White Supremacy, Privilege, and Racism
Hopefully this will open the door to the hard conversations that may stir thinking and problem solving along the road to collaboration and change
Photo: Flickr/The All-Nite Images
Great social change awaits us, but … this will mean having uncomfortable, heartfelt conversations to understand … the suffering caused by White privilege, racism and “othering”
Editor’s Note: The following is the first of a multiple-part feature on race penned by a White Compton Herald reader, former school teacher, activist, land conservationist, and retired Realtor®, Debbie Hecht from San Diego, Calif. I’ve come to know Hecht quite well and her outspoken views on race. She has strong beliefs on the naivete of White people to accept their predisposition to prejudice and is on a “courageous” mission to awaken them to their biases — many of whom she says are in denial, wholly unaware of their White privilege. Herewith is Part 1 of the series. The Compton Herald appreciates your feedback. — Jarrette D. Fellows, Jr.
By DEBBIE HECHT, Contributing Writer
The 2016 U.S. election was a wake-up call. The Trump rhetoric has unleashed the simmering hatred of racism hiding just below the surface of civility in this country.
White supremacy and White privilege are alive and well in the United States. The shock waves of the 2016 election have emboldened White supremacists and exposed great divides among citizens racially, economically, and socially. It has become acceptable to incite violence and spew hatred. In just two years from 2014-2016, hate groups have increased by 14.5 per cent (from the Southern Poverty Law Centers Hate Map – see Bibliography).
The population demographics support White supremacy: According to the 2014 Census projections: Whites are the dominant race in the U.S., the largest portion of the population at 76.9 percent, although some percentage of White is also considered Hispanic which is 15.9 percent. Hispanics are the largest minority at 17.8 percent, African Americans are 13.3 percent, Asians, 5.7 percent, Native Americans/Alaska Native, 1.3 percent, and native Hawaiians, 2 percent.
This will be a multiple-part feature and reader feedback is welcomed, especially with Part 2: Examples of Racism. It’s important to disclose the writer’s fundamental beliefs. Firstly, that all people have some degree of racism. For most Whites it is unconscious White privilege. For people of color it could be generalizing that all White people are bad and showing great anger at the inequities created by the dominant culture, and generally at Whites.
The writer’s intent is to bring embedded, unconscious racism to consciousness, so that people can watch and hopefully temper their own racial biases. Hopefully this will open the door to the hard conversations that may stir thinking and problem solving along the road to collaboration and change in how our society treats people of color and different cultures.
Great social change awaits us, but it only will come at great cost and will require great effort. This will mean having uncomfortable, heartfelt conversations to understand the lives of others and the suffering caused by White privilege, racism and “othering.” How is our culture “White skewed” by supporting White supremacy and privilege? Our society is White skewed because of population demographics, the legal system, our educational institutions, and economic and tax systems, to name a few.
The Legal System
The basis of our legal system is the Constitution that was written by White slave owners. The Constitution and our first laws were written to uphold the plantation system, which was dependent upon slave labor. In 1865, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery and ended the plantation way of life in the south. It states: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
One-hundred-fifty-two years after the passage of the 13thAmendment, the U.S. still supports an unconscious social and cultural system called racism.
Slavery in the prisons: Slavery is still allowed in prisons, to the benefit of corporations.
“At least thirty-seven states have legalized the contracting of prison labor by private corporations that mount their operations inside state prisons. The list of such companies contains the cream of U.S. corporate society: IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T, Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and more. All of these businesses are excited about the economic boon generation by prison labor.
From 1980-1994, profits increased from $392 million to $1.31 billion. Inmates in state penitentiaries generally receive the minimum wage for their work, but not all; in Colorado, they get about $2 per hour, well under the minimum. And in privately run prisons, they receive as little as 17 cents per hour for a maximum of six hours a day, the equivalent of $20 per month. The highest-paying private prison is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) in Tennessee, where prisoners receive 50 cents per hour for what they call “highly skilled positions.” At these rates, it is no surprise that inmates find the pay in federal prisons very generous. There, they can earn $1.25 an hour and work eight hours a day, and sometimes overtime. They can send home $200-$300 per month.
Ninety-seven percent of 125,000 federal inmates have been convicted of non-violent crimes. It is believed that more than half of the 623,000 inmates in municipal and county jails are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Of these, the majority are awaiting trial. Two-thirds of the 1 million state prisoners have committed non-violent offenses. Sixteen percent of the country’s 2 million prisoners suffer from mental illness. The U.S. penal system is perpetuating a whole new sub-class of working poor who cannot support their families and are not learning valuable skills for the return to society.
Slavery is the worst form of “othering.” In order to buy/sell, beat, kill, breed human beings, slaves had to be dehumanized. Slave owners needed slaves to work the southern plantations. Somewhat the same happened with indentured servitude in Hawaii on the sugar cane plantations, under the guise of corporate domination, where the plantation owners paid wages, but deducted money for housing and items bought at the country store. “Othering” means they are not one of us — they are not like us.
The Education System
According to a Brookings Institute study, education is one route out of poverty:
“The color line divides us still. In recent years, the most visible evidence of this in the public policy arena has been the persistent attack on affirmative action in higher education and employment. From the perspective of many Americans who believe that the vestiges of discrimination have disappeared, affirmative action now provides an unfair advantage to minorities. From the perspective of others who daily experience the consequences of ongoing discrimination, affirmative action is needed to protect opportunities likely to evaporate if an affirmative obligation to act fairly does not exist. And for Americans of all backgrounds, the allocation of opportunity in a society that is becoming ever more dependent on knowledge and education is a source of great anxiety and concern.”
