There is no such thing as “Reverse Racism” 

12 August 2019
Author   Åsa Sandlund

Many white people are very quick to call “reverse racism” as soon as any person of color calls out the racist actions – however small – of white people. It is an almost laughable display of ignorance and privilege – for as it turns out, reverse racism isn’t a thing!


The same people will often be the ones to downplay even the smallest signs of actual racism observed by people of color (PoC), refusing to accept the structures underlying the behavior. “He couldn’t have meant it that way, you’re blowing the issue out of proportion” is an all too common reply when PoC dare to voice their observations. 
Such a privileged statement can only come from someone who hasn’t had to deal with a lifetime of macroaggressions aimed at them simply for the color of their skin, who hasn’t had to experience the pattern they so very clearly create. That job you lost to that white person with the exact same qualifications - again. That white person touching your hair without asking, like you only exist to be an object for their entertainment. That wonder expressed by the “benevolent” white person at how well you speak whatever colonial European language you grew up with – English/French/Portuguese etc. The examples stack up, but the experience is exclusive to PoC. The same privilege – White Privilege – that allows white people to dismiss these structures as figments of imagination of PoC is also painfully evident in their extreme lack of tolerance of any criticism aimed at them as a group. 
So, let’s clear a few things up in this mire of misunderstandings. In order to fully grasp the pernicious nature of racist discrimination, one must consider the power structures inherent in the system. Racism is a system of oppression and a set of ideologies which declare white people superior to all other people on this planet – in every conceivable way. This idea is being staunchly upheld by white supremacy worldwide and perpetuates an extreme imbalance of power. Therefore, one of the main issues with the concept of reverse racism is a lack of transferability. You simply can’t take the pre-existing ideology of racism, replace the top tier of the system (i.e. white people) with another group (any PoC) and still call it racism. Sure, the ideologies may have similar traits, and the critique within them may follow similar structures, but it is in fact not the same thing, but something else entirely. 
Entertaining the idea of reverse racism is like taking an ideology such as Marxism, exchanging the criticism of the capitalist system with criticism of eating meat, and still proposing to call it Marxism – it is simply no longer the same thing. This changes the power structures and conditions of analysis drastically, and in doing so the concept loses its original meaning.
The system of racism is highly damaging and, in innumerable cases, lethal to PoC. It effects all aspects of their life, from job opportunities to personal safety to access to proper and fair health care and education – to name only a few. No such system exists in the reverse, i.e. which threatens the lives and livelihood of white people to this extreme extent. Sure, PoC can be highly prejudiced, hateful toward and excluding of whites based on their skin color (or perhaps based on self-preservation); they may even want to, and in some cases do, harm white people. But this is not, and will never be, racism. 
Unfortunately, when scrutinizing the arguments of white people crying reverse racism, more often than not you find a complete lack of in-depth analysis of their own privileges, a lack of understanding of history and of the current state of global affairs. Or are they perhaps unwilling to see? Because the fact of the matter is, that in order for marginalized groups to gain privileges, privileged groups must start giving up some of theirs, which is a sacrifice it seems very few people in power are willing to make. Perhaps, then, it is more convenient to simply not look deep enough – see no evil, hear no evil, as it were.
One of the most common sentiments expressed by whites wherever the idea of reverse racism is touted is along the lines of “How can we get to equality when there's so many [people of color] stirring the pot with hatred? Racism works both ways...” The same people that will practice discrimination while refusing to hire you due to your skin color or name will inevitably call on the similarities that unite us as human beings when it suits them, such as the idea that “we all bleed red, so we must be equal”. How convenient, and what an excellent way to ignore one’s own privileges.
It is a strange display of confirmation bias, watching white people derail the conversations of PoC with accusations of reverse racism. In doing so, they are refusing to take responsibility for their complicity in perpetuating racism, at the same time as they paint themselves as morally superior and without fault.
White people must stop policing the tone and sentiments of people of color who express reasonable criticism of the systems of racism and white supremacy. People of color owe white people no excuses, no apologies, and no explanations for their expressing experiences of systemic racism. Instead, white people need to acknowledge their own white privilege, educate themselves on how they are complicit in the perpetuation of white supremacy and start using their privilege to make space for the less privileged. An excellent place to start is by reading the brilliant book, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
Åsa Sandlund is a teacher of history, and engaged in issues of social justice globally. Her bachelor's thesis was on Namibian women's strategies for gender equality and liberation during the liberation struggle. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

Contact Us

Windhoek Observer House
c/o John Meinert & Rossini Street
Windhoek West
Tel: +264 61 411 800
Fax: +264 61 226 098