“My words hurt them. My sword cut them. But when they attacked, they did so with chains found in words, words on papers that read law. And I didn’t have weapons to fight words on a paper. I could kill, but they could erase me from existence with what seemed nothing.”
While I was waiting at the airport in Santiago, Chile, I met two white male US citizens from Los Angeles. I can’t recall how we started speaking, but we did, and they were recounting to me the amazing time they had had in South America. Suddenly, one of them said “I’m just happy people here aren’t as racist here as in LA.” Confused and curious, I asked him to explain. He continued, “well, now you just have all these groups of Blacks and Latinos hating white people. People have been racist against me back in LA…” and he went on. I rolled my eyes, face-palmed, and was about to go off when we were called to board the plane, denying me the opportunity to tell them why people of color can’t be racist.
This wasn’t the first time I have met a white person who claims to have been the victim of racism, or better said, reverse racism. Time and time again I hear a white person complain how they’ve been victimized, or sometimes how they’ve been oppressed because of something like affirmative action, which denied them access to a prestigious program or into a University of their choice. Let me explain right now why reverse racism doesn’t exist.
First, I want to clarify that Racism isn’t a character trait or individual behavior. Racism is a paradigm, a social construct which works as a system of selective oppression. In a nutshell, Racism is
Racial Prejudice/Discrimination + Systemic/Institutional Power
To say that people of color can be racist is to deny the existence of an institutional power imbalance, either social or legal, within the United States. That power imbalance is illustrated in access to education, poverty, health care, or with legal rights such as voting, or the disproportionate incarceration of men of color, among several other inequalities. This systemic oppression occurs in one direction – where people of color, as a group, are disenfranchised, while the other group, white people, are privileged.
People of color can be prejudiced toward white people, everyone has their own prejudices, including me. But that doesn’t constitute racism, because people of color do not have the structural power to oppress white people as a group. Racism isn’t that one KKK member calling a black person “nigger”, Racism is the use of structural power to create racial inequality. When a person of color calls a white person “cracker”, as Trayvon Martin supposedly did to George Zimmerman, it doesn’t constitute racism because people of color don’t have any systemic or institutional power to oppress white people.
I can insult and hurt a white person because of racial prejudice, but there is a difference between insulting/hurting someone (which should never happen in the first place) and oppressing an entire group of people. I can create a thousand racial slurs for white people, but again, that is racial prejudice, not racism, because there is no system in place actively creating policy or societal norms and practices that are collectively disenfranchising white people because of the color of their skin. And this reverse racism card is heard all the time in colleges throughout. When I hear white people complain about how they don’t have a “white history month” or an “anglo heritage club” but theres a Latino History Month, or an African American Club, I want to go crazy. You have a white history month, matter of fact, you have a white history day – everyday. You don’t need a club because every institution in this country was fashioned for you, not for me. In fact, it was fashioned only for you and precautions were taken to purposely keep me out. To be angry at your desire to have a “white club” isn’t me being racist, its me telling you to wake up and realize that regardless of Obama being in the White House, we’re not in Post-Racial Color Blind ‘Murica.
So, no white boy, some people, including myself, are just really pissed off and calling you a cracker because we’ve been colonized, enslaved, disenfranchised, abused, and purposely oppressed because of the color of my skin – I’m not calling you cracker because I’m racist. Plus, in order to be racist, I need to be white first. That’s a privilege afforded to you, not me. Even if I wanted to oppress you, I wouldn’t be able to anyways.