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Does Reverse Racism Exist?

May 2021 | Mai 2021



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Topic: Reverse Racism

Does Reverse Racism Exist?


In January 2021, Ian Shugart, the Clerk of the Privy Council, published a Call to action on anti-racism, equity, and inclusion in the Federal Public Service. He called on all Public Service leaders to adopt a range of measures, including to "Appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to and within the Executive Group through career development and talent management."

However, concerns arise that hiring or promoting Indigenous and racialized persons results in reverse racism. Does it? 

First, it is important to understand the problem. There is an under-representation of Indigenous, Black and racialized leaders within the federal public service, in particular at the EX-level

A lack of representation within an organization, including at the leadership level, can be the result of various barriers, such as unconscious bias in the hiring and promotion process; systemic barriers, such as the history of racism that has limited the opportunities for Indigenous, Black and racialized people to enter the public service; as well as cultural barriers, such as as overt and covert requirements of "the right fit" within the workplace. 

Second, it is important to understand why providing opportunities to Indigenous, Black and racialized people is important to increase representation within the public service. 

Third, providing opportunities to Indigenous, Black and racialized people is not reverse racism. Keeping in mind the above, the purpose of these measures is to address barriers that have limited the opportunities for these groups to have equal opportunities within the public service. 

A white person can experience racial prejudice. However, a white person cannot experience racism.


The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines prejudice as "negative prejudgment or preconceived feelings or notions about another person or group of persons based on perceived characteristics." This includes thoughts, attitudes, feelings or assumptions based on a person's racial identity. 


Racism is different from racial prejudice because racism requires the systemic exercise of power by a dominant group, such as social, political, economic and institutional power. As the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre at the University of Calgary indicates: 

When backed with power, prejudice results in acts of discrimination and oppression against groups or individuals. In Canada, white people hold this cultural power due to Eurocentric modes of thinking, rooted in colonialism, that continue to reproduce and privilege whiteness. It is whiteness that has the power to define the terms of racialized others’ existence.

In Canada, most institutions are led by white people, including the federal public service. This also includes the Supreme Court of Canada, and courts throughout Canada; the federal Cabinet and provincial legislatures, the Senate; Boards of Directors for profit and non-profit organizations; school boards and academic institutions. 

Resources | Ressources


Understanding the Problem

COCo, "The 'Problem' Woman of Colour in NonProfit Organizations" (8 March 2018).

This report is applicable for any organization, not just non-profit. 

Commission de la fonction publique, Vérification portant sur la représentation des groupes visés par l’équité en matière d’emploi lors du recrutement (28 janvier 2021).

Erin L. Thomas, Upwork "A Letter from Erin L. Thomas, Head of Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging" (28 August, 2020).

Ontario Human Rights Commission, Policy and guidelines on racism and racial discrimination (9 June 2005).

Commission ontarienne des droits de la personne, Politique et directives sur le racisme et la discrimination raciale (9 juin 2005).

Public Service Commission, Audit of Employment Equity Representation in Recruitment (28 January, 2021).

Quillian, Lincoln, Anthony Heath, Devah Pager, Arnfinn H. Midtbøen, Fenella Fleischmann, and Ole Hexel. 2019. “Do Some Countries Discriminate More than Others? Evidence from 97 Field Experiments of Racial Discrimination in Hiring.” Sociological Science 6: 467-496.

Professionalism Standards

Laura Brewer, "The Practice of Perfectionism" (22 January 2018). 

Unconscious Bias

Harvard Implicit Association Test.

Harvard Test d’Associations Implicite.

Oreopoulos, Philip and Dechief, Diane, Why Do Some Employers Prefer to Interview Matthew, but Not Samir? New Evidence from Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver (February 2012). 

Does Reverse Racism Exist?

Calgary Anti-Racism Eduction, "The Myth of Reverse Racism".

Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, "The truth behind ‘reverse racism’, it’s not racism" (8 July 2020).

Department of Justice, Charterpedia: Section 15 – Equality rights (date modified: 25 January 2021) .


Libération, « Le racisme anti-Blancs n’existe pas » (22 octobre 2018). 

Ministère de la Justice, Chartepédia : Article 15 – Droit à l’égalité (date de modification 25 janvier 2021).

Keith Payne, Scientific America, "The Truth about Anti-White Discrimination" (18 July 2019).


Teamsters Canada, "What is Employment Equity and is it Discrimination?" (17 December 2018).

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