By: Elizabeth Klein
As discussions concerning social justice increase, the use of certain problematic phrases does the same. When bringing up topics like sexism and racism, a common reaction is that women can be sexist and black people can be racist. The problem here is that there is much disagreement on whether or not this “reverse” racism or sexism actually exists. Many people claim that sexism can apply to both men and women–the same goes for racism. Others argue that this type of oppression does not exist. They claim that reverse oppression cannot exist because it lacks a system of power; however, the claims of the former are the more unsubstantiated. While there can exist prejudice against people in power, they cannot experience racism or sexism as the terms are defined.
Racism and sexism can be described as equations: racism = power + prejudice based on race, and sexism = power + prejudice based on gender. These oppressions only exist when a group in power uses it for their (willing or unwilling) benefit. Commonly cited examples of oppression against privileged groups, therefore, cannot exist. If you take away that power, it isn’t true oppression.
This isn’t to say that women and Black people cannot have backwards ideas about men and white people. If a woman claims that she hates all men, she’s buying into a stereotype and being prejudiced. If a Black person refuses to sell goods to a customer because they’re white, they’re being discriminatory. But claiming that this is reverse oppression is wrong, and can be harmful to oppressed groups.
The problem with crying “reverse” racism or sexism isn’t just that it’s incorrect. Doing so erases the oppression that minority groups can face. For example, a man who says being called a “pig” is reverse sexism unfairly compares that prejudice to the compounded stereotyping, discrimination, and prejudice that women experience. No, it isn’t right to be prejudiced toward anyone. But to call that treatment oppression is to undermine the struggles faced by women, Black people, and almost everyone who is disadvantaged by one of those -isms. So if you benefit from a system which oppresses people who are less privileged than you, then maybe think twice about calling your experiences “reverse oppression.”