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How Does Slavery Benefit White People Today?

Luke Visconti’s Ask the White Guy column is a top draw on DiversityInc.com. Visconti, the founder and CEO of DiversityInc, is a nationally recognized leader in diversity management. In his popular column, readers who ask Visconti tough questions about race/culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age can expect smart, direct and disarmingly frank answers.

Ask the White Guy Luke ViscontiQuestion:
Call me whatever you like, but please elaborate on how slavery DIRECTLY benefits me today.

This line of reasoning does not appear to be logically sound without further explanation.

Your answer makes me want to scream as no argument was made to convince me of anything except as a white person, I am either ignorant or bigoted.

Answer:
Please don’t scream; I can personally testify that ignorance is curable.

The legacy of slavery has benefited every white person in this country–directly and personally. In a very gross analogy, if you run a series of foot races over 300 years but prevent 13 percent of the participants from learning how to run for 180 years and then give them concrete sneakers for another 80 years–but allow them full access for 40 years, it will take the 13 percent quite a few races to be competitive because the other 87 percent advanced their skills by practice and repetition.

Life is not a foot race, but it is a fact that the average white person would not economically benefit from switching places with an average black person (black households average one-tenth the household wealth of white households). If you believe all people are created equal, there has to be a reason for this–and there is: racism.

The first slaves were brought to this country in the 1600s. After slavery ended in 1865 (the Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves in the North) and until the 1960s, African Americans lived under laws that overtly discriminated against them. In 1960, most African Americans could not vote and had practically no access to higher education. Although the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts (1964 and 1965, respectively) addressed the legal issues, and legislation like the CRA opened banking to red-lined areas, programs to eliminate disparities have proved to not be adequate.

Before somebody e-mails me with the old canard of “Nobody in my family ever owned a slave,” I’d like to retire that excuse with a personal example: Generations ago, my ancestors fled the horrible conditions in their home countries to establish families in the United States. It was never much of a question as to whether or not we could pick wherever we wanted to live, have access to college or get a mortgage. If my family suffered under generations of knowing that those doors were closed, it would take generations more to overcome that lack of family know-how. In essence, my family zipped right past people whose families were here long before mine. I never even questioned that Rutgers would be open to accepting my application, that the Navy would send me to flight school or that McGraw-Hill or Time Warner would hire me–and that when I was there I would be in the vast majority (there were less than 3 percent people of color in both publications I worked for). I never doubted my ability to start a company and had plenty of friends to mentor me along the way.

If you go back to people being created equally, it is just math that a percentage of our country’s greatest minds were eliminated from the competition simply by fact of skin color, and by extension their families were denied the head-start of their accomplishments. Every white person benefits from this–even people who arrived to the United States yesterday.
 
Unfortunately, this has hurt our country dramatically. If you caught black households up to white household wealth, it would be the equivalent of injecting the entire GDP of Japan into our economy. Who would benefit? Mostly white people, as the majority would manufacture the goods and services purchased with the “new” wealth.

The good news is that many white people remembered and unremembered have done their duty and fought for freedom. White guys can take pride in fellow white guys like Washington, Franklin, Garrison, Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson (among others). Our country may be imperfect, but our human rights are still the guiding beacon of opportunity for most of the rest of the planet..

 

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32 Comments

  • Anonymous

    I understand where you are coming from with your 180 years behind in the race example. The problem I have with it, however, is that it can be used forever as a reason why any particular person of color is “behind” in the race. At some point, this can no longer be used as an exlanation. You used an overarching example…here I will use a much shorter, but equally valid, one. Consider my daughter having a terrible math teacher early in her education, one who denies her all access to mathematical content for whatever reason (the reason does not matter at all). Years later, can she still “blame” any math trouble on tha teacher? No. If she does, she will never get caught up. After that single incident, she had all the same opportunities as other children. Fair? No. This may seem silly to some of you, but the percentages work out smilarly. Think of the number of minutes sent with that math teacher compared with the number of minutes with every other. A large number of most talented people of color that I have seen do not talk about disadvantages they have, but things they have done to rise up to their potential. In my opinion, the time has come to work hard and pull yourself up. I have been personally been discriminated against because I am white. It was told to my face, directly, after several interviews that I was more qualified that every other candidate for a job, but I wasn’t “representative” of the local population. I was told this by an African American. I took it as far as I could, but it seems the system acceps this. That is racism. I could use that rejection to take blame any problems I have had with my career, but what good would that do? Where are people who think like you when I need sticking up for in that situation? You KNOW it could never happen the other way around and not make headlines if it was said so direclty. Do you somehow think, in a dimented way, that I deserved that or that it was fair? I have never found (yet) a “diversity expert” that could think beyond their own skewed vision of today’s world.

