A recent article published in The Michigan Review left many Michigan students appalled yet unsurprised. After digesting the manipulative and hateful content of the piece, we felt that it was necessary to address the author’s poor interpretation of American racial dynamics and recycled conservative talking points in order to debunk some fundamental issues that appear in common discourse. We need to talk about “reverse racism.”
Reverse racism is first and foremost a myth. The concept also referred to as reverse discrimination, is the backward notion that color-conscious programs such as affirmative action that seek to address racial inequality are a form of anti-white racism. Not only is this concept completely ludicrous, it is also an immensely harmful ideology that actively sets back racial progress.
The current battleground of this discussion is the Trotter Multicultural Center here on Central Campus. In an attempt to drum up controversy, the author of the piece grossly mischaracterizes the purpose and history of the building in order to perpetuate the harmful narrative that marginalized students of Color are actively engaging in some sort of modern ‘reverse segregation’.
For context, a Black graduate student submitted a letter to the University of Michigan Administration expressing his frustration at “white student organizations kicking Black and brown students out of spaces within Trotter because their white organizations reserved the space.” Instead of understanding the historical and societal context of these events and coming away from the situation with reflection or understanding, the author proceeded to react to the letter with an air of indignation and disgust.
“It has become almost a cliche to say it at this point, but if a white advisor to CSG wrote a letter to the administration articulating his discomfort that there are too many black students in a campus space, he would be deemed unfit for office,” the article states.
This is a demonstrably disingenuous perspective of the events taking place in Trotter and is only a small example of the “reverse racist” rhetoric that permeates the article.
The author’s apparent “gotcha” moment highlighted in this quote only serves to show how hopelessly delusional his perspectives on racism and race relations actually are. His purposeful ignorance of the historical context of segregation and domination of Black Americans at the hands of the white race is as disgusting as it is shallow.
To no one’s surprise, the author has not and will continue to not have any repercussions for his racist assertions against the students who find a safe haven in Trotter. We do not mean to imply that the University should necessarily take action against this student for practicing his freedom of speech. However, we do mean to say that neither he nor other white students at this university have to deal with the emotional anguish that comes from the public release of such tone-deaf, insensitive and historically inaccurate information.
How did we get here? How does the dominant racial group get to play the victim?
For some, the concept of racism is very easy to grasp. Throughout our lives, we are taught that discrimination against another on the basis of their race is a practice that should be denounced and outright abolished. We hear about and learn of the historical figures who fought against racist oppression and paved the way for our modern society. We hear of their virtue and undying loyalty to social justice and humanity and celebrate their memory. Many historical figures, particularly of the Civil Rights Movement, are rightfully lauded as heroes.
We all know of the legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Charles Houston, Harry T and Harriette Moore, among many others. Yet, for some reason, the author felt the need to twist the words of Dr. King in order to portray himself, and white students by extension, as the victims of systemic racism. This is gross. We shouldn’t need to explain why this is problematic, but we genuinely don’t think the author understands. So let’s engage in basic modern social theory.
Racism and discrimination are not the two-way streets that the author implies. The historical domination, oppression, enslavement, rape and perverted bastardization of Black culture by the white race is the foundation of this country. The vestiges of that cultural dynamic permeate throughout every modern institution. Black students cannot segregate white students. This is simple. To insinuate that the author and other white students can be the victims of targeted racism is tantamount to claiming Black students have any sort of profound institutional authority.
To clearly illustrate how far from the truth this is, let’s analyze more historical content the author conveniently omitted from his piece. After reading the aforementioned article more times than we would’ve liked, it became apparent that the writer knows little of anything about the history of Trotter itself. (For future reference, the history of the building is displayed right at the entrance).
The building was named in honor of William Monroe Trotter, a civil rights activist for Black liberation during the 20th century. In 1901, he released his first publication in The Guardian, the first newspaper for African Americans in the nation. The idea for the center emerged after a series of student protests during the Black Action Movement in the 1970s. Of course, it was not as simple as putting in a request or donating enough money in order for the center to reach its current form.
Trotter began as a Black Student Cultural Center to give marginalized students a safe space on campus to escape the obstacles that come with attending a predominantly white university. Only after the arduous efforts of the Black Student Union over the course of seven years was the Trotter building moved to Central Campus from its original location on Washtenaw Avenue. The movement took part in hosting town hall meetings and even went to another university to do a comparison of their facilities to plan the construction of the space.
