I Have Benefitted from Racism
I am a White woman entering middle age. I consider myself liberal and progressive. I have never considered myself racist. I was raised to be loving and accepting. I thought that was enough. I was never taught or told three little words that shattered my world once I realized their truth. Racism benefits me. Let me say that again. Racism benefits me.
I grew up in a world where, no matter what, simply based on the color of my skin, I had an upper hand. Never once have I questioned if I’d be helped or served at a restaurant. Never once have I had security follow me around a store. Never once have I been stopped by police without cause. Never once have I thought I wouldn’t get something I wanted based on the color of my skin. But, it goes beyond that.
Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II. They returned home and started families. One grandfather went to school on the GI Bill. Both were able to get home mortgage loans and begin building “wealth” for their families upon returning from the war, thanks to the GI Bill. Black service members returning to the US after WWII were not given the same opportunities. They fought for their country. Bled for their country. Died for their country. Yet, for those who returned home, their country did not support them upon their return. They returned to a country where they were still forced to drink out of different water fountains, sit at the back of the bus, go to different schools, and the list goes on. They were not given all of the opportunities of the GI bill including access to home mortgage loans. Access to real estate is one of the single most important things when amassing wealth. Without access to this, Black families could not amass wealth at the rates of White families no matter how hard they worked. And so, the wealth divide became even greater. Once the Civil Rights Act of 1968, and the Title VIII of this, the Fair Housing Act, was passed, stipulating that “refusal to sell or rent a dwelling to any person because of his race, color, religion, or national origin,” access changed. However, to a country where Whites still benefitted from racism, racism found a way. As Black families moved into neighborhoods, White families moved out. Redlining became the term of the time. Neighborhoods with predominantly Black families were deemed financially risky and loans would not be given for these areas. These areas deteriorated. Because a significant of US school funds come from property tax and these areas did not have high property taxes, how much money did the schools for these neighborhoods receive as compared to the schools in White neighborhoods? It’s not too hard to do the math.
Fast forward to my upbringing. When I was raised, I was taught to be colorblind, a term that I now know negates the very essence of someone’s racial and cultural identity. I was also taught that anyone who worked hard would succeed and, if someone was not succeeding, they must not have worked hard enough. I was not taught that systemic racism, perpetrated from the highest levels of government, had placed my family in a position where home ownership was expected. I was not taught that people who were Black and Brown had to work much harder to get to the same wealth level. I was not taught that schools were not all funded the same. I was not taught that systemic racism had made my life easier every step of the way. I was not taught that I benefited from racism.
As a White woman continuing on my journey of understanding my White privilege, it is so important for me to recognize that much of my success in life has been helped by the color of my skin. I also must recognize that it is my duty to educate other White people. I must listen, truly listen, to my Black and Brown friends. I must trust them when they say they experience racism. And I must be a voice to fight against oppression.