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Reverse racism is a term used to describe acts of discrimination and prejudice perpetrated by racial minorities or historically oppressed ethnic groups against individuals belonging to the racial majority or historically dominant ethnic groups. In other words, it is reverse discrimination based on racial criteria.
The usage of the term is controversial. Some have accused affirmative action of being a case of officially sanctioned reverse racism, describing it as "preferential treatment, discriminating in favor of members of under-represented groups, which have been treated unjustly in the past, against innocent people". On the other side of the political spectrum, groups concerned with social justice and the interests of ethnic minorities have gone as far as denying its existence altogether.
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 colorblind hegemonic approaches 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.
A 2016 study, entitled The Reverse Racism Effect, found that, in deadly force simulators, police officers were more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than unarmed black ones, and were slower to shoot armed black suspects than armed white ones.
Many advocates for racial justice argue that reverse racism is just misinterpreted racial prejudice. According to Calgary Anti Racism Education (CARED), "Racial Prejudice can be directed at white people (i.e. white people can't dance) but is not considered racism because of the systemic relationship of power." Some sociologists do not believe in the existence of reverse racism because of the hierarchy in which those who are in the subordinated position do not have the power to commit reverse racism without larger, institutional support. Based on David Wellman's definition of racism in Portraits of White Racism as "culturally sanctioned beliefs, which, regardless of intentions involved, defend the advantages whites have because of the subordinated position of racial minorities," reverse racism could not exist because it cannot defend advantages of racial groups who are disadvantaged in society.
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". Reverse racism is also said to deny the existence of white privilege and power in society.
According to University of Kent sociologist Miri Song, "assertions of reverse racism often fail to consider the historically specific ways in which racial hierarchies and inequalities were institutionalized." Similarly, Stanley Fish wrote in 1993 that "Reverse racism is a cogent description of affirmative action only if one considers the cancer of racism to be morally and medically indistinguishable from the therapy we apply to it."
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. In 2016, the Supreme Court held in Fisher v. University of Texas that affirmative action as practiced by the University of Texas at Austin was lawful.
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.
A 2011 report challenged the widespread misconception that through affirmative action, minority students receive an unfair percentage of scholarships in the United States. The report was published using results from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), a branch of NCES, from the data analysis system for 2003-04 and 2007-08. The NPSAS is a significantly large-scale survey of how undergraduate and graduate students paid for college in the United States. An example of its scale; The 2007-08 survey included a nationally representative stratified sample of more than 80,000 undergraduate and 11,000 graduate and professional students.
Overall the report found that in 2007-08 only 5.5 percent of undergraduate students received private sector scholarships. White students were 40 percent more likely to win private scholarships than minority students. While white students represented less than 62 percent of the student population they received more than 76 percent of all institutional merit-based scholarships and grant funding. White students made up 61.8 per cent of the undergraduate student population and represented 69.3 percent of private scholarship recipients. Whereas minority students represented 30.5 percent of scholarship recipients and 38.0 percent of the undergraduate student population.
Based on the 2007-08 results, the report concluded that for minority students to get an equal footing in private scholarships, annual private scholarship awards for African-American students would have to increase by $83 million and for Latino students increase by $197 million. "Equalizing just the probability of receiving a private scholarship without changing the average scholarship amount per recipient would require increasing total private scholarship funding by $138 million for African-American students and $179 million for Latino students."
A 2014 study showed that white Americans who think the U.S. status hierarchy is legitimate (i.e. that those who are successful have earned their success) are more likely to think that anti-white racism exists. A 2015 study by the same research team found that priming whites with status-legitimizing beliefs—which include the belief that anyone can become successful if they work hard enough—led whites to be more supportive of other whites who claimed they were victims of anti-white racism.
In South Africa
The term has been used actively by both black and white 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 of 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 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 government.
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