Concerns over white victimhood are largely unimportant

Val Scott holds up a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. during a march to mark the birthday of the slain civil rights leader in San Francisco, Monday, Jan. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

For the past several decades, there has increasingly been a focus on reverse racism in America. After the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, some white Americans began asking whether some policies went too far and in fact constituted discrimination against whites. It is a feeling that has prevailed among some to this day; 55 percent of white Americans say that white people face discrimination. However, while it could likely be argued that some white people face discrimination to a degree, fixation with this perceived problem hampers the debate on what are objectively more important issues regarding discrimination.

In the 2016 election, perception of discrimination among whites was strongly correlated to a much higher opinion of Donald Trump, according to the 2016 American National Election Studies (ANES) pilot survey. This held especially true among voters in the Republican primary, and nearly 70 percent of white Republicans/independents who believed whites face no discrimination voted for candidates other than Trump. A majority of Republican voters contested that the government favored black Americans while a majority of Democrats thought government favored white Americans, indicating a fairly clear partisan divide on the question.

It is misguided to say that white Americans face no discrimination at all. Absolute statements are dangerous, and in all likelihood there have been cases in which white people have been judged by the color of their skin. However, I would argue that this occurs far less for whites than for minorities and that the situations in which it would occur are much less meaningful.

I do not believe it is necessary for me to defend the position that minorities experience more discrimination than whites, as it is not a terribly controversial position to take. However, it is very important to understand what I mean by the term “meaningful discrimination.”

By this, I mean that the discrimination that minorities like African-Americans face will tend to be something that affects them greatly. Historically, and even up to the present day, this has included such actions as housing policies that coerced blacks into poorer neighborhoods with less resources, limiting opportunities for future generations. Blacks are almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession despite the fact they use it at rates roughly equal to whites. They are more likely to be pulled over than for things like broken taillights, and we are all familiar with the many cases of police brutality against blacks. These examples of discrimination are all serious problems that can have dramatic consequences for both those who experience them and the people close to them.

In contrast, the main high-profile accusations of discrimination against whites has to do with affirmative action. An affirmative action policy is one that favors those who tend to suffer from discrimination, and colleges in particular have faced accusations that they favor minority applicants. There is definitely a legitimate discussion to be had about affirmative action and whether it is reverse racism. On the surface, it seems to give an unfair advantage to minorities. But, on the other hand, the last several hundred years has been structured to primarily benefit whites so it may just be leveling the playing field. We ask why we should pay for our ancestors’ actions, and the answer may be because other people still are.

The point I want to make is not whether affirmative action is reverse racism or not. The point I want to make is that discrimination against whites is not at this moment an important issue when compared to other cases of discrimination and bias. It isn’t to be completely ignored, but it is dangerous to let ourselves think that it is somehow comparable to what blacks and other minorities regularly deal with in the country.

Our beliefs on this matter will affect our choices on certain policies regarding both which issues we regard as important and which way we vote on those issues. If people do not understand that our society is still structured in such a way as to limit the opportunities of many minorities, if they are instead preoccupied with this notion that recent societal changes are somehow discrimination against whites, then they will be more reluctant to policies aimed at reforming drug policies, mass incarceration, and how we police. These are monumentally important issues, and while it may not hurt to be mindful of reverse racism, it should take a backseat to things that are destroying lives here and now.


Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.