Reverse-isms: An Oppressive Myth

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By Grace Walker-Stevenson

As our society becomes more aware and educated about systems of oppression and civil rights, a terrifying trend has started to emerge. This trend is cloaked in language that would have us believe that the revolution is over, that equality has been won and that we are now beating a dead horse when it comes to fighting for our rights. This trend, however, is actually as old as time and is a tool of oppression coated in somewhat good-seeming intentions. This trend is the reverse-ism. Reverse racism and sexism are the topics most incessantly brought up in everyday conversation, thus I will be covering only these. It should be noted that the concept of other reverse-isms are equally oppressive and problematic.

To begin talking about reverse oppression, we must first look at real oppression. For racism, we can turn to the media as a prime example, the life-blood of a culture. Popular television is still primarily white, actors and actresses are held to white beauty standards, how well an artist or the media they produce is received is largely impacted by their race. Racism doesn’t stop there, it continues in our primarily black prisons. It is represented in our government, having the first non-white president being elected just over four years ago. The brutal killing of Trayvon Martin is a perfect example of racism as he was an unarmed teenager walking in a predominately white neighborhood, completely unarmed. The constant micro-aggressions that still have not been weeded out of our social norms, including the idea that white people can use the n-word, that black culture is somehow cool and edgy, terms like “that’s so ghetto” can all count as racist micro-aggressions. Institutionalized racism is a real, very prevalent form of oppression, it is systematically enforced and something that people of color are forced to confront on a daily basis. In no way do we live in a post-racial society.

So, reverse racism. We’ve heard it before, sometimes from the most benign “color-blind ” and supposedly well-intending white people. Often, white people honestly believe that they can experience racism, although it is an institution that is actually alien from their experience. In the minds of white people, they often feel as though racism begins and ends with skin color. It is easy for those with privilege to ignore the historical context, resource/wealth distribution, and statistics that they benefit from ignoring. The concept that white people often fail to grasp is that when people of color hate them for their skin color, it is not something to do with arbitrary pigmentation. They are actually hated for the privileges their skin color affords them, they are feared for the history of violence committed by people who look just like them, they are hated for their racism and the way they benefit from it. The feminist author Bell Hooks was once asked why the rhetoric of “we’re all just human, I don’t see race” is so dangerous. She said very pointedly, that “the notion that we should all forsake attachment to race and/or cultural identity and be ‘just humans’ within the framework of white supremacy has usually meant that subordinate groups must surrender their identities, beliefs, values, and assimilate by adopting the values and beliefs of privileged-class whites, rather than promoting racial harmony this thinking has created a fierce cultural protectionism.” This quote very quickly invalidates the white supremacist rhetoric surrounding reverse racism by invalidating the underlying tones of racial blindness that are so often present.

The bottom line is that white people view being “just human” as being white, if we were all just white, they would not have a problem. Whenever their privileges are challenged with something non-white, they automatically view it as oppression when in reality it is just a playing field trying to be leveled. White people don’t have affirmative action because white people have the United States government. White people do have gang violence, their gangs are publicly funded police forces that continue to violently enforce their racial norms. White people don’t have a month devoted to their history because the other eleven months are saturated in white history, even the history in black history month is often white-washed in public schools. Reverse racism is oppression, no matter how benignly intended.

Sexism is another popular oppressive tool that men enjoy trying to reverse. An entire movement to “fighting feminism” has emerged and it is called Men’s Rights Activism. This group is actually registered as a hate group. They frequent the internet and have been known to send threats of death and rape to any woman who speaks out against her oppression. Sexism is a very real problem that our society has not overcome. As a survivor of rape, I’m particularly affected by rape culture. The idea that rape jokes are even still used in comedy is proof that rape is not just an unfortunate occurrence but rather something that is used to punish and control other people. The Steubenville rape trial is another example of sexism, the way CNN painted the rapists as “young men with promising futures” and waxed poetic about their destroyed football careers. The sympathy for these “promising, young ” rapists went as far as their school, and fellow students shaming and attacking the survivor. This shows an engrained culture of rape, sexism and violence that starts as young as high school, and I would argue even younger. Consent is not a topic covered in even the most comprehensive sex education. The idea that women have control over their sexual autonomy is almost unheard of, even when talking to supposedly liberal folks. Women are objectified and sexualized from a very young age, this problem is pervasive and constant. Women standing up to this oppression through the movement of feminism is a very valid retaliation to misogyny and a very necessary support system in an otherwise violent world. Women find both safe spaces and empowerment through feminism, and anyone who proclaim that feminism doesn’t promote equality is spewing hateful micro-aggressions once again. There are valid criticisms of feminism, particularly trans inclusion and the racism surrounding white feminism. However, people who “just want equality” or worse, concern themselves with “men’s rights” are actually upholding the institution of sexism. Misandry, the supposed counterpoint to misogyny, is the result of women hating their institutionalized oppression. Those who identify as misandrists hate men for reasons of violence and systematic discrimination, but even the biggest misandrist cannot avoid viewing men as full dynamic human beings. That is where the difference lies; women cannot objectify or discount the reality of a man’s experience, because if they do, they risk violence, rape and even death.

“More girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles of the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade, than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.” (Kristof)

The long list of discrimination that men feel that they face can actually be attributed to patriarchy. Patriarchy sets and defines masculinity in narrow, problematic terms. Patriarchy paints feminine men as being weaker and less desirable, because patriarchy is steeped in misogyny. The institution of patriarchy hates women so much that it hates men who are in some way reminiscent of women. Patriarchy backfires on men time and time again, but that doesn’t negate male privilege or the very real hatred of women. Whenever I become disheartened by patriarchy, I often try to remember “for within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjuncts or pleasant pastimes, our feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men. But women have survived. As poets.” (Lorde)

Tying all this together is the very important and often overlooked fact that these reverse-isms, be it men’s rights or the colorblind mentality are not just innocuous beliefs or movements centered towards equality, though they masquerade as such, seeking credibility and acknowledgement. In truth, they are a mutation of systems of oppression, a new strategy to combat the ideals of equality and to further reinforce the flawed sets of ideals we call the norm and to otherize and therefore discredit anyone who tries to speak up.


Hooks, Bell. Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. Boston, MA: South End, 1989. Print.

Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley, California: Crossing, 1984, 2007. Print.

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