I know what it sounds like to a white person who perpetuates racism against whites — “that’s impossible!” — but I have experienced it, and lost friendships for saying so. I have determined, after doing a great deal of introspective work on the issue (which I’m sure isn’t done yet), that there is no possibility for rational discussion on this subject with a white person who denies that white-on-white anti-white racism even happens, or who claims that this is called “reverse racism” and that I’m full of shit and just whining because I’m allegedly so desperate to hang onto my white privilege. I therefore don’t care anymore, what such a person thinks of me for speaking out against this very detrimental behaviour. This blog entry is for everyone else, and it concerns why white-on-white anti-white racism needs to stop, in order to help stop all racism.
Why White-On-White Anti-White Racism Isn’t “Reverse Racism”
First and foremost, and perhaps most obviously, ending racism simply isn’t going to be accomplished by turning the lens of the Other against everyone of European descent. The temptation exists here, to refer to this phenomenon as reverse racism and to dismiss it as whining. But because racism against people of colour is systemic and often institutionalized by governments, and racism by individual white people against other whites is not even remotely systemic (or institutionalized), it would be a grossly misguided error to refer to this as reverse racism. In fact, I have never personally used this term myself, or constructed any argument that compares my experience of anti-white racism by individual people to the collective experience of any ethnic group against whom systemic and/or institutionalized racist barriers exist. That would be so fucking ignorant, I would be forced to throw myself directly into the Georgia Strait in the middle of January just for thinking of it, to spare anyone else the resources hiring thugs to do the same.
But I have been accused, by other white people, of perpetuating reverse racism against all whites, at times when I am standing up (often alone) against systemic racism against people of colour (especially concerning the treatment of Canada’s First Nations peoples and immigrants from Middle Eastern countries). I have also been accused of claiming reverse racism, again by other white people, when in fact I have simply asserted that racism simply does not flow in just one direction. I did not always espouse this belief myself, because so few people ever stand up against racism directed towards white people, that I internalized acceptance of it. In fact, I used to add “Don’t take my word for it, I’m just a white person” to the end of my statements when I found myself the sole white person calling out racist or culturally imperialist bullshit. I finally stopped that when prompted by someone who recognized that I understood what I was talking about, even though I have not experienced their culture first-hand.
But I can’t possibly be effective standing up against racism by adding “Don’t take my word for it, I’m just a white person” as my friend pointed out. I can’t be effective as an anti-racist ally without ever acknowledging when racism is directed at white people too (just like how I can’t be effective as an anti-sexist ally, as a person who doesn’t identify as a woman, by being complicit with sexism against men). And I can’t accept that acknowledging anti-white racism is the same as arguing that racism against white people is equal in magnitude to systemic racism against people of colour. And I can’t reconcile my drive to be an ally with becoming docile and silent every time I’m bullied for sharing unpopular opinions. Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion I can reach is that anti-white racism is one of the ways my voice is silenced by other individual white people, for no reason other than the colour of my skin. And paralysis isn’t an option either. In these interactions, I am experiencing an active and plural form of racial discrimination that is then dismissed and minimized on the same basis that inspired it.
This gets right to the reason why I can’t have a rational discussion with a white person who perpetuates anti-white racism. It’s divisive, destructive, and creates instant insurmountable barriers against reasoned discussion. It means two fewer white allies in the fight against racism, because now we’re fighting against each other instead. Instead of finding common ground with each other, we’ve created new enemies. And as I’ve mentioned in the beginning of this post, I’ve lost friendships over this. I’ve also lost a ten-year-long friendship with a man who had recently become a nursing student when I called out one of his friend’s sexism, because he claimed that men who don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom are exclusively responsible for the spread of epidemic disease. If you aren’t sure you just read that correctly, a ten-year friend of the male-identifying gender decided that I’m too terrible a person to speak any further to, for asserting that sexism against men is inexcusable. The same principle operated over a very condensed time line when I’ve repeatedly lost relatively new friends in recent months for even speaking of white-on-white anti-white racism.