Racial Divide in Schools
Upper class White children frequently attend private school, which leads to less integration in public schools and less understanding of racial differences.
Affirmative Action allows people of color more opportunities for college admission. There has been mixed support in the courts for affirmative action at state universities.
Affirmative Action was voted out in the state of Michigan in 2014. This was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 75-page dissenting opinion Justice Sonia Sotomayer opined:
“This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”
In Fisher v. the University of Texas in April of 2016, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a race-conscious admissions program at the University of Texas at Austin. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, said courts must give universities substantial but not total leeway in designing their admissions programs.
“A university is in large part defined by those intangible ‘qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness,’” Kennedy wrote, quoting from a landmark case re: desegregation. “Considerable deference is owed to a university in defining those intangible characteristics, like student body diversity, that are central to its identity and educational mission. But still it remains an enduring challenge to our nation’s education system to reconcile the pursuit of diversity with the constitutional promise of equal treatment and dignity.”
The current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is focused on establishing a voucher system for schools that will further dismantle funding for public schools.
Less money for schools means fewer and lower-quality books, less labs, fewer computers, larger classes, less qualified and less experienced teachers can be hired and less new and innovative teaching systems. Few science courses and art courses are available.
Student engagement and achievement suffer in overcrowded classrooms with lower quality teachers and less enriching materials. Computers are especially important in lower-income areas because families may not have them at home.
Importance of Nutritional School Lunches
From a study of all California public schools over a five-year period by the National Bureau of Economic Research,
“Students at schools that contract with a healthy school lunch vendor score higher on California state achievement tests, with larger test score increases for students who are eligible for reduced price or free school lunches.”
Applying for admissions to our colleges and universities is daunting for bilingual or poorly educated people. On the positive side many community colleges require remedial classes to raise students knowledge to levels that can help them to be more successful in college. The question is, “Why weren’t core competencies stressed in high school?”
A look at funding issues reveals the disparity.
There are frequent legislative battles at the state level over paying a living wage. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia have minimum wages above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Low paid workers can barely make ends meet. They see no path to the “American Dream” and they see nothing changing soon. This leads to hopelessness, frustration, and anger. Many people are one paycheck from homelessness. Paying a living wage is better for our country because:
- Fewer people would be on welfare.
- Fewer people would need food stamps.
- Better nutrition means better health and lower health care costs.
- Fewer people would need assistance with health insurance, care costs and drugs.
- Higher wages means more people would be contributing to Social Security.
- More people would be paying income taxes, increasing l federal and state revenues.
- More money in the national budget would mean more money for other things like infrastructure and education.
- More people could afford to buy big-ticket items: appliances, cars and homes to stimulate the economy.
- Since more people would have more buying power there would be more sales taxes paid for local governments.
What is the downside of having a living wage? A Big Mac or a cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts might cost more? The federal minimum wage in the U.S. is currently $7.25 an hour (before taxes), which is about $6.26 after taxes.
Australia has the highest minimum wage with $9.54 after taxes, then Luxembourg with $9.25 after taxes, and Belgium with $8.57 after taxes.
IRS and the tax system: The tax breaks in the current tax system are not understandable to most Americans without hiring a tax professional. Only people who are in the middle to upper classes can afford to hire certified public accountants to navigate the tax system, so they can benefit from tax shelters. The middle class and lower class may miss out on tax breaks without expert advice.
The Stock Market: The stock market is confusing to even the most educated people. This avenue of investment is not open to most people. As of April 2016, stock ownership has fallen to 52 percent of Americans from a high of 60 percent in 1998.
Inequality in real estate: Owning your own home is one of the best ways for anyone to build wealth. Most White people have an experience or know of a friend or relative who has greatly profited by real estate investment. People of Color were omitted from this path to wealth by Redlining and also Deed Restrictions.
Redlining of neighborhoods: Redlining is defined in Merriam Webster Law Dictionary as: “the illegal practice of refusing to offer credit or insurance in a particular community on a discriminatory basis (because of the race or ethnicity).” This means that families of color could not get mortgages. This was done by the U.S. government assisted by real estate agents and appraisers.
In an edition of The Atlantic, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates addressed redlining in his “Case for Reparations”:
“Neighborhoods where [B]lack people lived were rated “D” and were usually considered ineligible for FHA backing. Black people were viewed as a contagion. Redlining went beyond FHA-backed loans and spread to the entire mortgage industry, which was already rife with racism, excluding Black people from most legitimate means of obtaining a mortgage. Without access to FHA-insured mortgages, Black families who sought home ownership were forced to turn to predatory and abusive lenders.”
Deed Restrictions were very common in 1920-1940. These restrictions that “run with the land” and are recorded with the Deed and govern who can own the property. They were known to say “Whites Only” or “Negroes not allowed.”
“Racial restrictive covenants became common practice in cities across the country, dozens of cities in the North, the South, the West,” said Seattle historian Gregory. “For … a quarter of a century, this was the thing to do.”
Sometimes the deeds read “Whites only.” In Seattle, Gregory says Asian restrictions were common, while Hispanics were the target in Los Angeles. In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states could not enforce the racial restrictions. In 1968, Congress outlawed them altogether. But Gregory says their impact endures.” — from National Public Radio: Hidden in Old Home Deeds.
Part 2, “White Supremacy, Privilege, and Racism,” will examine specific examples of racism. You can read more of this feature at www.debbiehecht.com . Anyone wishing to share examples of racism woven into American culture are encouraged to contact Debbie Hecht at firstname.lastname@example.org