Our church is in the middle of a four part educational class led by Kathy Michaelis that sheds light on racial discrimination. My wife and I were in attendance and the effect of the class is profound. I am hoping that you are not sitting back finding reasons to not read my blog today. Reasons like “I would never discriminate” or “I am not racist” or “Here we go again”. I will be the first to deny any leaning toward discrimination and I am betting that better than 99% of the people I call friends and aquaintenances would say the same. The problem is even when we don’t actively discriminate we support a system by our silence or inaction, that inheritantly does. The system doesn’t intend to, but the truth is that after over 150 years since slavery was abolished with the 13th ammendment, a clearly unequal playing field still exists. Even when we have laws to guard against it, the system has a long way to go to be equalized. For reference to the divide between net worth for African Americans and whites I will ask you to check out this YouTube video: Race: Power of an Illusion “The house you live in”. It will go through how lending and building expansion was skewed to make it almost impossible for African Americans to own property let alone create equity. Equity in our economic society is what in most cases describes the majority of our net worth and allows us to create leverage for our purchasing power.
Kathy used this video in week two to highlight the inequitable policies of the building boom of the post WWII era and how the result of those policies are still felt today. I consider myself history smart, but the revelations were not only shocking but almost depressing when I am forced to ask the question “but what can one person do?” As a class we passionately discussed this question. The conversation was at times overwhelming. It is too easy to ignore the realities of life as it exist in our society. It is too easy to pretend there is no such thing as “white priviledge” or worse yet to defend it as something we have earned. Don’t take this the wrong way. White priviledge is not an insult or a statement meant to elicit guilt. It is just a fact and as such, gives me a head start in the race. There is an activity described as “the race for the $100 bill”. A $100 bill is laid out and the participants are asked to line up for the race to see who can get to the bill first. Before the race begins, the starter states that “if you come from a stable family with two parents” take one step forward. If your parents both have jobs, take another step forward. If you know where your meal will come from tonight, take yet another step forward. And so on. White priviledge becomes painfully obvious. By now you are getting my point. We can blame poverty or education. You can claim that they don’t take the initiative. You can find a hundred reasons to hide behind but the truth of the matter is that the race was never fair. They started late and have to take off from behind the line. Whether you believe in profiling or not, the percentage of blacks incarcerated is completely disproportionate by any statistic. And when that incarceration creates yet another child growing up in a single parent home, well you get my drift.
So what can a person do? I have my opinion and I am compelled to share it if only for the hope that someone will take it as a place to start. I think that there are four things that we can do and is at least a place to start.
One, we can act individually. We can take the initiative to help even one individual to get ahead or at least get up to the starting line. If we are in the position to make a life changing decision, like hiring, then consider stepping into the role.
Two, we have a vote and we must exercise it. But here is the rub, just voting to vote accomplishes very little. We must be educated to the campaign promises and the pressures of the party line on the candidates we choose. At times we must be willing to make sacrifices with our vote. I once told someone that if I wanted to get elected the first promise I make is to cut your taxes. No one wants to pay taxes but it is a sacrifice that is demanded of those who can, to provide the revenue through taxes that ultimately protects, preserves and improves the society, culture and infrastructures we live and thrive in. On this front I have a clean conscience. I have voted in favor of referendums that would raise my taxes. I have looked for and supported candidates that would favor programs and laws that would seek to provide for and improve the lives of those in need even when it meant I would see my taxes increased. I don’t relish paying the taxes I pay but I do it without complaint and feel better for it.
Three, donate and volunteer in the programs that will take us in a better direction, assist those unable to overcome their inherited plight and ultimately begin to truly level the playing field for all. If you have the financial resources, give generously from that head start that you had. If the financial resources aren’t there, then donate with your hands and feet. Either way or both ways, your actions are a start to the long road ahead. If it took 150 years and this is all the farther we have come, there is plenty of work and unfortunately, time ahead of us.
And four, educate yourself and anyone else that will listen. Start by sharing this blog, but don’t stop there. Volunteer to repeat this process in your church or school or any other organization. There is a wealth of information out there and the education process has to be nurtured. At the very least, assist schools when they broach the subject, be supportive with your time, dollars and your vote.
The solution starts with individuals. Think of yourself as that seed you put in the pot of soil. If you command the seed to grow and then ignore the whole thing, odds are it won’t. If on the other hand you water it, even fertilize it and at the very least pay attention to it, you just might see it succeed. Please remember that dispair is the last step on the road to giving up. Don’t dispair, believe that you are not alone and take the first step in the other direction.