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  • Writer's pictureJen Greenway

Reverse Racism and the Myth of Meritocracy

Reverse racism, the fictional racism that Whites experience from non-Whites because of their skin colour.

“Fictional?” You ask.

“Fictional,” I repeat.

“But what about the discriminatory policies that are prioritizing diverse hires over qualified White People? What if I’m more qualified and we both have families to feed, but the employer chooses to hire you because they want more diversity?”

“That’s not racism.”

“How is that not racist?”

This is based on a real conversation I had last week. And honestly, it isn’t that different from many other conversations I’ve had with White People who haven’t taken the time to learn about racism as a power structure coupled with discrimination, prejudice and even state-sanctioned violence against BIPOC individuals. These are individuals who haven’t taken the time to dissect societal structures and the institutions that hold them in place, firmly hierarchical. These are people who know enough about racism to understand that it refers to discrimination based on race, but not enough to discern other power structures that contribute to the justification and perpetuation of true racism.

This isn’t a knock on ignorant people. Being a human is being ignorant. Still, those who are provided with the opportunity to learn but choose to maintain their ignorance, especially harmful ignorance, become an even bigger part of the racism problem (or the sexism problem, the Land-theft problem, etc.). When confronted with information that challenges their current Knowledge or information set, why is the natural reaction to dig their heels in, get defensive and plug their ears? We all know that when courts refuse to allow information based on their bias, it perpetuates an unfair trial. How is willful ignorance in the face of new information any different?

I think the purpose that “reverse racism” serves for individuals who don’t want to see societal or institutional racism as a current issue is that it allows them to focus on a red herring instead of the true structures that continue to marginalize everyone, regardless of race. What I mean by that is it’s easier for those in middle to lower socioeconomic brackets to blame their economic struggles — having to retire later, being passed over for jobs, crippling debt, etc. — upon policies that are designed to lift historically marginalized communities to the same level of economic opportunity as Able-Bodied Whites. Their focus remains squarely on the opportunities that are being given to BIPOC individuals, but rather than interpreting them as an inclusion practice for those historically marginalized groups, they choose to view it as an exclusion practice against Whites. More specifically, they choose to view it as an exclusion practice against Whites who “aren’t responsible for their ancestors’ sins.” The overall concept is rooted in how something that was once exclusively for Whites is being taken away because they are White. It’s a very Eurocentric and privileged view to hold and it refuses to acknowledge that everything we have inherited as a society is based upon those old Eurocentric and racist values that have been used to put Whites above non-Whites. Regardless of whether they or their ancestors structured segregation, Land dispossession, or any other marginalizing force, Whites still maintain the safety and power afforded through those forces.

Still, proponents of reverse racism argue that in some areas Whites are targeted by Non-Whites and it’s not safe for them to walk in those areas. They argue that crime is most often perpetuated by Blacks or other POC and Indigenous individuals — giving away their racist views unknowingly. What crimes are we talking about? Are your numbers including the billions of dollars in revenue that the top 1% steal in tax evasion? What about the revenue that upper-class individuals make from exploiting developing countries and the Black and Brown people in them for cheap labour with no human rights laws?

I want to mention two important factors in this thought exercise. First of all, in developed countries, the population committing these crimes is predominantly the White upper class. Second of all, I initially left race out of my “top 1%” complaints because the red herring I mentioned earlier would have you believe that race is the driving force behind the fictional White marginalization that we’re seeing in current times. While race is used to marginalize BIPOC individuals, and is very real only because it’s a construct that was specifically designed to do so, race isn’t what prevents you from retiring on time as a White person.

In the 21st century, we’ve found ourselves in a position where late-stage capitalism has caused the disparities between the average citizen and the upper class to be the largest in history. We have become a society that allows rich individuals to build their wealth by snatching up home-owning opportunities from first-time homeowners. We’ve designed a society that promotes the exploitation of the lower to middle socioeconomic classes in developed countries and nearly all citizens in developing countries. And as that disparity in wealth grows and grows, the wealthy sell the myth that they are self-made or more deserving of success than those who aren’t. They promote the myth of meritocracy and that everyone has the same chances to be successful and rich in our societies. The people in power use their platforms to promote lies about racial diversity, inclusion, and calls for equity as the cause for non-wealthy Whites having their opportunities taken from them, not the inflation or lack of money going back into social services. In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth, but it’s easier to believe in the meritocracy being stolen by BIPOC individuals than to admit that you will never be wealthy in this society.

Those who believe in reverse racism cling to meritocracy and refuse to acknowledge privilege or that equality is not the same as equity. In fact, the desire for a meritocracy is stronger than ever despite extreme inflation, outsourcing of cheap labour, and an out-of-control housing market. In reality, all of these issues and more could be corrected by demanding change away from the late-stage capitalist structure. In June 2020, the Princeton University Press (ironically) featured an article called, “A belief in meritocracy is not only false: it’s bad for you,” by Clifton Mark. In it, Mark writes, “In addition to being false, a growing body of research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that believing in meritocracy makes people more selfish, less self-critical and even more prone to acting in discriminatory ways. Meritocracy is not only wrong; it’s bad.” The notion that merit is responsible for one’s success instead of acknowledging that proximity to access and privilege play a huge role only reinforces the hierarchy that meritocracy claims to counter. In essence, if you have the belief that your merit, instead of your access or privilege, is responsible for your success or wealth, then you perpetuate the concept that those who are unsuccessful simply don’t work hard enough to counter the marginalizing forces that affect them. And you do this all while reaping the benefits of the privilege and access you deny play a role.

When we talk about racism as a factor in success, we aren’t talking solely about individual encounters where BIPOC members are uncomfortable (or even angry) around Whites, and how that discomfort plays out in action. We’re talking about a society-level power dynamic wherein the majority of people who hold power— politicians, bosses, managers, etc. — are a member of the demographic that initially set up (and now maintain) the racist institutions. Why is it so hard for Whites to understand that the dominant demographic isn’t just a reference to the most numerous demographic but a reference to the demographic that holds the most power in society? In most instances, and in large part due to Western society’s patriarchal colonizing forces, this demographic is upper-middle class cis-het, able-bodied White men. And yes, that includes diverse nations where BIPOC communities are growing at a rapid rate. Until we see leaders' societal values and demographics from state-level to individual level reflect true diversity and equity, this demographic will remain the dominant one making decisions.

What does that mean in terms of racism? It means that as long as White bodies are valued on a societal level over Black and Brown bodies, racism can’t be used against Whites. The power structure reinforces violence against Black and Brown bodies in a way that it can’t and won’t against White bodies. Does it mean that hate crimes against Whites don’t exist? Absolutely not. Hate crimes are said to be motivated by ethnicity, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender or sex, disability status, etc. A hate crime can 100% be committed against a White person based on their race. However, as I just said, a crime committed against a person because they are White won’t have the same level of denial or justification as a crime committed against a BIPOC individual. That’s just the social institutions doing their job and doing it well.

The fact of the matter is, racism involves race. Racism also involves a power dynamic favouring a hierarchical structure established by White People. Regardless of how old that structure is, it remains firmly in place. And just like we always talk about intergenerational trauma, we also have to talk about intergenerational privilege. It’s easy to blame the Blacks and Browns for coming for your job because our society has taught us to villainize those bodies just for existing in a “White” society. The reality is that policies and structures put in place to harm those very same Black and Brown bodies stem from deeper structures that harm all people. The myth of meritocracy is a new facade for the hierarchical, aristocratic wealth that Western society is built upon, and the introduction of race by that same society is a strategic method to further grow the wealth disparity without the Whites noticing.


Jen Greenway

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