In 2016, Mark Bernstein, a regent serving at the time, and his wife Rachel Bendit, both white, gave a $3 million donation to help facilitate the construction of Trotter. In response, the building was to be named Bernstein-Bendit Hall. Unsurprisingly, the campus community expressed its concerns with this decision given the difference in this family’s racial background.
The Black Student Union had to defend the integrity of William Trotter’s name in order for this building, which was intended for Black students, to be named after a person who earned his legacy fighting for Black liberation. The family decided to withdraw their donation after it was decided the building would be named after Trotter, which they claimed was out of respect for the preservation of his legacy.
Although the building is named the “Trotter Multicultural Center,” it was originally a space meant for specifically Black students — not all students of Color. Before we even begin to speak on the inappropriate nature of white students trying to claim this space, we must take into account our disposition as non-Black people of Color and recognize that this space was not historically intended for us either.
It has since grown into a space that serves as a hub for people from different communities of Color, but we must pay our respects to the Black students who fought tirelessly for such a space to exist on campus. As the authors of this piece, we want to acknowledge that our voices are not at all representative of the collective Black diaspora. We identify as mixed-race students with Black heritage, but we are aware that we present as racially ambiguous and therefore do not experience Blackness nearly in the same way as visibly Black students. It is crucial that we center Black student voices and do not blur the lines between being at the forefront of a cause and being an ally to it. Our contribution to this conversation is to rebut the inconsistencies and dangerous rhetoric by another journalist on our campus, and to stand in solidarity with the Black community.
Despite what the author insinuates, we are still disappointingly far from rectifying the centuries of white violence and oppression that resulted in the need for the Trotter Multicultural Center in the first place to even begin contemplating the victimhood of white students. To suggest that bringing more white students into a space of Color is somehow a form of social cohesion or a remedy to these injustices is absurd.
The distance between the Civil Rights Movement and the modern-day is still less than the average life expectancy. We are not so far away from the days of segregation and publicly condoned lynchings as to believe that racism has been “fixed.” It is a naive historical interpretation and notably unfortunate failing of our education system that has led to the widespread myth of racism’s resolution. We have improved, but the fight is simply far from over.
Close-minded and misled individuals who subscribe to the myth of racism’s apparent disappearance tend to hold the congruent perspective that reverse racism is a real concept. Tim Scott might want you to believe it is all water under the bridge, but anyone with a simple grasp of American culture can tell you otherwise. Reverse racism is, at best, an ignorant mischaracterization of the original concept, and at worst, a purposely manipulative interpretation of racism that lacks significant nuance or cultural understanding.
Racism is an incredibly layered and complex social interplay that manifests in far more ways than hate crimes, lynchings, or slurs. It also occurs in the form of social insensitivity and the dangerous erasure of history. The author’s ‘mic drop’ moment…
“I wrote the entirety of this piece while sitting in the Trotter Multicultural Center. Cry more-”
…is somewhat overshadowed by the colossal irony of his actions. In trying to frame himself as an “advocate” for racial equality, he ignorantly highlights the aspects of modern white conservative philosophy that allow for the persistence of white domination. He may as well have said, “I will insert myself anywhere I choose. I will ignore and celebrate the harm I cause. I do not respect students of Color”.
Let’s conclude with a final message to the white students of the University of Michigan. If you have visited the Trotter Multicultural Center and now feel any guilt after reading this piece – consider using this time for reflection. Ask yourself, “how can I be a better ally to communities of Color on this campus?” There is nothing you can do to change the past, but it is your responsibility to move forward with humility. If there is anything we want you to take away from this piece, it’s that you have power. The scope of your influence is vast, and your decisions impact more than just your immediate community.
Consider this: is this campus not already your space? Does every library, university building, study room and cafe not already belong to you? “The enrolled student population at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, both undergraduate and graduate, is 52.2% White, 13.3% Asian, 6.51% Hispanic or Latino, 4.26% Black or African American.” Digest that statistic.
The next time you think of reserving a space in the Trotter Multicultural Center, we implore you to ask yourself: do I really need to own this space too?
MiC Columnists Stephen Buckley and Kailana Dejoie can be reached at email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.