Posted in : Blog
Posted on : July 8, 2020
We are witnessing a global anti-racism and anti-Black-racism movement that has the momentum to turn into a social revolution in Canada. A crucial component to the success of this movement is understanding what systemic racism is and what it is not. The current dialogue indicates that there is a lack of understanding about the terms being used and what they mean.
Racism refers to the social devaluation, dehumanization, marginalization, and social exclusion of people based on their race. It can manifest both overtly and covertly. Overt examples include derogatory race-based language, symbols and behaviours that are readily observable and detected by the victim(s).
Covert examples of racism more often take the form of systemic racism, a form of racism that is not readily observable. Systemic racism refers to embedded institutional practices, policies and laws that serve to create continual socio-economic-political advantages for some racial groups while disadvantaging other groups.
A key to understanding systemic racism is that it functions to establish a racial ‘in-group’ that systematically experiences socio-economic-political privileges. For example, White people in Canada have been considered the racial ‘in-group’, historically and presently. White people are advantaged in terms of having better access to employment and higher earning opportunities, better education, better healthcare and more political opportunities.
While the global anti-racism movement has been growing, there is also a parallel discourse on ‘reverse racism’. Common examples of reverse racism make reference to ‘affirmative action’. In the Canadian context, affirmative action refers to employment equity legislation that seeks to increase representation of women, racialized persons, Indigenous persons and persons with a disability in federal workplaces.
People who are part of the reverse racism discourse are voicing increasing concerns that they are unfairly being disadvantaged, particularly in the context of accessing work opportunities. They share concerns that Canada should continue to be a nation that favours merit, especially when it comes to evaluating people based on their employment competencies. They argue that assessing people based on their education, skills and experiences should be the standard and the use of racial quota systems is reverse racism. Their position is that employment equity is a racist institutional practice because White people are unfairly disadvantaged in terms of the likelihood of acquiring employment.
As there is growing awareness of the systemic disadvantages experienced by Indigenous, Black and racialized persons in Canada, it is essential to dispel notions of reverse racism. Reverse racism is not racism. Racism is not the experience of irrational fears of losing one’s socio-economic-political privileges. Rather, reverse racism is a strategy by those in the advantaged racial in-group to maintain their socio-economic-political privileges. What is concerning is the common acknowledgement and use of the term reverse racism provides validation of an experience that is not racism.
By validating this term, we risk subsuming or misrepresenting White people’s experiences of racism. Continued use of this term also tells us that on-going awareness and education is needed to create a common understanding of what systemic racism is and what it is not.
Essentially, when reverse racism is acknowledged as racism, this deflects and slows down progress in eliminating systemic racism. The outcome is the continual reinforcement of a race-based system that advantages the racial in-group. Encouraging and promoting awareness of what racism is and what it isn’t, is a necessary requirement for effectively addressing systemic racism in Canada.