Better World

Is “reverse racism” a thing? An explainer for kids

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

“What’s reverse racism?” “Is reverse racism real?” “Can something be racist against white people?” Has your kid ever put you on the spot with questions like this?

“Reverse racism” is one of those terms that people will often throw into a debate to try to equate the experiences of white people and POC. It distracts from discussions about the real causes of racism.

But kids are genuinely curious and have a strong interest in figuring out what’s fair and unfair, so it’s natural for this question to come up at some point!

Questions like this can be awkward to hear and to answer, but you can use them as a learning opportunity, and explore together why a phrase like “reverse racism” doesn’t hold much water.

Here’s a suggested script to get you started!

Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers right away, either! You can always research and learn more, which also sets a great example for kiddos.

1. Defining racism simply

“Where did you hear someone say ‘reverse racism’? Why do you think they said that?

Let’s make sure we understand what racism is first, so we can figure out whether ‘reverse racism’ makes sense.

Racism has two important parts to it. It’s discrimination PLUS power.

Discrimination means that someone is treated differently (in a bad way) based on who they are.

But for it to be racism, the person or group who’s discriminating has to have power over the other person or group, based on race.”

2. Understanding where power comes from

“White people have power over other racial groups because of the history of our country. For a long, long time, white people used to be the only ones who were allowed to do things like lead the government, vote, own land, go to college, and more.

Having access to those opportunities for so long allowed white folks to build a lot more power — power over other groups who did not have those opportunities yet. This power structure still exists today.

This definitely doesn’t mean that every white person has the best life without any struggles! But it does mean that white people haven’t been held back because of being white.”

3. Share a relatable example

“Here’s an example. Say there’s a school that has been around for 300 years. It used to allow only white students and white teachers, even though the town had families of color too. It finally got its first few students of color about 100 years ago, and now it has more diversity just like the town.

This school has pictures in the hallway of all of the school’s principals and student council leaders from throughout history, and 9 out of 10 of the people in the pictures are white.

What racial group do you think holds the most power in this school community? Why?”

4. Introduce the debate within that example

“Now, let’s say that this school has a new club for Black, Latinx, or Asian students. The club is meant to provide a space for these kids to talk and learn freely in a way they might not feel comfortable doing in class.

When this club is announced over the loudspeaker, a white student says it’s ‘racism against white people’ because he can’t join the club.

Hmmm. Let’s break that down using our definition of racism as discrimination plus power. Is there discrimination happening? Does one group have power over another?”

5. Explain what IS happening, if not racism

“What the white student is experiencing is not racism, because the POC student group doesn’t have power over white students. The group has been created because of a lack of power and opportunity.

The white student might be feeling left out and confused.

But if this student learned more about the history of their school and town, and why some students of color might need a space to connect with each other and feel heard, he might feel less confused about it. If he found appropriate ways to support that club, exchange information with members of the club, or join another group he’s interested in, he might not feel left out.”

6. Why the term does more harm than good

“People (often white people) may use a term like ‘reverse racism’ to try to become part of (or even stop) a discussion or debate, if they are feeling left out or confused.

But using a term like ‘reverse racism’ is harmful to groups who’ve experienced a long history of racism. It makes it sound like we don’t care about their experiences.

People of any race can sometimes feel left out, misunderstood, or hurt based on their racial identity. It’s not always racism, though.

What are some suggestions you would make to that white student who was feeling left out of the POC club?

What are some more respectful ways he could express his questions and concerns?”

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.