The Black Girl Who Was Mean to You in 7th Grade Was Not A Reverse Racist

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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.

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27 thoughts on “The Black Girl Who Was Mean to You in 7th Grade Was Not A Reverse Racist

  1. Excellent post! Thanks for sharing the truth with the world.

  2. Yes, I understand this but it still pisses me (and most others) off to be abused by others, especially because of my race. I think much modern racism is driven by these experiences. If whites are abused by black bullies, and called names like “honky, cracker or whitey” while being abused, it’s only natural that that white kid is going to hate his attackers just the same way that a black kid would hate his abusers if he was being abused while being called the N word. Most people are racist because they believe that most people of the other race are racist against them. I call it the I hate you because you hate me syndrome. If we really want to end racism we’re going to have to find a way to end this vortex.

    • oliviaacole says:

      “Most people are racist because they believe that most people of the other race are racist against them.”

      Wrong. White people are racist because they have been taught that they are superior to people of color; that people of color are violent, scary, dangerous, subhuman, ignorant, etc. This is NOT something that black people are taught about white people. The media, our education system, and even our government perpetuates the idea that whites are THE most important people in this country; that their needs are paramount, that their lives have more value.

      If this comment is all you have to show for yourself after reading this blog, I beg you to read it again.

  3. School bullying, and the tendency to ostracize those who are different, is all too common. This is why anti-oppression principles need to be taught in more schools and homes.

  4. OH …. MY …. GOODNESS …. YOU are something else! *Fist rolling in the air* May I dedicate a song to you please? Earth, Wind & Fire – You’re A Shining Star

  5. I feel totally enlightened by this blog. I am a white lower class woman who never had much contact with blacks as a child growing up in Wyoming. I often wondered if being intrigued with another culture (race?) made me a racist somehow. I eventually moved to California and became part of a rather rainbow culture there. I was afraid to approach my black co-workers with questions because I didn’t want to sound racist and because of that I fear I lost opportunities for growth and friendships. Yes I saw blacks as “other” because of my background.

    One experience that troubles me to this day. Me, my partner and her daughter were taking a day-trip to San Francisco in the mid 90’s and we got lost walking around downtown. We were in a “black neighborhood” and felt out of place … I’m afraid to say “at risk”. Was that just racist conditioning? If ANY of this I’ve written is offensive I apologize. I’m educated, but as far as this goes, I’m ignorant.

    Thank you for reading.

  6. Cia White says:

    Great teaching there, O. Xx Cia

  7. The term racism refers to belief in the superiority of one so-called race in relationship to others, as well as an entire system premised on that belief, such that it enables advantage/privilege for the identified racial group. So, a person who is not white but believes in and supports notions of inherent superiority of white people, for example, is also a white racist — although perversely. It parallels significantly with patriarchy, the belief and system premised on presumed inherent superiority of male humans.Some females do subscribe to patriarchy and some would oppress others of their own gender within that paradigm. Truly heartbreaking aspects of these psychosocial pathologies.

    • Then moslems are pure racist as they think they are superior to all races thanks!

      • But, Janice, Muslim is not a “race”. In any case, the notion of one identified group’s conviction of superiority is a common characteristic among human beings. Not that every individual within that identified group accepts that belief. However, this belief and the various mechanisms set in place to shore up this belief do a lot of harm in the world. It falls under the notion of “the other” and connects to a significant extent to fear, I suppose.
        The ego takes its power from the story it tells one about who one is. When enough individuals agree on the same narrative it coalesces into a formidable energy accumulation.
        Yet, an equally interesting, certainly more harmonious experience is to lay the ego aside — and that does take some doing — and to be outside of the well-worn and often damaging narratives.
        That, I suppose, is the yin and the yang of it. In any case, Janice, who really knows what this world is meant for? Hence the often asked questions of “who am I really”, and “why am I here”? It can be a scary proposition, because if one releases the story one embodies about a fixed identity, then who are we really?
        I once saw a lab rat that had escaped from its cage and had run into an open space. Once in the open space, the rat just sat, not moving. Eventually, someone in the department picked it up, likely to put it back in its cage. When we step outside the confines of our ego, we step into some kind of freedom and at the same time the unknown.
        Of course, this writing may just be my own ego playing me, so Janice, please consider this writing just one person’s personal reflection.

