Throughout history through to present day, we’ve seen the systematic and institutionalised oppression of racial and ethnic minorities, women, indigenous peoples as well as many other vulnerable groups. From the dark history of Western colonialism or invasion of foreign lands. To black slavery. To the White Australia Policy. To the Stolen Generation. To the lack of women’s suffrage. To the gender pay gap. Most minority groups and women know full well of the harmful realities of ‘racism’ and ‘sexism’
In recent times, the phenomenon of ‘reverse racism’ and ‘reverse sexism’ has emerged where some members of the historically dominant group typically being white, Anglo-Saxon, cis-males claim to feel discriminated against by minority groups, or other genders . Members of the historically dominant group claim to feel discriminated against when minority groups undermine their struggles because they are supposedly the ‘privileged’ ones. The historically dominant group feels discriminated against by affirmative action policies, and a range of supposed double-standards in society including the permissibility of women to establish safe-spaces and groups but the ‘impermissibility’ of the reverse – because if the roles were reversed it would be ‘racist’ if white people or ‘sexist’ if males did the same.
Individuals who claim that reverse racism and sexism exist, argue that they shouldn’t, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr be ‘judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character,’ just because they are members of a ‘privileged’ group in society.
Racism and sexism are more complex concepts than just mere prejudice against someone who is or who happens to be of a certain race or sex/gender. Racism can be direct or indirect, explicit or implicit, individual or institutional. Racism or sexism can also result from things that are done or said, even though the racist/sexist outcome wasn’t intended or even foreseen.
Racism or sexism is being prejudiced towards someone because of their race or sex/gender AND that race or sex/gender has experienced systematic and institutionalised oppression in society by the hands of the dominant group. With the historically dominant group typically being white, Anglo-Saxon cis-males.
To sum it up: prejudice + power = sexism/racism.
While members of the historically dominant groups may feel discriminated against or prejudiced by minority groups, they have never and do not face any systematic or institutionalised oppression. Unsurprisingly, it was only until minority groups and women actually began winning the fight against oppression and seeking redress for the wrongs committed against them, did we ever hear about the dominant group having these ‘feelings of being discriminated against’ by minorities.
Members of the dominant group have argued that they are given way too much flack for past atrocities. They say, ‘but many of these wrongs occurred in the past, we had nothing to do with them.’ While it’s true that we cannot hold past wrongdoings of systematic and institutionalised oppression against members of dominant groups who simply did not partake in past atrocities and oppression; however, members of dominant groups, particularly white cis-males – whether knowingly or not, whether they like it or not, whether they want to admit it or not – have benefited from a system in which they were and are the ‘privileged’ in society. Because with privilege comes self determination and advantage, comes fundamental, basic civil liberties and freedoms that have predominantly remained unchanged and intact throughout time. White, cis-men are the beneficiaries of a system that puts them in a position of advantage. It’s true what they say:
“privilege conceals itself from those who have it.”
But this does NOT mean dominant groups can’t face discrimination
Of course members of this privileged group can and have faced discrimination and prejudice. Nobody can deny that. In fact many minority groups recognise it exists. It’s completely wrong and society needs to be expanding its discourse on the issue. However, it’s not reverse racism or reverse sexism – its prejudice and discrimination. It’s more – reverse discrimination. This is an important distinction and no, it’s not just mere semantics.
For anyone in society that has ever fallen victim to racism or sexism, it is a very real, highly sensitive and deep-rooted issue. For members of the dominant group to use racism or sexism interchangeably with prejudice is to undermine the gravity of the hurt and damage caused by the systematic and institutionalised oppression of minorities – a system that has benefited members of the dominant group.
Prejudice ≠ Racism/Sexism. Prejudice + Power = Sexism/Racism. Reverse racism and sexism do not exist but discrimination and prejudice against members of the historically dominant group can exist.
Featured Image: Zac Quitzau Facebook: Zac’s Doodles
Note: A preliminary, draft version of this article was previously been published in Macquarie Street. Updated and Modified for ‘contemporarywomen.org’.