We, White People, Depend on Racism in our Everyday Lives. Is there an Alternative?
Last March as the pandemic was beginning to reach our consciousness and before George Floyd and others were murdered by police, I wrote the following reflection that I think goes to the heart of our current racial catastrophes: "My half-century of organizing with The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond has taught me that even white progressives like myself who often speak out against racism nevertheless depend every day on our racial status in this country. We depend on the police 'protecting and serving' our family. We depend on banks giving us fair mortgages, on health professionals providing effective care. We depend on affordable services provided by low-wage workers. And some of us depend on our research being cited as expert in discussions about racism. Yet our daily decisions about where to live, go to school and socialize belie our commitment to racial equity. This is certainly true with me."
Think about how we as parents speak about our dreams for our children and grandchildren. "We want them to have every advantage." "We want them to excel." Of course! What parent wouldn't? We glory in their educational achievement, how early they can read, how many books they can read. Yet in this white supremacist society, don't our advantages cause disadvantages in others? Or when our children excel, are others necessarily left behind?
So where do we start? Perhaps the first step along the path toward equity is honest acknowledgment of how much we depend on - no, really like! -- our benefits. Then -- and only then -- is our path clear. We must work like hell to make sure all these benefits are available for everyone. Yet what makes us hesitate is that we believe in the myth of scarcity: that equity means 'we lose." We hear "reparations" and we get scared or angry ; we see reparations as punishment.
I suggest we begin to look at reparations as a national community development process - a reinvestment in our future that builds opportunities for all, including our own children and grandchildren.