Issue Brief: The Myth of Reverse Racism Against
European Americans with Higher Socio-Economic Status
Key Words: whites, reverse racism, European Americans, affirmative action, socio-economic status
Description: This issue brief addresses the perception that European Americans of a higher socio-economic status are subjected to reverse discrimination. Through an analysis of court cases and of the existing societal structure, this brief demonstrates why the claim of reverse racism has no merit.
The European American population has come to believe that they have replaced African Americans as the primary victims of discrimination in America.
The European American perception is that racism is a zero-sum game, in which the decrease in anti-African American racism over the last number of decades has an inverse relationship with anti-white racism.
Numerous cases have been brought to the Supreme Court with claims of reverse racism.
In each case, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of affirmative action, thereby effectively discrediting any merit of reverse racism.
In order for there to be reverse racism, it would require a complete overturn of the current institutional structure of society, including the public and private sectors.
First introduced in 1961 by President Kennedy, affirmative action manifests itself through assorted programs at the federal, state and local levels which are designed to ensure that minorities have access to the same career, academic, and financial opportunities that historically have been preserved for European Americans with higher socio-economic status.1 However, since the 1970s, members of the European American socio-racial group have argued that affirmative action programs manifest a form of reverse racism which has become so prevalent that this group is now itself the target of discrimination in terms of academic admissions and career placement and advancement. This has become the primary argument used to attack affirmative action programs. Despite the anecdotal evidence often forming the basis for these arguments, reverse racism has neither statistical basis nor sociological merit as the institutional structure at the core of the system was created by and for European Americans from a higher socio-economic class who continue to form a controlling power block in American society.
The first piece of legislation to address discrimination was Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination not only against minorities, but against anyone based upon race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Notwithstanding the majority of European Americans in the U.S. and their historical economic influence, the European American population has come to believe that they have replaced African Americans as the primary victims of discrimination in America. In fact, the perception of increased racial inequality as threatening to the white status in society has increased over the last number of years. In a recent study conducted by Tufts University and Harvard Business School, researchers found that although whites believe more progress has been made towards racial equality than African Americans, they believe that this progress has come at the expense of their standing in society. The European American perception is that racism is a zero-sum game, in which the decrease in anti-African American racism over the last number of decades has an inverse relationship with anti-white racism. In fact, the researchers found in a survey distributed to both European Americans and African Americans that 11% of whites gave anti-white bias the maximum rating of 10 compared to only 2 percent of whites who rated anti-black bias a 10. From these findings, illustrated in the graph below, we can see that European Americans have come to believe that anti-white bias is more prevalent than anti-black bias.2
Claims of reverse racism have been the central argument behind an increasingly large number of Supreme Court cases. Most notably were the cases of Grutter v. Bollinger et al. and Gratz v Bollinger et al. in which European Americans denied admission by the University of Michigan filed law suits against the school alleging discrimination as the result of affirmative action policies at the school. However, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that academic institutions may take race into consideration as part of the admissions process as long as the application process is focused on an individual inquiry and not solely the minority or majority status of the applicant.3 By ruling in favor of affirmative action programs, the Supreme Court effectively discredited claims of reverse racism in those cases.
Even without the Supreme Court rulings to discredit the logic behind reverse racism, the concept itself is essentially a straw man. Discrimination is not solely based upon attitude, as it also requires having the power to carry out discriminatory practices through institutions of our society. In order for there to be reverse racism, there would have to be a complete overturn of the current institutional structure of society, including the public and private sectors. However, while individuals may harbor an anti-white prejudice, people of color lack the power to discriminate against whites on a larger scale. Both politics and the economy in the U.S. are very much dominated by European Americans from middle to upper class backgrounds (economic dominance is specifically demonstrated by Figure 1, in which the median household income for Whites comes only second to Asians, who have the highest median household income due to their multi-generational household structures). As a result of European American political and economic dominance, American culture is still very much one that promotes whiteness as the norm. Reverse racism is therefore not a reality, but a myth created by European Americans from higher socio-economic standing to protect their socio-racial group’s standing in society.
"Affirmative Action: Court Decisions." National Conference of State Legislatures. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2015
Brunner, Borgna, and Beth Rowen. "Affirmative Action History." Infoplease. Pearson Education, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.
Norton, Michael I., and Samuel R. Sommers. "Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing." Sage Journals. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2015.
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