How Does Slavery Benefit White People Today?

Question: Call me whatever you like, but please elaborate on how slavery DIRECTLY benefits me today.

Luke Visconti is the founder and CEO of DiversityInc. Although the title of his column is meant to be humorous, the issues he addresses and the answers he gives to questions are serious — and based on his 16 years of experience publishing DiversityInc. Click here to send your own question to Luke.


Question:

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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