    • its no just as simple as one bad math teacher if you have been mentally torn down for years that stuff sticks with you. two individuals could get molested by a relative for years one may be able to move past that pain and betrayal but the other one that may stay with for the rest of their lives and it haunts them daily and I can’t move pass it. both work really hard and they both have to go through it different people have different perspectives

    • You cannot compare your isolated experience of racism with that of not only blacks, but other minorities, like Latinos. If we are using education as an example, how about a black boy from a low income neighborhood. The school he goes to cannot afford proper books, and the right teachers to help their students. The child cannot afford to take the SAT (if he even knows about it since no one in his life has ever taken it). He finally finds out about it his senior year, and doesn’t get an efficient score because of his prior education. He cannot go to college. He gets into gangs after high school. He has a child, and with out proper education can’t find a good job to support and starts selling drugs. He is then incarcerated for 20 years. The end. The cycle continues. This isn’t an example btw. This happens on a daily basis.

  • Anonymous

     My comment to DK would be – are you actually comparing minutes with a bad math teacher to hundreds of years of slavery and racism?  You have GOT TO BE KIDDING??!!!

  • Anonymous

    DK, your response shows your lack of understanding what had just been explained to you, and the analogy that was used.

    In your analogy concerning your daughter’s supposed math problem, your daughter could not use the same excuse about the bad teacher because she had the opportunity to seek other teachers. She was white. You assume that Blacks had the same opportunity. Whites didn’t even want Blacks to read, so who did they turn to to teach them more than they were trying to learn in dark corners, with lack of material, and the pending death penalty if caught TRYING to learn?You were just told about progression being withheld from Blacks. I guess Diversity’s analogy should have been simpler (as if it could have been).

    It’s responses like yours that continue to bring back memory of “Black Wallstreet” the mass murders of prosperous Blacks because Whites were jealous of their prosperity, and the lynchings in the south (and north), the so called “picnics” (pic-a n_____r to lynch), and many many more atroscities inflicted on Black people.

    So, tell me, how did being discriminated against feel? It’s belittling isn’t it?

    These are questions that I’m sure Blacks could elaborate on fluently, since White America has spent centuries discriminating and belittling them.

    The Bible says that, “…the sins of the fathers are visited upon their children”.

    Welcome the the great American way.

    • “Whites didn’t even want Blacks to read, so who did they turn to to teach them more than they were trying to learn in dark corners, with lack of material, and the pending death penalty if caught TRYING to learn”

      Clearly in that phase to match his metaphor his daughter would still have the bad teacher, but that isn’t so much the case anymore is it?

      Whites still have privilege and blacks are still discriminated, but it isn’t to the point where blacks are helpless to help themselves and each other.

    • Well said. …However what whites do not have a clue about is the fact that we will never catch up to their status no matter how much they would like us to get over it. Out of the top 100 richest in the world there isn’t a single black American. Oprah is the richest black person in the US period and she is # 580 on Americas list not the world list. There are two Africans on the world list….one from Nigeria and another from Ethiopia. Now Africans are not included in our injustice as black men and women in America. For those who think they are I will make it clear for you. How many Africans do you know that respect so called African Americans as their brothers and sisters. …I don’t know any…and I have lived near them in Chicago for years. They will make it plain and clear that we are not their people. However, the point that I am making is that the wealth not only in America but the world as a whole is controlled with an iron fist by whites. We are nowhere in the game. As a result our injustices will only get worse unless we become independent as we did after reconstruction. Build our own schools, stores, businesses etc. and manufacture our own products and keep our wealth among ourselves. This is the only way out of the conditions we face as not 2nd class but 5th class citizens in society. Asians, Arabs, Africans, and Hispanics are given far more opportunities than African Americans in this country. Most of them have access to government grants and tax breaks black Americans will never see. I am not ignoring the fact that we are also responsible for many of our endless problems but this generational process of elimination has played a very important role. Separation to succeed is our only solution.

