Those Poor Victims Of ‘Reverse Racism’! Haven’t They Suffered Enough?
Just one word — three letters, ALL CAPS — cost Munroe Bergdorf her job. L’Oreal Paris UK hired her as the face of its Truly Match campaign, and it only took one Facebook rant about “ALL white people” for the company to “un-friend” her.
Honestly I don’t have energy to talk about the racial violence of white people any more. Yes ALL white people, Bergdorf wrote, according to Daily Mail, which uncovered the since-deleted post after L’Oreal announced the deal.
Amid righteous indignation, cries of reverse racism, and a technically inaccurate Daily Mail headline claiming she’d called all white people racist (Where are their editors and fact checkers?), L’Oreal terminated its contract with the transgender model. The implication: How dare she speak her mind and demonize white people? Doesn’t she realize L’Oreal’s clientele is predominantly white, making their feelings more important than hers?
If only she’d had the foresight to acknowledge exceptions to her rule. In failing to do so, Bergdorf left herself wide open to recrimination from whites who would no sooner be judged by the actions of their entire race than blacks would. Yes, here it comes again: “Reverse racism!”
I’ve learned from experience that when making racist-related generalizations about white people, it’s important to recognize those who do support people of color, the enlightened ones who can comprehend how the black-and-white past influences the black-and-white present. That said, I fully understand how rage over decades — no, centuries — of microaggression can mess with your color vision.
And in Bergdorf’s defense, she wrote the Facebook post in response to the violence at last month’s white-supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in one death. Clearly her emotions interfered with her judgment, perhaps rendering her too consumed with passion to carefully choose her words. It happens.
Despite her semantic blunder, Bergdorf made some valid points about the genesis of white privilege. Her view of history and how the legacy of racism has been handed down wasn’t even slightly distorted. The fact that white outrage over her commentary led to her firing actually underscores the very privilege that fueled her anger.
No, we can’t attribute racial violence to all white people any more than we can say all white people were pro-slavery in 1861. But justifiable anger inspired Bergdorf’s blanket declaration, and the white people who felt slighted might feel differently if they could spend just one day in black skin. When a frustrated woman says, “Men are pigs,” after hearing about yet another unfaithful husband or boyfriend, we don’t revolt and try to take away her livelihood. We know the gross generalization comes from a place of frustration. When you’re on the privileged side of oppression, generalizations are unlikely to hurt more than fragile egos.
Every time a black person fires a truth bomb about race that’s unflattering to white people and white people cry “Reverse racism!” in response, it proves that many of them haven’t fully grasped that the privilege they enjoy they enjoy as a result of historic white oppression. It’s self-evident in every complaint over Black History Month, Black Entertainment Television, #OscarsSoWhite, and #BlackLivesMatter.
People of color have been systemically brutalized and denigrated in ways most white people can’t even imagine. They face far bigger challenges than hurtful words and isolated instances of bigotry. “Black lives matter” is tantamount to “All lives matter.” A racial distinction must be made to sway those who inherently place a higher value on white lives, a miscalculation that’s haunted black lives since our founding fathers declared that “All men are created equal” in 1776.
Western civilization, “the existence, privilege and success” of the white race,” Bergdorf pointed out on Facebook, “was built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour.”
There is absolutely no denying this. Throughout the latter half of the previous millennium, European powers imposed their will and their iron-fisted rule in Africa, in Asia, and in the Americas, through often-immoral means that ranged from annexation to colonization to theft to slavery. Caucasian empires invaded kingdoms inhabited by “lesser” races and ethnic groups, taking control of those territories and/or the people in it, usually by force, often through genocide.
That’s a lot of negative history to overcome, and to be honest, we still haven’t.
“History will teach us nothing,” Sting sang on his 1987 album …Nothing Like the Sun, and 30 years later, those words could easily apply to the privileged supporters of an immigration ban who play the reverse racism card by deeming themselves targets of people of color.
The same whites who complain when blacks paint them with too-broad strokes have absolutely no problem doing the same thing to Muslims. But their broad strokes, like the racism they harbor, carry the weight of privilege, for they have the U.S. President on their side. Same story, different century.
No, white people today aren’t responsible for the atrocities of past generations, but the immigration tactics of their ancestors made their white privilege possible. That includes the privilege of being able to scream, “Keep them out!” White xenophobes constructing symbolic and physical walls to bar outsiders from their domain are like the children of gangsters living off trust funds while trying to take down crime.
Bergdorf should have been more prudent when choosing her words, but to dismiss her comments as reverse racism or the ranting of an angry black woman is to entirely miss her point. And it’s a point that needs to be made until ALL white people finally get it.
Earlier this year, I met a guy from Durban, South Africa, who brushed aside my observations about white racism against blacks and Asians in Australia’s gay community because of reverse racism he had experienced as a white immigrant living in Southeast Asia. He spent several years running his own hotel in Bali, and sometimes, much to his annoyance, he was dismissed and judged by locals because of his skin color.
“But you moved to a poor foreign country where you ran a hotel,” I said to him, hoping to get him to see that the reverse racism he experienced, though hurtful on a certain level, was mostly a social inconvenience. He was still benefitting from white privilege thousands of miles away from home.
Naturally, he didn’t get it. He was too concerned with his bruised feelings to realize how good he had it in Bali.
Is the racism whites experience equal to the racism some of them inflict? Racism simply isn’t the same when you experience it from a position of power or financial advantage. If we’re going to turn it into a competition favoring the most-oppressed, then game over. That’s the one contest white privilege can’t possibly win.