  8. Thanks, Olivia, for this really interesting blog (my first time here). I am impressed with how well you articulate your ideas and you really hit the nail on the head here with the difference between black people who have suffered generations of racial abuse and white people who have never known what it’s like to be hated simply because of their skin colour. I live in Australia where unfortunately there is still a lot of deep-seated racism. I like to think we are changing but it’s never fast enough.

  9. Whimsy Leigh says:

    Great post. I grew up the only white kid on my suburban Philadelphia street. I was the only white kid at my bus stop, and for years, the only girl. The only people who ever messed with me were “Lee-Lee”, a nine or ten year old who was getting his ass beat at home, and “Lori,” my Indian best friend’s new best friend. She wanted me out. I never thought of color, ever. I had lived in this neighborhood since I was four. Lee-Lee did start to give me trouble on the bus for a short period of time, telling me I was “prejudiced,” which of course was not true, and neither were my parents who could have lived else-where but wanted to live in Ardmore, and I told him he was full of shit. After that, he became my friend, and took a special interest in trying to be nice to me, doing things like stopping the line of people behind him in the aisle to let me merge.

    The hard part of my life back then was functioning at the school we were bussed to. The black kids would disappear into the white school to become the only black student in their own class, basically, in a very, I mean VERY rich school. The rich girls were SO F***ING mean to me because I did not have Gloria Vanderbilt corduroys in every color of the rainbow that I nearly became suicidal. My blue-blooded mother’s vow of poverty precluded any chance of fitting in with those assholes, so going home on the bus with my friends and playing double dutch became my life. It was the rich girls who were the bullies, always, always, always. Their hatred burned for my black friends too, you can bet on it.

  10. Oh, thank goodness. Some intelligent discourse in a topic currently devoid of it. Thank you.

  11. mkay0407 says:

    This piece truly bothers me. It is not reverse racism, it is racism pure and simple. I’m not talking about bullying which is what you have described. I’m talking about actively being targeted because I was born white. I’m talking about being jumped in the school bathroom because I needed to take my “honkey-ass back to [my] own kind.” I’m talking about nobody bothering to learn my name because I was that “over privileged white girl.” I’m talking about having to change schools at 9 years old because of the target on my back or more accurately the target on my skin. There is no excuse for it. Racism is a two way street. You are right about a few things. Reverse racism doesn’t exist because there is nothing reverse about it. Hatred is hatred and no race has a patent on discrimination. There is a drastic difference on what is socially acceptable based on race but you are wrong about who sets those boundaries. It is not the white people, it is every single person capable of making the decision to fuel the race fire. I’m not denying that there is active white racists but that doesn’t mean everybody is nor does it mean that black racists don’t exist. My significant others parents told him to watch out for me because I am white. They don’t see their grandchild because she is biracial. God forbid somebody speak out on it. If a white person has a problem it’s minimized based on race. I was abused as a child and when my extended family pursued custody to take me out of that home, the black judge told them that I was white and a spoiled brat so I needed to shut up and take it until I was 18. When I say abused, I mean in more vicious ways than you can fathom. I was far from spoiled, my parents wouldn’t even buy me food(not talking “oh I didn’t get my happy meal,” I’m talking basic staples). I struggled but wasn’t allowed to speak on it because it could’ve been worse, I could be black. I’m not saying every black person is racist, I am saying that not every black person is innocent. We all have struggles based on our race. We all as humanity, black and white, need to make a decision and effort to not teach our kids tolerance, but that there is no difference. Tolerate is a word used when you don’t like someone but you will manage to be nice to them. We need to treat each other as equal. This takes both races, this falls on every human being on the planet regardless of upbringing or skin color.

