A recent social media post providing a definition of the term ‘reverse racism’ posted by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) has become a topic of controversy among U of T students.
Some have criticized the union for perpetuating racism and inequality. The post stated that reverse racism is indefinable because it is non-existent. “An oppressed group cannot be racist towards those in the dominant group (white people) because though they may be prejudice [sic], they are not in a position of power to actually be racist towards them,” reads a portion of the post.
This is the second time that this definition has surfaced in association with the UTMSU, as the Facebook post was taken from the UTMSU’s equity handbook and originally written by the union’s Racialized Students Coalition. According to UTMSU president Ebi Agbeyegbe, the post is part of the UTMSU’s equity campaign, which aims to define terms associated with equity, and fits into the larger goals of the UTMSU’s equity work.
Tackling large systemic issues like racism and equality is not new to student unions across Canada. However, the post from the UTMSU has faced significant criticism from those who feel that it is doing just the opposite.
“I found this post inappropriate for our page, as the UTMSU should be promoting more progressive thinking as opposed to who can, and cannot, be racist,” said Adrian Owczarczuk, a second-year UTM student. Nicole Williams, a third-year UTM student, echoed Owczarczuk’s concerns, stating, “I feel that this post perpetuates inequality… Racism is racism, no matter what colour you are and what colour you discriminate against.” Others still commented on the post calling for it to be removed, accusing the UTMSU of ignorance and racism, and asking how to collect their funds allocated to the UTMSU.
“Institutional racism in favour of whites is a cruel fact that I think most people acknowledge and I completely support its eradication,” said Ibrahim Bouteraa, a fourth-year UTM student studying political science. Bouteraa, however, took issue with the way that the UTMSU interpreted the term. “The UTMSU definition of racism, however, is purposefully geared against white people in that it only considers power dynamics at a macro level and not in everyday inter-personal exchanges. The UTMSU completely belittles everyday racism white people face. They assume white people are the only ones in power, but if you take a look around, Canadians of all colours own businesses, lead companies, and work in politics.”
However, the post received support as well. “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. It’s simply stating that white people are given privileges in society not afforded to [People Of Colour (POC)]. As a result of this privilege, white people have the upper hand in society and when they choose to be discriminatory, their discrimination impacts POC very differently because of the context of the system we live in. That’s racism,” said commenter and UTMSU anti-racism coordinator Shery Ghaly in defense of the post.
“We are not by any means devaluing discrimination towards whites,’ Ghaly clarified. “We’re just saying that because racism is fundamentally tied to the notion of dominance and power, and POC do not have this position in society, only white people can truly be racist.”
Although the UTMSU has received many requests from commenters asking to remove the post, the executive stands by their decision to keep the post online. “The goal of the campaign is to educate and ignite conversation. With this particular post we were able to start a large conversation and it is our hope that folks were able to learn from one another,” stated said Agbeyegbe.
“On a topic like this folks rarely ever agree on everything. It is our duty to ensure that the student body is educated and on this topic folks didn’t agree but it is important to keep the conversation going because only through these means can we start having the discussions that lead to social change,” said Agbeyegbe.