Editorial: Can white people experience racism? Pt. II

An explanation of why white people cannot experience racism.

Hailee Schievelbein

Hailee Schievelbein

Daily Editorial Board

This editorial was written as a follow-up to a previous editorial board piece

“Reverse racism” is what a white person may use to describe a belief that any social or economic gains by Black people somehow undermine the white experience. That by refusing to remain dormant while racial injustice still defines our country, Black people’s decision not to comply with those racially exploitative conventions is the same as the racism exercised by white people for hundreds of years.

Any group of people can experience racial prejudice or discrimination. However, racism refers to that prejudice in addition to the socialized power structures at play. So, not everyone can experience the racism that Black people do because the power dynamic that has existed since the Atlantic Slave Trade is just not equivalent to any other racial experience in the States.

The idea of “reverse racism” ignores the basic reality of who holds more power and privilege by assuming that everyone starts off on an even playing field. Its premise completely disregards any of the overwhelming evidence of institutionalized racism. 

For example, “reverse racism” is often cited as the reason for complaints about affirmative action, that white students “lose their seats” in favor of a student of color in order to fulfill a quota. In reality, affirmative action programs were put in place in order to mitigate the results of institutionalized racism, and they work to establish guidelines that find qualified applicants, regardless of their socioeconomic status, race or gender. Affirmative action started with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Executive Order 11246 in 1965 for hiring practices in government contractors and subcontractors, and further legislation slowly continued since.

The idea that a white student is inherently smarter than a student of color, or inherently a better fit for a school or program, not only exposes a reality of institutionalized racism — that white students might be more prepared for a school because they’ve had the resources and time to prepare them for it — but also shows the type of thought that stems from white privilege.

There isn’t one widely accepted definition of white privilege, but organizational consultant Frances E. Kendall calls it “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” 

With white privilege comes the “power of normal,” or the power that comes with everything catered to benefit white people. This allows them to move through the world expecting, realistically, every need to be met. This privilege means that white people are more likely to be treated as individuals rather than representatives for a whole group of people or exceptions to racial stereotypes. It also means that white people are less likely to be stopped by law enforcement for “looking suspicious,” less likely to be questioned about financial responsibility and less likely to be imprisoned for possession of marijuana. 

White people benefit from this racist system, and they always have. They can live comfortably while people are harmed and discriminated against because of the color of their skin, and this complicity is why Robin DiAngelo, author of “White Fragility,” claims that all white people are inherently racist. They can be nice, yes, and advocate to end racial injustice, but it is only with the dismantling of the centuries-old institutions that run this country can a better future be built: one that isn’t built from slavery and prejudice.

If you are white, don’t let the idea that you are inherently racist because of the system you benefit from make you bitter and defensive. The only way to face this problem is to fight it head-on. There is no more time tacitly to ignore the tentacles of institutionalized racism that reach every corner of American life. 

Resources to further read up on these topics:

“What is White Privilege, Really?” by Cory Collins

“Reverse Racism is a Myth” courtesy of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre

“‘There is No Neutral’: ‘Nice White People’ Can Still be Complicit in a Racist Society” by Ari Shapiro

“Can White People Experience Racism?” by Natalie Morris

“The Myth of Reverse Racism” by Vann R. Newkirk II