The rational solution to this problem, it seems to me, is simple. White people need to cut that shit out. Now. Unfortunately, that requires them to look deeper at the other half of this phenomenon.
What Does White Privilege Have To Do With This?
White privilege is the favourable treatment and consideration of white people, at the cost of systemic oppression of people of colour. This is often an unconscious behaviour on the part of individual white people, because by virtue of its systemic, institutionalized nature, it is invisible to us. Everyone, regardless of ethnic make-up, internalizes the behaviour of socially privileging white people, in any society where white is constructed as the objectively superior state of being. This is one of the ways its systemic nature is maintained in societies such as the one I live in, and especially in the United States and various openly white-supremacist communities across Canada. Becoming conscious of one’s relationship as an individual of any ethnicity to the rest of society — given the way it is presently structured — and interrogating the various ways in which one involuntarily inherits and unconsciously maintains social privileges (or a lack thereof), is called privilege-checking.
Privilege-checking often (but not always) results in finding ways to let go of those social privileges. For instance, I cannot change my ethnic make-up or the colour of my skin, but I can and do voluntarily stop acting and speaking from a place of white privilege, and thereby end my individual contributions to systemic racial oppression. I can and do choose to prioritize my time and voice to speaking out against racial oppression, for instance. I can and do use the energy I have in any given day to participate in counterculture, activism, and raising consciousness about the ways privilege is created and maintained so that other people can choose to take up the same causes. I can and do stop re-telling racist “jokes” and instead call people on their shit when they start trying to tell one. I can and do insist that simply because they think it’s okay to say it because none of us are apparently of the ethnicity that is exploited as a punchline, doesn’t mean that their privileged attitude is acceptable.
These are all behaviours — things you can’t determine about me just by momentarily glancing at my pale face or reading the words “racism simply does not flow in just one direction” before hitting the block button and refusing to engage any further. And the same goes for the detection of privileged behaviour. The litmus test for whether or not I act on my privilege as a white person, simply is not the saturation of melatonin in my complexion.
As a white person, to act as though I can psychically detect acting-from-white-privilege in other pale-faced people, and then act on it by calling them out as claiming reverse racism, does a number of things to boost my own white privilege. This is precisely why I engage with people’s words and behaviours, rather than appoint myself judge, jury, and prison guard over all other white people. Firstly, it takes effort away from my self-interrogation work, by projecting all of the potential faults, regrets, and guilts about myself that I don’t want to deal with, onto another person. Secondly, it makes me look and feel like a fucking superhero of anti-racism, which in turn gives me another excuse to put off self-interrogation, as a pat on the back for a job well done. And finally, most importantly, it makes the person I’m addressing flip their shit so that I can tell them how defensive they are and how this is totally unhelpful to the cause of ending racism.
I think that last one must be the absolute favourite benefit of accusing people of claiming reverse racism, because it means nothing they further contribute to the conversation can stand on its own merit. They’re already being defensive, so anything else they respond with is simply a demonstration of hostility that I don’t have to listen to or engage with, and I can leave the conversation satisfied that I’ve just successfully unveiled a bigot. This would be especially important where I had secured a silent audience of people of colour — because that would really put the air in my chest, as a white-on-white anti-white racist.
Cut it out. Call people on it. Be a good ally.
If you can’t stop yourself, stop engaging with that person and do some research on whatever it is that’s put your boxer briefs in a twist, whether it’s white people saying “racism simply doesn’t flow in just one direction” or white people wearing dreads. If it sounds like “if a white person does this/says that/wears that hairstyle, it looks stupid”, be skeptical. If there’s no argument, it’s because it’s just an opinion, just like yours, and your work isn’t done yet.
Don’t start getting passive aggressive about it. Don’t pat yourself on the back and call it quits for the day when you find an answer that’s identical to your actions. Challenge yourself by remaining open to the possibility of changing your views in light of persuasive evidence, and earn your answers. This is how privilege-checking is done. This is how one lets go of social privileges and becomes an ally against oppression.