Is It Reverse Racism Or Hard Times That Crosses Color Lines?

July 27, 2011
Written by Janice S. Ellis... in
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Racism and reverse racism is an emotionally charged phenomenon irrespective of what side of the skin color spectrum you find yourself. However, to have an accurate reading of and response to situations in which you find yourself requires a fact-based understanding.

The recent study, “Whites See Racism As A Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing,” provides sound evidence of the danger of reacting to your situation based on emotions rather than facts. The nationwide study, co-authored by researchers from Harvard Business School and Tufts University, Associate Professor Michael Norton, and Professor Samuel Somers respectively, provides initial validation of the emergence of a growing sentiment among white Americans: The belief that whites are now more discriminated against than blacks; and that blacks are making gains at their loss, and their expense.

The reverse racism belief is based on the notion of a zero-sum game, meaning that there is just a limited amount of resources. So if someone gains, i.e., gets a job, gets admitted to college, then he/she is taking my job, my place. I lose. Suddenly, I am becoming worse off or marginalized because another’s plight is improving.

But, is that really the case? What is behind this growing and alarming view?

The answer is both simple and complex. Simple in the sense that if we can suspend our emotional response and look at the facts, then it is clear blacks have not gained in the last decade at the expense of whites, as those who participated in the study believe. One has only to look at the unemployment rates, the quality of housing, educational achievements for black Americans versus white Americans, and who are in positions of power, President Barack Obama notwithstanding.

The answer becomes more complex when we take time to look at the longer view. To say that whites are more victims of racism, or more discriminated against, now than blacks is not to have any understanding of historical or contemporaneous facts. Blacks have persistently been on the short, losing, end of every quality of life indicator — good education, good jobs, good housing and neighborhoods, good physical health — generation after generation. In addition, the protracted tough economic conditions in which we find ourselves have touched people and places in an unprecedented way: white Americans are feeling the impact of no jobs, homes and education being out of reach, less discretionary income — living conditions that blacks have been subjected to for decades, centuries.

So, could it be that the tide of limited access and limited resources is not new at all, but finally spreading? Could it be that the plight has not switched, but rather simply expanded? That there really is no reversed racism at all.

More importantly, why do we choose to have the zero-sum game, the all or nothing perspective, versus the view that it is right to share the jobs, the wealth, quality of life, and whatever resources are available? Why should one group continually advance at the expense of another?

It does not have to be that way.

Long-term, we (whites, blacks, browns, and yellows) will need to recognize that equity in the access and distribution of resources rules the day.

One group will no longer have a perpetual upper hand because of the color of skin, birth, numbers, or station in life.

This study is yet another example of why we need a sustained and honest conversation about race, racism, and race relations in America.

Thinking and acting in racially segregated silos rarely moves anything forward.