      • Luke Visconti

        And racists, like the Koch brothers’ father, who started The John Birch Society, will attribute your numbers to a race-wide lack of intelligence, in order to curry political power among frustrated poor white people. Those ignoramuses will post quotes from Pat Buchanan’s error-riddled books on every website they can. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Anonymous

    When I pull into my minimum wage job, and have to liftthe hood of my Hyundai with 170,000 to cool it off. As a white man, Imust wonder how I benefit from something that happen 150 years ago. Butthen again, as a white male I obviously wear blinders and as onesupposed reader pointed out I’m “Afraid of losing my dominance”

  • Anonymous

    Maybe you could afford a better car if you spent less time writingignorant emails and more time at the library.

  • Anonymous

    I have come to something of a conclusion about slavery, it wasn’t done away with because it was the right thing to do, but more because it was to expensive for the capitalists of this country. I realize at first blush this sounds rather crazy, but what happens in reconstruction makes me believe it is reasonable to think this is the case. One example I found suggested there was value in slaves and the owners didn’t want to lose that value if something should happen. Slaves were never used as firemen on paddle wheel boats on the Mississippi because if the boiler blew, there would be an even great economic loss that the boat, your slaves might be killed! It was much simpler to hire Irishmen to fire your boilers, if they got killed you weren’t out anything. What we have now is wage slavery. It fits that if all working people are treated far worse than slaves there is money to be made! So, with the end of the civil war, reconstruction created the business of share cropping, it didn’t matter if the share cropper starved to death trying to make a living on his land, the other half of the share would always make money at his expense. I guess my first thoughts are we need to stop thinking about this situation as a we/they battle, we have been thrown together and now are treated the same, badly. Keeping the arguement about those who suffered under slavery and those who did not, colors the issues and creates devisiveness. We need to get beyond that and start looking at how we can work together to stop this business of those with money abusing their workers Black, White Hispanic, it makes no difference.

    • @I love your train of thought. The only constructive thing written on this page. The past is history and our future is in our hands. Knowing history in order to plot a well prepared future is the way to go, let’s not use it to drive wedges. With any new relationship there has to be a degree of blind trust and forgiveness of past transgressions, with out it there is no future. There needs to be a movement of a new commitment, a new relationship where all sides agree on a common goal of mutual respect and self improvement for all.

      • whowanttoknow

        True, but before anyone can get to that point, people need to understand their past or history in order to avoid more problems in the future. You can’t progress in the future if you don’t understand your own past or the country’s history.

  • Anonymous

    I would just like to compliment DK on such an educated response and analogies to people who either are still in denial or just simply do not know their history or both. You are dynamic. I enjoyed reading your response to the fullest. My thoughts are so much like yours, but I don’t believe I could say them as eloquet as you. Thanks!!! CM

  • Anonymous

    LMAO slavery has been around for thousand s of years, as we all know, yet all people in this country can seem to do is focus only on black slaves and white slave owners. How bout focusing on the future because it would seem to me that plenty of people have died on both sides of the American slavery issue, wheres the benefit in that? We have a lot more freedoms being taken away from us, EVERY DAY the constitution is being changed and morphed and diluted to where pretty soon we’ll all truly be slaves. Wake up people, the constitution is everyones true and equal FREEDOM. The constitution protects EVERYONE in this country. So in my humble opinion we should all try to move forward as a nation of freedom lovers and instead of pouring energy into arguments like this one, lets start working together. I mean, after all I’d say an African American President says a lot about how far we’ve come as a nation, especially in the last 50 years.

