By Madison Alvarado, Intuitive Writing Project student
As issues of ingrained racism, sexism, and homo/transphobia in our world have recently come into light, there has been an aggressive backlash by those who feel as if they are being wrongly singled out as oppressors because they are white, male, straight or cisgender. Those who are defensive on these topics sometimes claim they are victims of things like “reverse racism” or “heterophobia.” The reality of it is these reverse “isms” and phobias don’t exist. Being a white girl living in a more privileged area, I am incredibly familiar with jokes about Starbucks, Ugg boots and iPhones. The funny thing about these jokes is that they often come from people who are white themselves and have no malicious intent whatsoever. Those who claim that they are “victims” of reverse racism, sexism or hetero/cisphobia simply don’t have the correct understanding of what these words truly mean.
Let’s take racism as an example. I’ve heard the question “Why isn’t there a white history month?” posed a few times. Some whites feel “left out” by the month that is exclusively dedicated to celebrating influential blacks in history. This feeling, if fostered, can turn into resentment and jealousy. The reason why there is no white history month is because every day spent in a history classroom looks at white history. I’m not saying that just because you’re white you can’t be a victim of hateful comments or prejudices. Of course there are instances of this and of course it can be just as hurtful. However, to label these cases as racist is incorrect. Racism is the institutionalized racial hierarchy that places members of a certain race (predominantly white) in positions of superiority over non-whites who can become victims of oppression and discrimination.
An example of this discrimination in action was recently brought up in a CNN article, where it was found that the median wealth of white versus black households in 2011 was $91,405 compared to $6,446. In another study, researcher Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business sent fictitious job applications to different companies. Each company received two of the exact same resumés, the only difference being that one of the names sounded “white” and the other “black.” She found that “applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names.” Whites don’t face these struggles to secure a job or income in the same way that non-whites do. So when someone says something offensive to a white person, it’s not “reverse racism.” The term racism is not interchangeable with words like prejudice or ignorance, which just imply negative preconceived notions or ideas about groups of people.
“But all these archaic, ignorant prejudices are dead,” you say. “Slavery is gone, everyone has equal marriage rights, Title IX gives equality to girls at public schools and Caitlyn Jenner has created a society that accepts transgender people! Everyone is equal!” Unfortunately, anyone who believes that these issues aren’t prevalent in our world today is either denying the truth or is simply ignorant. A topic that has more recently entered the conversation is transgender equality. According to the Washington Post, “ … 41 percent of transgender people surveyed in Injustice at Every Turn said they had attempted suicide, compared with 1.6 percent of the general population.”
These startling numbers aren’t the only effects of deep-rooted prejudices in our society. In fact, even icons such as Caitlyn Jenner have questionable views regarding equality. In an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that aired on Sept. 5th, Caitlyn Jenner expressed less-than-favorable opinions towards gay marriage.
“I have to admit that I remember 15 years ago, 20 years ago, whatever it was when the whole gay marriage issue came up, at first I was not for it. I mean I thought ‘I’m a traditionalist,’” Jenner told Ellen. “I kind of like tradition. I mean, it’s always been a man and a woman, and I’m thinking ‘I don’t quite get it.’ … If that word ‘marriage’ is really, really that important to you, I can go with it.” In a later interview on the Howard Stern Show, a Sirius XM radio show, DeGeneres responded with: “She [Jenner] really, she still has a judgement about gay marriage … She said, ‘Well if the word marriage is that important’ and I was like ‘It is because that’s the word. Like, we want the same thing as everybody else.’”
These exchanges reveal the deep-rooted “isms” and phobias that still haunt our world today. Sexism is another hotly debated topic. Although the treatment of women in the workplace has dramatically improved in recent years, there is still a great deal of inequality between men and women. In an article done by the New York Times, they found that there are more men running companies named John than there are women running companies total. The Geneva-based International Labour Organization reported that “In 2010, American women on average earned 81 percent of what their male counterparts earned.” These statistics are why “reverse sexism” cannot exist. The sexism women face in our world today is institutionalized through traditions in the workplace and even at schools. Men do not face sexism that is structured in the sense that they will receive lower pay or be forced to abide by restrictive and unnecessary dress codes.
Although anyone can be a victim of a hateful comment based on sexuality, gender or skin color, it is incorrect to say that white people face “reverse racism” or straight people face “heterophobia.” Our first step towards establishing equality and respect for everyone is to eliminate the original problem. Ingrained racism, sexism, and homo/transphobia are like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is addressing that these issues exist, and only after we have done this can we begin to rebuild a society that truly embodies equality. But as we deny these tendencies towards oppression, it makes it that much easier to get drunk on the idea that the battles we are fighting today were never truly problems.
This article originally appeared in The Mirador. Check out more amazing work being produced by Miramote High School journalists at www.the mhsmirador.com