Occasionally I witness something enough times that it registers on my radar as being something that 1) is a “thing” and 2) needs to be written about. This is one such “thing.”
The “thing?” White people (men and women) who compare bullying they experienced from black peers in middle school and high school as “reverse racism” and “oppression.”
If your face just did this, then you have just had the same reaction as I did. But I’ve heard this one a lot. I’ve seen it in tweets, I’ve read it in comments on blogs, I’ve overheard it on public transportation, and I recall hearing it when I left my mostly-black public high school and entered my almost entirely white private high school as a teenager. This is a “thing,” ladies and gentleman. Now let’s talk about why it’s dumb. This should be easy.
Your feeling belittled for a few years in your adolescence is not the same as the systematic discrimination that black and brown people experience in all aspects (economic, social, interpersonal, etc.) of life, and have experienced for generation after generation.
Not easy enough? Let me break that down.
- A black girl telling you that your shoes are ugly is not the same as the massive wealth inequality in the United States, in which whites have claim to 22x more wealth than blacks.
- A black boy threatening to beat you up after school is not the same as a black boy being gunned down in his own neighborhood and his (nonblack) killer not being arrested for weeks.
- A black girl calling you names is not the same as the President of the United States being called a “nigger” and being told to “go back to Kenya.”
- A black boy calling you names is not the same as fraternities and sororities on university campuses across the United States—including Ivy League schools—hosting parties in which the attendees dress in blackface and throw up what they believe to be gang signs.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, this eagerness of white people to attribute individual suffering to systematic injustice, especially in the context of the following observation about the perception of said injustice that white privilege provides: White people want to be judged solely based on their individual actions and not be held accountable for the actions of other people of their race (including their ancestors), yet insist on viewing the actions of black people as attached to their race as a whole, holding an entire race responsible for the actions of individuals. This phenomenon can be applied neatly to the discussion of bullying at hand. No one wants to say that the white children who alienate and marginalize the lone black student in their midst are miniature racists. “Kids being kids,” perhaps. “Kids don’t understand racism fully. They’re just doing what their parents taught them.” I have heard these excuses with my own ears, and perhaps the latter is somewhat valid. However, if it is valid, it must also be valid for black students who “pick on” white students. Kids (of all colors) are cruel. Don’t we all know this? Then why are black children vilified as perpetuators of “reverse racism,” tiny thugs picking on their blameless white peers, whereas white children are given the luxury of being clueless kids? Again, this is an instance in which whites are granted individuality, and blacks are regarded as a whole: one black bully and suddenly there is an institutional problem in which white children everywhere are the victims of mass injustice.
Look, I went to a mostly black school. I was in classes where I was one of maybe two or three white kids. People picked on me, sure. (Hi, Denise!) Black kids picked on me, sure. But you know what? Those black kids picked on other black kids too. And you know what else? White girls were meaner to me than black girls, and I guarantee you that some of the adult white women I’ve heard complain about the treatment they received by black girls as a kid were also picked on by other white girls. Yet for some reason those white Mean Girls aren’t targeted in the memory the way black Mean Girls are.
Perhaps this is a symptom of years of cultivated white privilege. White people—even as children—expect everyone to cater to us; serve us; be nice to us; tolerate us. When the world—and its people—are unkind, perhaps it is a system shock: “But I’m white! I thought everyone had to be nice to me? Why are these black kids picking on me? I’m supposed to be better than them!” This is one of the nearly infinite problems of white privilege: what does raising a white child to believe that they deserve special treatment teach other than how hard the ground is when the reality of non-white experiences bursts that fragile bubble? That being said, some white people live their entire lives with that bubble intact: a white supremacist culture makes this possible. For all the complaining white people do about “the race card” being pulled, they certainly keep it close to the top of the deck themselves. A kid is mean to you in high school. That’s life. They’re not hazing you with a noose on your locker. They’re not making these videos. They’re being mean-ass kids. That’s life. But white privilege teaches white kids something different about life. That’s not life, we tell them. Not for you.
One thing that always shocks me when I see/hear/overhear these anecdotes from “victims” of juvenile “reverse racism” is the complete lack of willingness to regard those black kids from their past as humans. You know, other thirteen year-olds going through puberty, getting their hearts broken, being frustrated with their lack of a boyfriend/girlfriend, struggling with grades, being slighted by friends—all the things that makes being a middle/high schooler so abominably difficult. And in addition to all those “kid” problems, other, bigger problems. In the case of my friends in middle school, dealing with violence at home, drugs in their neighborhood, gangs on the walk to school, racism from the very teachers who are supposed to be helping them succeed. Maybe the black girl who “bullied” you in 7th grade was going through some shit. Ever think of that? Yet these white “victims” can’t find it in their heart for one moment to look back on their adolescence and not only forgive a black child who caused them pain, but empathize with what that individual might have been experiencing? Things worse, perhaps, than the momentary shame you might have felt when she called you fat in the lunch line?
I could go on. I’ve already gone on too long: this is supposed to be a micro-blog, after all. But I feel strongly about this one. I’ve heard it too, too often: white women and men looking back into their childhood and seeing, instead of the tough middle school years that everyone had, a deeply unfair system of reverse racism in which twelve-year-old black kids are equivalent to Al Capone; chalking up the meanness of a few to the flaws of the whole.
No. The girl who was mean to you in 7th grade was not a reverse racist. She was a 7th grade girl. And I think it’s time you got over it.