    • Anonymous

      Unfortunately the constitution has to change with population growth, technology, corporate greed and environmental chages that affect human and animal life. Constitutions have to be amended over time to keep pace with religion, technology and new lifestyle thought processes that are so much different from 300 yrs ago

    • “The Constitution is everyone’s true and equal freedom…” yet when first written it accounted for SLAVES and indentured people as 3/5ths of a person. And women were not allowed to vote. Definitely equal. The Constitution is being changed nowadays so that people can have the same opportunities, and it is not even close to being completed. You cannot base today’s America on a document that was created for a completely DIFFERENT America only for rich, white men. It is okay to change things and people need to realize these ideas are meant to changed. Not be set in stone. That’s what Amendments are for. The paper is turning to dust anyways.

  • Anonymous

    Everyone wants to just wipe the slate clean and call everyone Americans without atonement for the racially based sins of this country. Reconciliation starts with the US government, acting on behalf of its populus issuing a sincere and meaningful apology for enslaving stolen, bought and otherwise procured Africans and their progeny. Decent people apologize for their wrongs before expecting to be forgiven.

    • I am reading this much later and have been having this discussion with my husband this morning. I agree that a big part of the problem is that the United States as a nation has never acknowledged the wrongs done to African Americans and how all whites benefit from those wrongs. In the big scheme of things we are not that far removed from slavery and for sure not the Civil Rights movement. There are still a lot of people around who can tell stories of racism that will turn your stomach and make your blood boil! As much as we would like it to go away, that is just not going to happen any time soon. It is too real and the affects are still present.

  • Anonymous

    The benefit has been material, however the psychological legacy is even greater. Today when we look at our young people the affect has taken a toll. The old are are dying out very quickly and the young are not able to carry the banner of racial superiority. Those who practiced this atrocity their children are experiencing poverty today on many levels. You see justice is like a pendulum and it is on its way back. Just look and you will see.

  • Anonymous

    It is sickening to say, but the white man has benefited from slavery. I do have to say though that it was the black man that started it. Not to say that it is okay either, but why in the world would these people sell there own people? So, even though the white man initially would kidnap the blacks to make them slaves in other countries, later they would be able to buy them instead. So who has benefited here? Maybe if the blacks would have continued to defend themselves against people trying to steal their own people, we would not have had slavery continuing to begin with. In the end, I believe that we have had a major head start, in almost all aspects of life than the blacks have, therefore the whites will continue to the ones benefiting from slavery.

  • Anonymous

    I was watcing a episode on MSNBC entitled” Do You Know Who You Are” This show traces the genealogy of famous people. This particular episode Emmitt Smith was the persone tracing his lineage. He was able to trace his history back to a white slave owner named Puryear in Virginia. This slave master raped his african ancestor and produced a mulatto child. He was able to locate the county where the Puryear family had its roots. Emmit drives into the city and while he is driving he notice a tire store called ” Puryear tires”. He drives a little further and notices a place called Puryear florist. He later interviews a historian of Meckelenberg County Virginia and this historian indicated that the Puryear family pretty much built the entire county. He also owned a Inn in the county where slaves were bought and sold. It is amazing. He owned acres and acres of land. He built the entire county. He had numerous businesses. He did all this with slave labor. It is centuries later and the puryears still are reaping the economic benefits. How do you think that descendents do not benefit from centuries of free labor? If you had a business and built that business without paying your workers for a century wouldn’t you have weatlh to pass down to your descendant?

  • Anonymous

    You should watch Banished, a documentary about White residents in Forsyth, Georgia who currently reside on land that still belong to black citizens ran off by Ku Klux Klan members in the 1920s. The Black descendants confront the White descendants with proof that the deed illegally changed hands and the black family received no transfer of funds. JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Aetna, New York Life Insurance, former powerhouse Lehman Brothers and countless other financial institutions also rose to their positions from slave labor.

    The distinctive difference in American slavery is that it introduced the notion of inferiority or superiority based on the color of ones’ skin. In other words, an element that was never considered before in other societies to justify bondage: racism.

    Even so, the true grievance are the vestiges after slavery’s demise. In essence, despite the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, the United States reverted to a new system of enslavement. Measures were taken to remedy the errors of slavery with the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. However, when the United States instituted policies such as Black Codes and later Jim Crow laws; the government essentially broke the promise it made to its newly freed citizens for equal protection under the law.

