There are multiple misguided, and straight up wrong, ways white folks decide to interpret racism. Racism can be best understood in this way: it is a current and historical system of power relations, meaning one race has social, political, and economic power over another. This system exists in institutions, social divisions, access to opportunity, lived experience, and the actions/thoughts of individuals. Simple dictionary definitions (written by white folks) are exactly that: simple, and therefore insufficient. Racism is not judging any person based on their race, it is one race having dominance over another and limiting social opportunities of members of the dominated race by classifying them as inferior. If white folks question which race has maintained dominance in the US, we only need to consider how many white male presidents we have had, how many white male Supreme Court justices we have had, how the constitution was written by white men at the exclusion of people and women of color, and how federal and state legislation continues to work to our benefit. The legacy lives on, even if the historical moment is “over.”
So let’s think about this contradiction in terms called “reverse racism.” There have been no laws segregating or exiling white folks, no laws against white men marrying white women, no laws preventing white men from voting (preventing white women from voting was sexism, not racism), no laws that expressly state white folks cannot become citizens, no laws banning the social and cultural histories of white folks in school, no laws that have forcibly removed us from our land (which was never ours to begin with), no laws supporting discrimination against white folks on the basis that they are less than human, and the list of US laws white folks have never been governed by could go on and on. What does this legal privilege say about how accurate our ideas are about experiencing racism? It says they are not accurate at all. Ever. White power is not just a bunch of white hoods and burning crosses, it is the power we have in government, law, housing, education, employment, policing, social status, citizenship status, and our ability to define race in ways that have uplifted our whiteness. Racism is not just a few insulting words or conflict between individuals, it is an inescapable reality of oppression that white folks never experience.
A professor of color once explained to one of our classes that the word “cracker” came from the slave master cracking his whip in the fields, which meant that even if a slave master was called a “cracker” he was still in a position of power as a slave master. Today this remains true, although the circumstances have changed—even when white folks are called this word, we are not stripped of our long-held power and privilege as white people. If white folks think racism can be reversed, then we have to think about what is being reversed: we would have to reverse history, colonialism, systems of oppression, every racial theory ever published, every racial law ever passed, and a whole host of social, political, and geographic events. To get a basic handle on what this would look like, here is some historical satire written by one of the mods several months ago. The point is to understand that this never actually happened.
Five hundred years ago colonialism emerged in South America, the Caribbean, and Africa, resulting in the invasion, conquering, raping, and enslavement of Europeans. The Mexica (the Aztecs) brought their guns, canons, blades, and Indigenous cosmologies to dominate and convert the European “natives,” and to extract their human labor and natural resources for capital gain. All East coast American Indian tribes of what is currently called the US expelled their “radicals” to begin colonies in England, decimating entire villages with their imported diseases as they “discovered” the territory of this “new world” before they displaced and/or massacred most of the remaining population. Indigenous Africans scouted for Spaniards to work their plantations as chattel slaves while trading them as property, raping Spanish women to produce more bodies to sell, earning the name “cracker” for their ruthless whip cracking in the fields. At the same time, an entire ideological justification, which produced volumes of hateful literature and doctrines of invented science, was developed in order to prove the inhumanity of the colonized and the racial superiority of the colonizer. For Europeans and any other white “natives” from the “Global North,” their fate would include genocide and the theft of land, generations of legal and social segregation, disproportionate imprisonment, forced sterilization, political repression, continued poverty and state abandonment, increased subjection to violence and hate crimes, unpunished homicides committed by law enforcement, employment discrimination, cultural genocide, higher mortality rates, education almost entirely representative of colonizing cultures, and so much more. Essentially, that is what “reversing” racism would mean.