A social media post published by UTMSU has sparked intense debate over racism and what it means for both white and racialized groups.
The Facebook and Instagram post was published on July 28 as part of a wider UTMSU campaign defining social equity concepts. The post in question defined the term “reverse racism”.
According to the post, “There is no definition for this term because reverse racism does not exist. An oppressed group cannot be racist towards those in the dominant group (white people) because though they may be prejudiced, they are not in a position of power to actually be racist towards them.”
Other terms included in what is described by UTMSU as an “educational campaign” include racism, intersectionality, xenophobia, respectability politics, and cultural appropriation, all of which were posted online throughout the summer.
Since being published, the reverse racism post has received nearly 100 Facebook comments debating the definition. The other terms received zero to two comments.
According to UTMSU VP equity Zehra Ramsha, UTMSU did not expect the post to receive the reaction it did.
“Nobody was expecting this kind of backlash,” said Ramsha, who explained that the campaign was intended to serve as an educational tool for students learning about equity. Ramsha, however, told The Medium the term “reverse racism” should never have been included in the campaign and she did not approve the post prior to publishing.
“The term ‘reverse racism’ should not have even been put up,” she said, explaining that the term was too substantial to be posted and the definition should have been written differently. “It seems more a personal definition rather than a generalized definition,” she added.
“It’s really sad but not surprising that many white people took this post offensively because it isn’t meant to attack whites at all,” said Sherry Ghaly, UTMSU’s anti-racism coordinator. “It’s simply stating that white people are given privileges in society not afforded to people of colour.”
Ghaly, who wrote the definitions, said that racism must be understood in terms of the broader social factors.
“When [people of colour] are discriminatory in North America, it’s meaningless; we do not have nearly the same political, social, or economic clout to influence policies or curriculums, or make changes wherever we see fit. White people do possess such clout though, [and] their prejudices have the ability to alter the lives of POC on a very grand scale, as it has for centuries,” she said.
The term is highly debated even amongst academics.
“There is no such thing as reverse racism,” says Vannina Sztainbok, a U of T professor in the Department of Social Justice Education. “Racism is supported by a racial hierarchy. It means that the major structures in our society—economic, political, legal, ideological—are dominated by, and benefit, one racial group over another.”
Sztainbok also agreed with UTMSU when it came to the wording of the definition.
“In our world today, we know it is white people, as a group, who benefit from the current political, economic, and ideological systems and that this is a direct result of settler colonialism, imperialism, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade […] I believe that the UTMSU blurb explains very articulately that for there to be racism, there needs to be power.”
Other academics have taken issue with the term.
“To me the term reverse racism is a misnomer,” said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a recent U of T PhD graduate and assistant professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the Department of Criminal Justice.
“Racism is racism. To suggest otherwise is to assume that racialized individuals and groups cannot and do not hold any power whatsoever,” said Owusu-Bempah.
When asked about the term, UTM’s equity and diversity officer, Nythalah Baker, stressed the importance of generating conversations on the issue of equity.
“The university encourages students to engage in conversations and academic dialogues and to have different perspectives on these issues, and it is within UTMSU’s rights to engage in these conversations,” said Baker in an email to The Medium.
As of press time, the post remained on both UTMSU’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.