Reverse-discrimination, like reverse-racism or reverse-sexism, is complicated because there are two very good arguments that claim it’s an entirely false concept. The first is that all discrimination is a form of prejudice, so “reverse” discrimination makes no sense because it doesn’t matter who the bigotry is directed toward, it’s all the same mental process. This ends up being a poor rebuttal because discrimination actually does discriminate: calling a black person a nigger and calling a white person a cracker, even if the intent behind each word is exactly the same, will impact the black person far worse than the white person. The cultural context surrounding each word relates to the historical oppression between both groups, and the current balance of power that puts white people above black people makes one slur significantly worse than the other. To illustrate how power affects the impact of language, I humbly offer this terrible example that I will use only because I can’t think of a better one: think of a child that calls you a piece of shit compared to your boss calling you a piece of shit. It’s unlikely the child will offend you because children are socially powerless, whereas your boss has direct control over a portion of your life which makes the boss’s words that much more impactful.

This leads into the second argument against reverse-discrimination. It is literally impossible to discriminate against the dominant group. The structures that are in place that benefit the dominant group gives them the privilege of power that prevents proper oppression. This means that describing the dominant group in a progressive criticism allows whatever language to be used because no one is getting oppressed. Let’s look at this theory a bit further.

Saying something like, “Men are violent” or using similar generalized phrases is semantically identical to saying, “Aboriginals are alcoholics” and, “Black people steal.” Saying “Men are violent” is lumping all men into one category. It is saying men like Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King, even me; we are all Brock Turners and Elliot Rodgers. We are the worst scum imaginable based on something we were born with. Sound familiar? It is impossible to deny the oppressive nature of the language, but we’ve established that as the dominant group, men cannot be oppressed, so this language will not affect them the way it would an Aboriginal or black person being attacked with similar language. There are country-wide structures in place that perpetuate the mindset behind that language against minority groups, whereas the same cannot be said for men.

However, even though this type of language cannot oppress the dominant group to the extent that it can oppress minority groups, it is still alienating language. It leads to knee-jerk reactions like the all-to-common male response to feminist campaigns. Men are clearly receiving the message, otherwise there would be no response at all, but the terminology the message is couched in puts men on the defensive. Is this because men are inherently bullheaded and resistant to change, or because the oppressive language being used prevents meaningful dialogue? I’m not so stupid to fully discount the former, but all people abhor their values being challenged, and the latter most certainly plays a significant role on top of it. Why fight a progressive campaign with a handicap? Oppressive language can only serve to push the dominant group further into their own ideology because if there is a choice between an ideology that personally attacks them the way that oppressive language intrinsically does, or one that emphasizes their superiority, it’s easy to see why they would choose to remain within the cozy confines of the dominant culture.

The surprisingly nuanced film, Dear White People, highlights this problem remarkably well. For those who don’t know, the movie is about a university radio show hosted by a black woman with sardonic messages for ‘white people’. As you might expect, her advice makes blanket statements about white people that address real racial issues facing contemporary black culture. However, her boyfriend is a white ally, and when he comes to visit her at the all-black residential hall, he is heckled and has food thrown at him until he leaves. No distinction is made between him and the film’s white antagonist who organizes a racist fraternity party. The boyfriend and the protagonist eventually make up because love conquers all, but she does raise some eyebrows among her black peers who recognize the hypocrisy of generalized statements mixed with individual exceptions.

Generalized language is also just bad activism. Approximately 90% of all violence is committed by men, but about 90% of people suffering from bulimia are women. Do we address women in sweeping language for their behaviour, or attack the cultural forces that pressure women to conform to an image of femininity that people with brains identify as toxic? The instant that the cultural forces behind bad behaviour are forgotten to focus on the people committing them is the moment that movement has failed.

On top of this, one can sometimes forget that within progressive movements, the dominant group is no longer dominant. What gender holds the power within feminism? Well, how many men are in the average gender studies class? The answer is not a lot. If the accepted definition of discrimination necessarily highlights the power disparity between groups, how are the progressive institutions not just microcosms of the larger culture when this type of behaviour is acceptable? The outcomes are similar too, and the no-longer-dominant group often internalizes this mentality. I’ve heard multiple progressive men identify themselves as “one of the good ones” as a joking reference to the historically racist language that identifies someone as the risen cream of an otherwise inferior class of people, oblivious to the accuracy of the comparison.

If discrimination is the negative relationship between the dominant group and minority groups, then reverse-discrimination may as well be the negative relationship between the revolutionary groups and the minority groups within them. Certainly discrimination is worse because of how much widespread oppression remains, but what are the odds of fixing anything when the exact same methodology is used to counteract it? Reverse-discrimination needs to be acknowledged within progressive circles as a reality, lest we give in to the vitriol that more and more I wonder is human nature.