Donald Trump seems to believe that reverse racism exists, but it does not and the very act of believing it does is racist.
Recently, the President engaged in accusatory rhetoric towards liberal and democratic leaders, saying that they were the ones who were racist, not himself. Anyone who criticizes Trump or says something that Trump and conservatives feel is “anti-American,” automatically labels them a racist in the eyes of conservatives. Many right-wing leaders also claim that perpetuating race issues financially benefit civil rights leaders and social justice advocates who gain further exposure and increased financial support by inventing race-based issues. Clearly, people in the U.S. have very different ideas about what racism is and who is or can be racist.
Modern Ideas About Racism
To be abundantly clear, reverse racism — or anti-white racism — does not have any basis in reality. The definition of what racism is and the issues or actions that fall under the category of racism as well as what is racist changes over time. Racism is defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” In this era, it is increasingly apparent that the “white supremacy” theory is backed up by zero actual evidence.
By this definition, however, in order to be racist towards someone you have to believe that your own race is superior, which is a limited definition. I have negative biases because of my economic privilege, my white skin, and where I was raised. I fight those biases on a daily basis in order to be a better, more understanding person, but I certainly do not believe that white people are superior. Still, that belief that my race is not superior to any other race does not eliminate my negative biases. These days, people tend to hold each other to a higher standard of acceptance than simply “I do not believe white people (Caucasians) are superior to other races.”
From a more modern, liberal perspective, racism has to do with systems of oppression that are rooted in systemic racism (governments, corporations, companies, schools, etc. that through the rule of law and policy perpetuates the belief that certain races are inferior), internalized racism (the belief that you are inferior because of your race), and direct racism (saying, doing, and directly or indirectly perpetuating the belief that people of certain races are inferior). All of these forms of racism arguably stem from systemic racism, which allows ideas of “white superiority” or negative biases against certain races to grow and fester because these ideas are etched into the foundation of the United States’ systems of government.
People of color cannot be racist by this definition because they do not stand to benefit from these systems historically or currently. The system is targeting them, not the other way around; police violence, gun violence, the criminal justice system, the war on drugs, immigration, poverty, gerrymandering, voter suppression, the Muslim ban, access to quality education, food, and health care, and bias in medical practices, among others, all oppressed and continue to oppress racial minorities. They can perhaps have internalized racism, but, by the modern, liberal definition above, cannot be involved in direct racism.
Instead, use the word prejudice. Prejudice, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary, is “a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” The definition used here is quite loose as it could also apply to many of the cases of racism seen today. However, it is the preferred word for those who may have ignorant biases against the majority race in the U.S. — white people. Prejudice also does not typically apply to systems of power, while racist or racism does.
Simply put, a person can be racist towards people of color because they learned to be from within a system. A person of color, in the same way, can then develop internalized racism — they learn it from within a system. Systemic racism, in that sense, leads to internalized and direct racism. In contrast, a person of color— a person who is neither Caucasian nor white appearing— cannot be racist towards the majority white population because there is no systemic place from which that racism comes from. Children of color are not generally taught that white people are inferior, nor is there any systemic force in place — no, not even Affirmative Action — in the United States to enforce a belief of white inferiority.
These definitions of what is racism and the merits of who can or cannot be racist are obviously still up for debate. Definitions change over time and hopefully society changes with them since so much of language defines how people think and behave.
No, Your Critics Are Not Racist Mr. President
Donald Trump is working with antiquated ideas about how racism works. A judge is not racist towards Donald Trump simply because he is “Mexican.” Al Sharpton does not “hate whites and cops” simply because he believes Trump is a racist. Nor is Elijah Cummings a “racist,” simply because Trump believes his city is “rat-infested” and Cummings defended himself and his city from these attacks. Anyone who calls the President “racist” is not automatically a racist themselves.
People who hold U.S. history under the critical microscope and call out a lack of systemic change in the way the United States deals with race are not racist either, nor are they inventing “race issues,” to get elected or start a “race war.” Politicians use race issues to get elected, they do not invent them, there is a difference and the race issues exist with or without elections.
Donald Trump and other conservatives also seem to call people racist when the accusation is thrown at them, but that is not how racism by definition works. Sure, racist — “white supremacist” — is not a label anyone wants to have. It is an offensive label to be branded with. Not a lot of people would ever say “yes, I am a racist.” Still, I hope most people would have a more mature response than the current President of the United States.
I am not claiming that Democrats or others who call themselves “liberals” never said something racist, enacted policy that disproportionately affected communities of color, or perpetuated racist beliefs directly or indirectly. No one political party and almost no person is free from doing something or saying something that is discriminatory.
Still, Donald Trump, I believe, could use some extensive bias training in regard to what racism is and how and when those words should be applied. Just because someone criticizes his racist statements or actions does not make that person a racist towards him or towards whites. Does Donald Trump truly believe that his critics are racist? No, this is simply a tactic to stoke a cultural and racial divide in the country in order to appeal to his base and secure his reelection. Mr. Trump, stop belittling and attacking others and start defending yourself with logic and facts. In other words, try to act presidential!