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On the Anniversary of Charlottesville: Please Stop Saying 'Reverse Racism'

I don't want to hear anything else about reverse racism. And I'm pretty sure no one else wants to hear it, either.

It's not helping; no one feels better; it certainly isn't making anyone sound any smarter or making any wicked behavior more justified. Oh, and it's a profound semantic failure.

Maybe we need to talk about the word Racism and the circular-mechanism it describes, so that we can make sure everyone understands how embarrassing it is to toss around that crusty-shell-with-no-shell-dwelling-creature-inside of-a-phrase.

Here's the story as I know it (I am a millennial white woman with obvious limitations to my understanding - please, please teach me what you can about this if you want to/can): Racism - as a term, as a force in the universe, as the most overt-undercurrent in the United States - is complicated because we're talking about a massive (system wide - that's why you keep hearing the word "systemic") feedback loop.

Feedback is a term used in biology to describe a a system where the outputs are routed back as inputs, creating a a chain of cause-and-effect, that eventually forms a circuit, or a loop. They call it a "feedback loop" because the system can then be said to "feed back into itself." Put more plainly: a feedback loop describes any process that sustains and perpetuates itself.

Here's the feedback loop structure of Racism: white people withhold what we have access to (jobs, healthcare, education), such that black people cannot easily gain access; black people find ways to survive with what they do have access to (as is the tendency of all human beings: we call it "survival"); white people hold up those survival tactics employed by black people (as evidenced by static-statistics about income, welfare, pregnancy rates and violence) as proof that black people are not worthy of the things white people withheld access to in the first place; and POOF: the cycle begins again.

Now imagine that this behavioral feedback loop is happening on an enormous, unfathomable, so-big-you-can't-even-see-it scale (kind of like global warming!) all the time, everywhere.

Let's call that big loop Racism with a capital "R."

And this giant loop, named Racism, is made up of millions of tiny loops.

Let's call these tiny loops racism with a little "r."

And these tiny loops, named racism, belong to each of us (as white people). These loops are formed in millions of tiny ways: proudly admitting to not hiring black people, holding a purse tighter when a black person passes, gerrymandering to limit black American's access to education - the list is long and varied. Each of these actions are trip wires that start their very own, seemingly-small-but-collectively-profound, loops.

Ok, the big loop and its feeder loops is the first part. The second part is trying to cram "reverse racism" into this structure (and I'll tell you up front that it can't be done).

"Reverse Racism" as an accusation - even just as an old fashioned string of words - is a failure in semantics, consciousness and empathy, and here's why:

Racism requires that the racist party have something to protect (or, more often and more accurately: to withhold) from the group the-havers deem unworthy or threatening or lesser - this is another long list of unfair qualifiers. Don't forget the loop. You have to have something to withhold in order to start the loop.

A group with little or nothing to withhold (for example: black Americans whose work is less valuable based on wages, whose children don't have the same access to the same quality of education, who are wildly more likely to die at a routine traffic stop) cannot be "racist" against the group that has (or in the case of the traffic stops: doesn't have) all of those things. They have (little to) no bargaining chip to start the loop; (little to) no oil to start the metaphorical engine.

If black people do not have the power to start the little "r" racism loops we just went over, then black people cannot build a giant, so-big-you-can't-even-see-it!, capital "R" Racism loop.

I think, I THINK: that what you mean when you say "reverse racism" is that black people have their own insidious Racism loop looming over us as white people. Which would be really anxiety inducing, wouldn't it? What a terrifying cloud to live under, huh? Almost unfathomable, right?

But I have to ask, since now you understand how the loop works: what are black Americans keeping from you? Better pay? Fairer treatment under the law? Better schools? Better access to healthcare? More social and political respect?

It simply cannot be. There is no g*d damn way.

So, what's to be done?

Break all of your tiny-little-collectively-enormous loops. Be mindful of how your posture changes; how you hold your damn purse; how you treat a person on the other side of a counter; how you speak about and to others. Help those you love to identify their little loops. Smash them apart, together. Revel in the difficulty of changing yourself for the betterment of the lives of others. Acknowledge the power you hold in simply having what you did not ask for: healthcare, education, a sense of security when in the vicinity of policemen, congress-men and -women who look just like you.

On the anniversary of Charlottesville, but also every other day: please stop saying "reverse racism."