    However, Black Codes were soon found unconstitutional but Jim Crow soon took its place and was only brought to an end in 1964, nearly a century after the passing of the 13th Amendment. In doing so, the United States essentially reinforced the notion that a Black man had no rights a White man was bound to respect.

    Moreover, American courts offered no protection for people of African descent. This soon led to the rise of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and their practices of terrorizing Black citizens by murdering whole families alive, burning successful black businesses and threatening black people with death if deeds to their homes and land weren’t issued to white neighbors by sundown.
    Black people were denied equal opportunity to compete for the opportunities that were available to fellow White citizens for nearly a century after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation – 1965.

    It’s amazing that people can quote Dr. MLK, Jr. at the drop of a hat. However, they don’t realize WHAT he was truly fighting for. African American’s have fought in every war this nation has had. The first casualty in the American revolution was Crispus Attucks, a black man.

    Black soldiers returning from WWII were murdered in uniform for attempting to vote. Yes, the history is sordid, but it doesn’t help to blame black people for not “getting over slavery” when so much injury actually occurred during their time as citizens.

    • Thank you for clearing it up. We are still struggling..two degrees later and still can’t get positions fitting my education because of my dark skin. Watch unqualified white inexperienced white person get jobs, oppurtunities and favor and was told by another white superior, that I would never get a certain position because no blacks wont be considered. I work for a large christian company, so the slavery is still in full effect.

  • DickJonesOCP

    Sir,

    I am a 24 year old Black man that’s been on the net since I was 12. Never in my life have I ever witness a White man use as much logic and reasoning as you. A truly smart White person is a very sparse occurrence on the net. It’s a damn shame that when I run into a smart man that isn’t Black I have to drop everything I’m doing and say hello to him, lol. These White kids think they are the greatest thing on earth but they are so ignorant(the true definition of the word, no malice)to the facts. All they know is White lies and propaganda and they truly believe it, it’s actually scary. You should teach these lost people, they even cry racism, they don’t know what racism is in the slightest, im a black man from Alabama, only one generation removed from segregation count it my mothers age ago, I experience true prejudice everyday one the net and in person, will stop rant now

    Your ‘series of foot races’ analogy, perfecto.

    Thanks for the read.

  • I acknowledge that the effects of slavery, institutional racism, sexism and homophobia are generational and no one in this country should be exempt from this knowledge. I have no issue with affirmative action or lending a helping hand to disenfranchised groups.

    What I, and I’m sure many other straight white males have an issue with is being held personally accountable for the suffering of these groups as if making the decision to oppress these groups is the same as benefitting from their oppression. I don’t like being put on the other side of the fence without any knowledge of who I am or what I stand for. I’m tired of the assumptions about my character based on my appearance and orientation. Fed up and sickened with being belittled, humiliated, villified all in the name of politics and divisiveness disguised as equality and meant to polarize, gridlock, divide and conquer the collective voice of the American people. Tyranny through the exploitation of prejudice and hate. We are divided. It’s a sad day to call yourself an American.

    • Luke Visconti

      Tut, tut, young SF. It’s a FINE day to call yourself an American. Just a hunch, but I think you’ll feel better if you turn off Fox News. Just about every racist rant we get can be traced back to something that aired on that POS network. I’m all of those things you describe (hetero, white, male) and some you don’t (no disabilities, Christian), yet I never feel belittled, humiliated or vilified for those attributes (the haters like to vilify me, but that’s a badge of honor as far as I’m concerned). The characters that run Fox—and their vampire allies, like Rush Limbaugh and the Koch brothers—make a living off of manipulating white men. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

      • I don’t like Fox news at all. They’re really political propaganda trying to pass themselves off as news, just like MSNBC. Your blog really employs tactics similar to these propagandists, considering how you removed my posts and left only your reply. I’m surprised you didn’t edit/paraphrase my comments. Shame on you.

