Friday, April 15, 2005

White Benefits, Middle Class Privilege

I have been working on developing a class on reconciliation for the CCDA Institute that is going to be taught by Dr. Barbara Skinner & Rev. Isaias Mercado in Philly next week. We have been pouring over loads of deep material on the topic. The following is an excerpt from one of the recources we will be using for the class. It is from a book entitled, Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice, by Paul Kivel. Check it out:

Privileges are the economic 'extras' that those of us who are middle class and wealthy gain at the expense of the poor and working class people of all races. Benefits, on the other hand, are the advantages that all white people gain at the expense of people of color regardless of economic position. Talk about racial benefits can ring false to many of us who don't have the economic privileges that we see many others in this society enjoying. But just because we don't have the economic privileges of those with more money doesn't mean we haven't enjoyed some of the benefits of being white.

  • We can generally count on police protection rather than harassment
  • Depending on our financial situation, we can generally choose where we want to live and choose neighborhoods that are safe and have decent schools
  • We are given more attention, respect, and status in conversations than people of color
  • We see people that look like us in the media, history books, news and music in a positive light (this is more true for men than for women, and more true for the rich than the poor)
  • We have more recourse to and credibility within the legal system (again, taking into account class and gender)
  • We will be accepted, acknowledged and given the benefit of the doubt

Since all else is not equal we each receive different benefits or different levels of the same benefits from being white. There are historically derived economic benefits too:

  • All the land in this country was take from Native Americans
  • Much of the infrastructure of this country was built by slave labor
  • Much of the housecleaning, childcare, cooking, and maintenance of our society has been done by low wage earning women of color
  • Property and material goods were appropriated by whites through colonization, internment, and through an ongoing legacy of legal manipulation and exploitation

We have been taught history through a white-tinted lens which has minimized our exploitation of people of color and extolled the hardworking, courageous qualities of white people.

It is not that white Americans have not worked hard and built much. We have. But we did not start out from scratch. Much of the rhetoric against more active policies for racial justice stem from the misconception that we were all given equal opportunities and start from a level playing field. We often don't even see the benefits we have derived from racism. We claim that they are not there.

Look at the following benefits checklist. Put a check beside any benefit that you enjoy, that a person of color of your age, gender and class probably does not. (If you are a person of color, put a check where you see white people of similar age, gender and class experiencing benefits that you do not enjoy). Think about what effect not having that benefit would have had on your life. (If you don't know the answer to any of these questions, research. Ask family members. Do what you can to discover the answers.)

White Benefits Checklist:

_____My ancestors were legal immigrants to this country during a period when immigrants from Asia, South and Central America or Africa were restricted.
_____My ancestors came to this country of their own free will and have never had to relocate unwillingly once here.
_____My family received homesteading or landstaking claims from the federal government.
_____I or my family or relatives received federal farm subsidies, farm price supports, agricultural extension assistance or other federal benefits.
_____I live or lived in a neighborhood where people of color were discriminated from living in.
_____I lived or live in a city where red-lining discriminates against people of color getting housing or other loans.
_____I or my parents went to racially segregated schools.
_____I live in a school district or metropolitan area where more money is spent on the schools that white children go to than on those that children of color attend.
_____I live in or went to a school district where children of color are more likely to be disciplined than white children, or more likely to be tracked into non academic programs.
_____I live in or went to a school district where the textbooks and other materials reflected my race as normal, heroes and builders of the United States, and there was little mention of the contributions of people of color to our society.
_____I was encouraged to go on to college by teachers, parents or other advisors.
_____I attended a publicly funded university, or a heavily endowed private university or college, and/or received student loans.
_____I served in the military when it was still racially segregated , or achieved a rank where there were few people of color, or served in a combat situation where there were large numbers of people of color in dangerous combat positions.
_____My ancestors were immigrants who took jobs in railroads, streetcars, construction, shipbuilding, wagon and coach driving, house painting, tailoring, longshore work, brick laying, table waiting, working in the mills, furriering, dressmaking, or any other trade or occupation where people of color were driven out or excluded.
_____I received job training in a program where there were few or no people of color.
_____I have received a job, job interview, job training or internship through personal connections of family or friends.
_____I worked or work in a job where people of color made less for doing comparable work or did more menial work.
_____I work in a job where people of color were hired last, or fired first.
_____I work in a job, career or profession or in an agency or organization in which there are few people of color.
_____I received small business loans or credits, government contracts or government assistance in my business.
_____My parents were able to vote in any election they wanted without worrying about poll taxes, literacy requirements or other forms of discrimination.
_____I can always vote for candidates that reflect my race.
_____I live in a neighborhood that has better police protection, municipal service and is safer than that where people of color live.
_____The hospital and medical services close to me or which I use are better than that of most people of color in the region in which I live.
_____I have never had to worry that clearly labeled public facilities, such as swimming pools, restrooms, restaurants and nightspots were in fact not open to me because of my skin color.
_____I see white people in a wide variety of roles in television and movies.
_____My race needn't be a factor in where I choose to live.
_____My race needn't be a factor in where I send my children to school.
_____I don't need to think about race and racism everyday. I can choose when and where I want to respond to racism.

What feelings come up for you when you think about the benefits that white people gain from racism? Do you feel angry or resentful? Guilty or uncomfortable? Do you want to say, "Yes, but..."?

Maybe some new insights or self awareness will help us to uproot racism and usher in a new 'mestizo' world!


At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Noel, I received news of your blog, and forwarded it to Annette, so that she could see yesterday's blog on college recruitment of non-whites. She thought it was great, and told me of your planned morning meeting. That's great. I also talked with Rudy today, and he's equally excited for your blog! Also,....I heard from Pastor Victor that Caleb was hangin with you. Marcos

At 4:37 PM, Blogger Larry James said...

Great post and wonderful Blog, Noel! Great being with you in Dallas at Perkins Seminary recently. Keep on blogging and keep speaking the truth to the power we all contend with.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Noel Castellanos said...

Marcos bro...Let's see if we connect in some way soon. You are needed there at Moody.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Roberto Iza Valdes said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Post a Comment

<< Home