reverse racism

[ ri-vurs-rey-siz-uhm ]
/ rɪˈvɜrs ˈreɪ sɪz əm /

noun

intolerance or prejudice directed at members of historically dominant racial groups.

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Origin of reverse racism

First recorded in1965–70
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

ABOUT THIS WORD

What is reverse racism?

Reverse racism is the discrimination or prejudice against a racial or ethnic majority, especially as perceived as occurring by white people.

Where does reverse racism come from?

The idea of reverse racism stems as far back as the Reconstruction era. Following the US Civil War in the 1860s, discussions about how to proceed post-slavery created questions about Black and white rights. When discussing whether to offer former slaves reparations, some white people were concerned that the advancement of black people would cause setbacks for them (e.g., retaliation).

The specific phrase reverse racism, however, isn’t recorded until at least the 1950s. With the Civil Rights Movement fighting for the advancement of blacks, reverse racism became (and remains) a concern among many white Americans. Also known as black racism or anti-white racism, a number of white people have said affirmative action is the main culprit. They believed that racial quotas for minorities discriminated against whites, especially in 1978 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the policy. Affirmative action, for instance, was started not to oppress white people but to address the underrepresentation of people of color in academia and the workforce. Universities and workplaces were seeking to match the diversity in their classrooms and workplaces with that of everyday life. 

However, while individual prejudice and discrimination against majority groups exist, systemic reverse racism isn’t exactly a thing. An essential component of racism requires power—and in the U.S., people of color largely lack the power to damage the interests of white people as a whole.  

Still, some white men (about 30% of the US population in the 2010s) believe that reverse racism exists as minorities begin to gain fairer representation, sometimes when they believe a white person lost out on a job to a minority due to something like affirmative action.

The Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of white supremacy around President Donald Trump have fueled charges of reverse racism in the mid-2010s. The slogan All Lives Matter, a criticism of Black Lives Matter (which focuses on police brutality against black people), is often seen as motivated by fears of reverse racism. In 2018, a year after a white nationalist killed a counter-protester at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump tweeted condemnation of “all types of racism … Peace to ALL Americans.” The tweet was criticized as a dog whistle for reverse racism.

How is reverse racism used in real life?

Some people genuinely believe reverse racism is happening to white Americans. They claim reverse racism for a variety of scenarios whenever a white person is seemingly victimized. These scenarios range from being called a hurtful word like cracker to not getting into a certain college when a person of color did.

Others claim that race shouldn’t be an issue anymore and that we now live in a colorblind society. They may use this belief to discount or support reverse racism.

Most often, though, reverse racism is used to call out the concept. This includes challenging peers to do better and exposing the underlying ignorance of the concept (e.g., equating affirmative action policies to the historic oppression of slavery and its long-running consequences).

More examples of reverse racism:

“Veteran sues Paterson Housing Authority alleging reverse racism, seeks $15 million damages”
—Jayed Rahman, Paterson Times (headline), July 2018

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.