money, both of which are needed to learn a new language. The odds are already against the middle and lower class, why make things harder? And further, what are the penalties for not learning English? No job? That doesn’t seem like it would solve anything does it?

I don’t think that Americans think about race in the right way, anyone who’s looked and thought about what they’ve seen can tell you it isn’t as polar as people want to make it. And I know that most Americans don’t think about class, period. I am not saying that I have answers, I don’t, but I think it is time we all started to think about and talk about both issues again. Especially class and what it means to all of us.