A new study by the Public Religion Research institution has Americans split right down the middle on whether or not discrimination against white people is just as much of a problem as discrimination against people of color. While the survey question specifically uses the word “discrimination,” the answers have launched a debate about Americans’ belief in reverse racism as a social problem. But the distinction between the two is important, and I don’t doubt that it is sweeping ignorance about this distinction that has caused such broadly felt butt-hurtness about the “plight” of white people in America.
The first indication that these responses are unfounded lies in the discrepancy in the racial backgrounds. 57% of white people believed it to be true that discrimination against whites is a thing — and, notably, 66% of working class white people — while only 38% of Hispanics and 29% of Black people agreed. On the one hand it seems kind of typical that the groups — people of color — most disenfranchised under a system of actual racism are not as likely to recognize the symptoms of widespread discrimination against those with the upper hand. But on the other, or should I say upper, hand white privilege is unfortunately still in effect. There are still structures and systems in place that create unfair advantages for white people in education, finance, etc. White lives are still considered more valuable than those of other people of color, they still set the standard for beauty, culture, and lifestyle. In this way, their America is a safer, easier, and fairer place to live.
Even if white Americans are considering the threat of terrorism as a form of racial discrimination against them, they’re still getting it wrong. In fact, it’s a reflection of white America’s discriminatory tactics to limit their profile of terrorists to people of color, not the other way around. Making sweeping assumptions about people’s tendency toward violence based on a combination of their race and religion (ie. targeted Muslims of color as potential terrorists) is a symptom of racism against people of color.
Racism is the systemic and institutionalized disenfranchisement of one group by the other, based on their race. Racism works at the cultural, political, economic levels. Slavery was a racist industry upon which this country was built, but so are the current drug and sentencing laws that disproportionately affect people of color. Barriers to education and healthcare are often racist, in that they almost always leave people of color behind. That people of color make up a larger percent of those incarcerated, unemployed, and impoverished is an effect of racism that has stained this country since its beginnings.
While racism always leads to discrimination, discrimination is not always the result of racism and this is the problem with the concept of “reverse racism.” Sure, an individual person(s) of color can be discriminate against a white person(s) in the form of exclusion, malice, or violence. But that’s not exactly the kind of thing that’s running rampant in the streets right now. And even if it was, you could bet your bottom dollar that there would be a relentless push to bring those responsible to justice. But I don’t think that’s what’s got the white responders tits in a twirl. I imagine that many of these answers are in response to the minimal practices and policies in place that advocate against discrimination and racism against people of color.
Case in point: Abigail Fisher insisting that the University of Texas admissions policy is racist because she was denied admission. The University of Texas accepts the top 10% of all Texas high school students, among which Fisher was not, a stipulation that accounts for 80% of their freshman admissions. For the other 20%, they consider talents, leadership qualities, family circumstances and race — acknowledging the systemic challenges that people of color face in accessing education. Fisher was still able to get into a different college and has since secured a career, all the while griping to the Supreme Court about how she couldn’t get into her top choice school, which she felt entitled to.
With black liberation and other social activism taking over public consciousness, lawmakers, influencers, and leaders in this country are finally taking an honest look at what needs to be done to ensure equality and fairness. It is not a coincidence that those with racial privilege in this country, who are finally being forced to acknowledge and question that privilege are feeling like the country is going to hell (another question that was posed to Americans in the survey). When they are no longer considered the prototype for which we build our political, economic, and social systems something seems off kilter. But to be clear, being asked to not discriminate against others, being called out about your privilege, or losing the benefits of said privilege as others are finally given a bit of a fair chance isn’t racism or discrimination. It’s much needed change.