How to have a conversation with someone who says 'reverse racism' exists.

Over the last six weeks or so, there's a been a renewed conversation about race unfolding in the media, online and around dinner tables.

We've been reflecting on issues like deaths in custody, 'casual' racism and the lingering consequences of slavery and the Stolen Generations.

Gamilaroi woman Amanda Fotheringham answers uncomfortable questions. (Post continues below.)

Video via Mamamia

Often in these conversations, the idea of 'reverse racism' pops up. 

'Reverse racism' is a theory that white people can be victims of racism, too. 

As well as being a classic example of 'whataboutism' (you can read more about that in our previous article), it's also based on some pretty fundamental falsehoods.

Here's how to have a productive conversation with someone who claims 'reverse racism' exists.

'Racism goes both ways. White people can experience racism, too.'

That's not true. White people can experience racial prejudice — sure — but not racism. There's a key difference.

Racial prejudice is a preconceived idea about a particular race or skin colour. Racism, though, is what happens when racial prejudice comes from a position of power and results in a pattern of discrimination and/or oppression.


An example of prejudice, for example, would be a remark that contains an unfair generalisation about white people. While that may be hurtful to an individual (and is absolutely not OK), it doesn't affect their economic, social or political security.

'That's just semantics.'

No. It's about lived experience. To argue that 'reverse racism' exists puts single instances of prejudice in the same basket as decades — even centuries — of systemic discrimination and oppression. 

The kind that impacts access to education, hiring practices, social policy and more. The kind that's shaped our institutions to such an extent that just five per cent of directors on ASX300 boards are from non-Anglo-Celtic cultural backgrounds, for example.

If you believe something is an example of 'reverse racism', ask this question: who is in the position of power within that system? Who has the status and the opportunity, and who truly benefits from it most?

'OK, but white people don't have jobs and university places held for them. How is that not racial discrimination?'

Because that's actually anti-racism. These kinds of 'affirmative action' measures acknowledge that certain minority groups have been left behind by decades of discriminatory policy, and they actively address that. 


The Federal Government, for example, has programs that are designed to improve public sector job opportunities specifically for Indigenous Australians. That is a way of addressing underrepresentation of Indigenous employees in its workforce and countering unconscious (and sadly, also conscious) racial biases in hiring.

These programs weren't created so that Indigenous Australians could get ahead of white Australians; they were created so that they could catch up.

Again, that may not seem 'fair' to you as an individual, but it's not about individuals. It's about moving towards an equitable society, one in which everyone has the same opportunity to succeed. 

And isn't that what you're looking for, too?

Feature Image: Getty.