        • Luke Visconti

          We don’t post offensive and/or excessively foolish comments. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

        • Im a black 25 year old hetero male (not sure why sexual orientation matters) and I must say I agree with Luke’s original comments but not here. No one living today owned slaved and the tone of blame sometimes thrown toward people of European descent is not only offensive, but arrogant and belittling. It often sours the discussion before it begins and places people on the defensive. That said, I myself often become irritated at those (black and white) who refuse to see how African Americans are still suffering from slavery and the caste system that followed and actually remains in some form to this day. I’d add to Luke’s anology by saying for many blacks the concrete sneakers were never removed, but instead seem to be permanent fixtures (in the form of disabling poverty and educational bankruptcy), negatively affecting blacks and black culture for atleast decades to come.

  • My opinion is this All of us should just get along. What has happened in the past should not of happened, we all acknowledge that, BUT IT IS NOT OUR FAULT.

    This is what’s happening- foreigners today, TODAY, are just passing blame. There is no need to do that to the people who have done no wrong. What is happening is they are trying to make it personal, and it is not about us or them. Germany are not being blamed for what happened 70 years ago. I will play the “My family haven’t kept slaves” because none of them did.

    If you carry on passing blame on the English today that makes you racist. Same for the Americans. So long as you do that we will never be able to get along will we. If you are going to carry it on and argue then maybe the truth is some people can’t take a good thrashing.

    But as I say, it is not about ANY of us. Let’s accept each other and move on

    • Luke Visconti

      It’s interesting. You’re from the UK. The Irish rebellion is more currently in the past than our Civil War. Should the Irish forget all about it? Can they? I would think if I were Irish I wouldn’t want to live in 1917, but on the other hand I could not help but be resentful.

      It’s almost always the group that benefited from the past that says we should forget about the uncomfortable facts about the past. The past is directly responsible for the dramatic economic disparities that African-Americans suffer under today. According to the Pew Research Center, Black households have one-20th the wealth of white households. I would say the past is also directly responsible for our prison-industrial complex, which imprisons hundreds of thousands of mostly Black and Latino people for nonviolent drug crimes. If you were to take drugs out of the equation, pose our current situation as an imaginary scenario of a Central American country and simply look at the demographics and economic condition of the oppressed, you would call most of our current prison population political prisoners. Holding back a significant percentage of the population benefits the other percentage. It lowers competition and creates jobs for the oppressor. It also creates opportunistic and parasitic ways for the oppressor to make money.

      To give you just a small example, let’s look at the fact that every Podunk police force now has a SWAT team, complete with armored vehicles, black uniforms, automatic weapons, training, and lots and lots of ammunition. The same group of gun and ammunition manufacturers, which benefit from straw purchases of the latest weaponry that ends up in the hands of gangs who are responsible for intermodal transportation of drugs, also manufacture the gear for the SWAT teams. Talk about having your cake and eating it too—the very people charged with law enforcement have a self-interested incentive to keep the illegality going. I regularly read about SWAT team responses that cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars for nonsensical little crimes that are hurting nobody, but once you have a hammer, lots of stuff starts looking like nails.

      I’ve given this analogy in another column, but here it is again: You cannot have a fair foot race when some of the competitors were in chains for part of the race, then had concrete sneakers.

      I’ll go back to the War on Drugs. It was started by Richard Nixon decades ago. Drugs are now far more plentiful and less expensive than they were in 1971. So you have to ask who won and who lost this war. Our prison population has exploded and we now have the largest prison population on earth, and on a per-capita basis it’s several times the global average. Fifty-eight percent of prisoners are black and Latino. This isn’t slavery? Drugs are consumed mostly by white people. Richard Nixon created the Southern Strategy after Lyndon Johnson was able to pass the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act; in other words, he leveraged racism for political power. Today the No. 6 and No. 7 most wealthy men on the Forbes list is the Koch brothers. Their father started the John Birch Society, which promoted the concept that the civil-rights movement was started by Communists during Richard Nixon’s time. More currently, the Koch brothers are responsible for the Tea Party and political action groups that spend millions of dollars promoting their political best interests. The average white American has no idea of these facts, but if you educate yourself you’ll see a pattern so stark as to be unmistakable in its viciousness, evilness and blunt racism. It’s a pattern that has benefited every non-Black person in this country, but is limiting and stunting our economic growth to the benefit of a precious few at the top who spend a lot of money to convince poor white people that diversity is the enemy. Just as slavery was—if you can ignore the human tragedy—this is only a matter of economics. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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