    • oliviaacole says:

      You’re missing an understanding of this thing called “white privilege.”

      http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

      • mkay0407 says:

        I’m not missing that at all. The majority of white people are privileged in many ways. My point is simply that your claim that racism against whites doesn’t exist, is false. I’m not blind to the struggle of a black person in today’s society. However, I’m not blinding myself to the struggle of my own race. The majority of the list in that link, did not apply to me. I can’t be proud of my heritage because if I show any pride, I’m automatically racist. My son is white, full on blonde hair, blue eyes. He has to stifle his words and his heritage while my stepchildren who are black, get to take pride in theirs. Try explaining that to a toddler. Try explaining why he has to act differently in public than his siblings. There is a certain level of white privilege but my point is that there is also a set of struggle that attaches itself.

    • oliviaacole says:

      Oh dear….you must have majored in missing the point.

    • Laura Middag Alvarez says:

      Thank you for your reply, it speaks the truth! Anyone can be singled out if they are different from the group, and any race can be the target of prejudice and racism. There is so much more that makes a person who they are other than their skin tone, and when people are singled out or treated out of hostility because of that reason (at any age), it is racism pure and simple. But it’s almost impossible to talk about without people making assumptions about your motives, because that’s what society teaches. We are all human beings regardless of race and everyone is born into this world deserving of equality and respect, period.

  12. But, Janice, Muslim is not a “race”. In any case, the notion of one identified group’s conviction of superiority is a common characteristic among human beings. Not that every individual within that identified group accepts that belief. However, this belief and the various mechanisms set in place to shore up this belief do a lot of harm in the world. It falls under the notion of “the other” and connects to a significant extent to fear, I suppose.
    The ego takes its power from the story it tells one about who one is. When enough individuals agree on the same narrative it coalesces into a formidable energy accumulation.
    Yet, an equally interesting, certainly more harmonious experience is to lay the ego aside — and that does take some doing — and to be outside of the well-worn and often damaging narratives.
    That, I suppose, is the yin and the yang of it. In any case, Janice, who really knows what this world is meant for? Hence the often asked questions of “who am I really”, and “why am I here”? It can be a scary proposition, because if one releases the story one embodies about a fixed identity, then who are we really?
    I once saw a lab rat that had escaped from its cage and had run into an open space. Once in the open space, the rat just sat, not moving. Eventually, someone in the department picked it up, likely to put it back in its cage. When we step outside the confines of our ego, we step into some kind of freedom and at the same time the unknown.
    Of course, this writing may just be my own ego playing me, so Janice, please consider this writing just one person’s personal reflection.
    One more thing: perhaps all of this superiority stuff is linked to human beings’ drive for survival in environments of scarce means, when cooperating with one’s own tribe meant eating, but losing out on a food source to another group would threaten survival. Therefore, better to think of one’s group as better/more deserving, etc. So, today’s superiority/inferiority complex is the great-great-great-great-etc-greandchild of that survival mode. Again, just saying.

  13. ejf5188 says:

    While I agree that racism is still a problem in schools, I think it is foolish of you to immediately denounce reversed racism. I know first hand it exists. No, I’m not talking about situations where it could be considered “just” bullying. For six years of my life, my peers did not address me by name, instead they used racial slurs. “Cracka” and just straight up “white girl” were the only ways I knew someone was talking about me. Anyone who tried to talk to me was accused of being an “oreo,” black on the outside but white on the inside. My peers successfully ostracized me from their groups. I know that my case is a very rare one, I have only talked to two other people who have shared my experience and both of them were from my area. After going from an inner city school system to a majority white college where the racism is reversed from what I grew up with, I solidified my opinions on racism. Anyone can be racist. Racism stems from the belief that a group of people all act a certain way based on physical appearance. These can be good or bad stereotypes and even the belief that no black people have been racist to white people perpetuates this twisted way of thinking. That is why I am asking you to please be more cautious with what you say about racism. It is my belief that the only way we can completely get rid of racism is to treat everyone as an individual.

  14. What would you say to me – I am the mother of a 7th grader at a mixed public school – a black girl took a belt and beat my kid with it and when my kid tried to stop the assault, the perpetrator said “didn’t you Mamma teach you that when a black girl is beating on you, you don’t fight back?!?!’ – what’s THAT?!?!

  15. You see dear white woman, that is where the black girl gets her start for being racist. And escalates when nothing is done about it (hint: because of a new scenario known as black privilege).

    Don’t say that I didn’t warn you when you or somebody that you know is faced with it one day though– because it will happen.

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