A few weeks ago, I scrolled on my TikTok “For You” page and stumbled across a video of a white girl claiming that every race can be racist.
I stared in shock for a few seconds before reading the comment section, expecting other TikToker users to educate this woman on her definition of racism. To my surprise, many of the viewers agreed saying that her words were the truth.
Why were so many viewers, both black and white, ready to believe a white woman dictating that all races can be racist?
To explain the difference between racism and prejudice, here are the definitions: Racism is defined as the systemic unequal distribution of power between races while prejudice is a perceived opinion or belief about a group, according to ThoughtCo.
Every race can harbor negative and positive feelings for each other. For example, it is a common joke among black people that white people do not properly season their food. This assumption is prejudiced—not racist. However, if the tables were turned and white people made stereotypical comments about black people relying on government aid or assuming all Latinx people are undocumented—these comments are racist and prejudiced.
The difference between people of color making prejudiced comments about white people and white people making prejudiced comments about people of color is that white people are the dominant group in power. The comments people of color make about white people hold no actual power in place, meaning these comments about whites do not affect their influence and power in society. However, since whites are the dominant race in all social, economic, and political spheres, what is said about people of color can harm them in society.
Here’s another example: if a black person living in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood called the police about a suspicious white man with dreads and baggy jeans walking down the street, the police would typically pay no attention to the matter. On the other hand, if the suspect in question were black and the caller were a white person, the police would typically take the man in for questioning or physically assault the man for being in the neighborhood.
While both the black and white caller hold prejudice against the suspect, the difference in each scenario is that the white caller has more institutional power than the black caller and that their prejudice and racism can potentially harm other races.
This is not to say that black people and other people of color are not prejudiced, because we are—prejudice against any race is harmful and no one should engage in it. Yet, the belief that people of color can be racist towards whites is fallacious. Furthermore, this distinction between racism and prejudice also showcases the misconception in reverse racism.
How can people of color be racist towards whites in a societal system designed to benefit only white people? They can’t.
So why are so many white people claiming that affirmative action is reverse racism?
Since the beginning of time, whites have been in power and people of color have lived under systematic forms of oppression that will keep them down in society. Whites have never experienced this, so when laws like affirmative action try to even the playing field, white victimhood emerges.
“The way America is currently set up, there’s nothing white people can’t have,” Doyin Richards wrote to the Huffington Post. ”Wanna join the rap game, play professional basketball or participate in any black-dominated activity? If you’re good enough, you’re in.”
It’s not so easy for people of color to get a job, go to college, or become and stay financially successful because there are institutional barriers. Additionally, the stereotypes whites hold about people of color can also contribute to these barrier blocks. So when affirmative action gives people of color a leg up, the educational system is not discriminating against whites or being racist towards whites—it’s evening the playing field that has been off balance for centuries.
To every white person reading this, don’t try to be a victim. You have privilege, accept it, and make small changes every day to recognize it. Affirmative action is not racist. Stereotypes and biases of whites are not racist. By claiming they are, whites ignore the truth behind real racism.
Racism is our criminal justice system disproportionately imprisoning people of color for years on small marijuana charges while a white Stanford swimmer is sentenced to six months after being convicted of sexual assault.
Racism is a black man driving down the street and being stopped by the police for a simple traffic violation, only for the police officer to shoot them because the officer thought he had a gun when in actuality he had a hairbrush. The officer never serves a day in prison.
Racism is being labeled as the angry black woman, being told your hair is unkempt and nappy, or that you speak well for a black woman.
Prejudice is the perceived opinion or belief about a group not based on experience or logical reason, while racism uses prejudice to reproduce a systematic disadvantage of power based on race.