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Reverse racism is a condition in which discrimination, sometimes officially sanctioned, against a dominant (or formerly dominant) racial or other group representative of the majority in a particular society takes place, for a variety of reasons, often as an attempt at redressing past wrongs. It has been described as "preferential treatment, discriminating in favor of members of under-represented groups, which have been treated unjustly in the past, against innocent people".
In the United States
The term "reverse racism" 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 the SNCC's intended "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. It was not until the 1970s that discourse surrounding reverse racism emerged most forcefully, especially in reaction to affirmative action, as an outgrowth against colorblindness hegemonic approach in the post-civil rights era.
Instances in which white minorities' right of franchise were threatened or denied include:
- The New Black Panther Party voter intimidation case in 2008 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which Attorney General Eric Holder refused to prosecute despite a default judgment.
- The case of the Noxubee County Democratic Executive Committee, in Macon, Mississippi, investigation and prosecution of which began in 2005 during George W. Bush's administration over allegations of violations of the Voting Rights Act in regard to the county's white minority.
Paul Kivel writes in Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice that instances of reverse racism are generally rare, and that many claims of reverse discrimination lack merit. According to Kivel, charges of reverse racism are "usually a white strategy to deny white racism and to counterattack attempts to promote racial justice."
The Supreme Court held in 2009 that racial preferences in university admissions for minority students do not necessarily violate Equal Protection in cases such as Grutter v. Bollinger. The term gained widespread use in debates and legal actions concerning affirmative action.
A 2011 study conducted at Tufts and Harvard sought to quantify perceptions of reverse racism by surveying Americans who identified as "White" or "Black". The study was titled White People See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing. The study found that Whites feel as though they now suffer disproportionately from racism. (Blacks claimed that anti-black racism had decreased over time, but did not perceive or acknowledge increases in anti-white bias.) These results were constant for people of different ages and levels of education.
In South Africa
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. Students denied Mandela's claim and argued that 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".
Claims of reverse racism continued into the 21st century. Helen Suzman, a prominent white anti-apartheid politician, charged the African National Congress and the Mbeki administration with reverse racism since Mandela's departure in 1999. In 2004, a group of young white members of the trade union Solidarity locked themselves into a zoo to protest discrimination against whites.
South African critics of the "reverse racism" concept use similar arguments as those employed by Americans.
Mixed-race South Africans 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.
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The move was called 'reverse racism' by Hosea Williams, Southern program director for King's Southern Christian Leadership conference. He described the effort to exclude all whites from public office as being as racist as excluding all blacks. It isn't integration, he indicated, and it isn't likely — in the long run — to help cure the nation's number one headache.
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- The government had obtained a default judgement in a civil action against defendant Minister King Samir Shabazz and dismissed charges against all other defendants.
- "The Justice Department has chosen this no-stoplight, courthouse town buried in the eastern Mississippi prairie for an unusual civil rights test: the first federal lawsuit under the Voting Rights Act accusing blacks of suppressing the rights of whites. To do that, the department says, he and his allies devised a watertight system for controlling the all-determining Democratic primary, much as segregationists did decades ago. Mr. Brown is accused in the lawsuit and in supporting documents of paying and organizing notaries, some of whom illegally marked absentee ballots or influenced how the ballots were voted; of publishing a list of voters, all white, accompanied by a warning that they would be challenged at the polls; of importing black voters into the county; and of altering racial percentages in districts by manipulating the registration rolls.", nytimes.com, October 11, 2006; accessed November 23, 2014.
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- Paul Taylor, "Black Capitalists Rare In New South Africa; Apartheid's Legacy, Cultural Ethos Cited", Washington Post, March 19, 1995; accessed via ProQuest. "So far Mandela's government has moved slowly on that front. 'I think the government is still looking over its shoulder, afraid of the tag of reverse racism,' said Thami Mazwai, editor of Enterprise, a glossy monthly magazine devoted to black businesses. He noted that [earlier that year] a white ad agency and the nation's only black ad agency competed for a major government contract to publicize the public hearing process for the writing of a new constitution. Although the black agency has won several industry awards, the white agency got the contract."
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