WITH DALTON CONLEY
Dalton Conley is director of the Center for Advanced Social
Science Research (CASSR) and an associate professor in the Department
of Sociology at New York University. He is the author of Being
Black, Living in the Red: Race, Wealth, and Social Policy in America.
What does the wealth gap have to do with race?
The one statistic that
best captures the state of racial inequality in America today
is wealth, or net worth. If you want to know your net worth, just
add up everything you own, subtract all your debts and that's
your net worth.
Today, the average Black family has only one-eighth
the net worth or assets of the average white family. That difference
has seemingly grown since the 1960s, since the Civil Rights triumphs,
and is not explained by other factors like education, earnings
rates or savings rates. It is really the legacy of racial inequality
from generations past. No other measure captures the legacy -
the cumulative disadvantage of race for minorities or cumulative
advantage of race for whites - than net worth or wealth.
wealth gaps between blacks and whites aren't explained by income.
In fact, if you compare people at the bottom of the income distribution
- say, a family that makes around $15,000 a year, you'll find
that the average black family that earns $15,000 year in income
has $0 net worth, or is in debt actually. Compare that with the
average white family that earns $15,000 a year, and they have
a good $10,000 to $15,000 in equity. That means being poor, being
at the bottom of the income distribution, really means two different
things depending on whether you are black or white.
family has a little bit of a cushion. If unemployment strikes,
as it does so often to people at the bottom of the economic distribution,
they've got some means to ride out the storm. They might have
a car that will increase the radius of their job search. They
might have this money that they can spend in case of a medical
emergency, even if they don't have health insurance. But compare
that to the situation for a poor black family with $0 or negative
net worth. There is no cushion. There is nothing in between the
paycheck and homelessness, so to speak.
The same kind of disparity
emerges at the upper end of the income distribution. If you compare,
say, a white family that earns $50,000 with an African American
family that earns $50,000, you'll find that the white family has
about double the net worth - about $80,000 to $100,000 of net
worth compared to about $40,000 to $50,000 of net worth for the
African American family at that income level. So when you are
talking about the difference between financing their kid's college
education, starting a new business, moving if they need to move
for a better job opportunity - having $100,000 versus $50,000
in net worth might make the difference between upward mobility
How do other groups compare in terms of wealth?
and whites really anchor the ends of the distribution in terms
of wealth in America. Latinos fall somewhere in the middle. They
fall, on average, closer to the African American average in terms
of wealth. But there is enormous disparity within the Latino community.
It's hard to talk about Latinos as a unified group because there
are enormous differences within that community. And not coincidentally,
how Hispanics fare depends on their skin color and it also depends
on the particular history of that group.
Cuban Americans, for
example, have wealth levels that are much more similar to whites.
They don't exactly equal the white levels, but they come close.
On the other hand, Puerto Ricans or Dominicans are almost equivalent
to the black average. Other groups, like Mexicans and South Americans,
fall closer to that group, but again are in the middle somewhere.
How would you define whiteness?
Defining whiteness is really difficult because it is a default
category. It's something that we don't define. And part of whiteness
is the fact that whites don't have to think about race. In the
introductory sociology class I teach, I do an experiment with
my students. On the first day of class, I ask them to write down
five characteristics to describe themselves. And then I don't
make any mention of it. Eight weeks later, when we get to race
and ethnicity in the course, I ask them, okay, turn back to your
first page, and tell me what you wrote down. I can predict almost
to a person that racial minorities in the crowd will have put
their race at or near the top of the list, while the whites in
the group, except for a couple of trouble makers, don't have it
on the list. They might put Polish or Italian or Irish - some
sort of national origin up there on the list. But they don't put
white or Caucasian or Euro-American.
might matter but race doesn't matter to white people. And that
is part of what whiteness is. It's not having to think about being
in the norm or dominant group. Beyond that, it is also a sense
of privilege, a sense that this society is stacked in your favor
and you can do anything, because the American society, the American
economy, is sort of like a banquet and you can keep going up for
more helpings. That is your system. It belongs to you. So there
is a sense of entitlement that comes with whiteness as well.
What's an example of white privilege?
In trying to understand the power
and privilege of whiteness, I like to get whites to ask themselves,
how did I get my job? That is a good question to start with. Because
very few people get their job in some formal way, where they see
an ad in the paper, and then go apply, get an interview and then
get the job. Mostly, people get their jobs through social networks
and connections. Usually it's someone you know - your uncle in
the next city or a friend of a friend who knows somebody in your
industry. And that is how we get the foot in the door.
because most jobs in businesses are controlled or owned by whites,
given the structure of ownership in America, that leads to the
perpetuation of racial inequality in the labor market. Whites
tend to hire whites because they get them through their personal
networks, which tend to be white. Minorities who aren't as directly
connected to the people who are owning and controlling jobs are
left out of this. And of course, this becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy in a vicious circle.
How does wealth affect life outcomes?
single largest item in most people's nest egg is the family home.
That has enormous consequences for the next generation. It means,
for example, that if you own your home and have significant equity,
you're in a high-property tax district, and you're going to a
good, well-funded public school.
It means that when it's time
to go to college, if you don't have money in the bank, you can
always take a second mortgage and draw off the equity in your
home to finance your kids' college education. It means that you're
in a neighborhood, most likely in the suburbs, where jobs are
on the increase, and not in the inner city where jobs are on the
It means that you're in a neighborhood where your
neighbors control information and access to jobs. So you're getting
the cultural aspects by virtue of living in a high property value
area and you can get your kids better job connections. It means
that if you want to finance your kids' job search after school,
you'll have equity to support them for a while.
These are just a few of the ways that having wealth, or owning
a home, has enormous consequences for the next generation, not
to mention one's own old age.
How does home ownership help you accumulate wealth?
There is this
tendency for white Americans to see the structure of their aid
in the form of tax credits and not as aid, or government assistance,
or welfare. But they see other forms of assistance, like reduced
rents or welfare benefits, as a direct handout from Big Brother.
your home, first of all, gets you a big mortgage deduction. That
means you pay less income tax than you would be paying if you
were renting and making similar monthly payments. Second, it probably
places you in a community that has higher property values than
one where you were just renting. Owner-occupied communities tend
to be valued more, and that means that the property tax base is
higher. That means that local services, everything from garbage
services on up to the public school system, most importantly,
are going to be better off in that community. So, without even
having to spend your equity in your home, you are getting benefits
Third, there is the ability to borrow off that equity.
You can finance starting up a business by taking a second mortgage.
You can pay for your kids to go to college through a second mortgage.
You can finance your retirement by selling your home. Since homes
have increased so much in value over the course of the latter
half of the 20th century, people can finance their retirements
through the sale of their home and the capital gains they get
from it. The home has been a central part of savings for most
American families in the latter half of the 20th century. White
Americans that is.
What role did the government play in shaping housing and wealth?
The American government provided low-interest loans
to returning veterans and other white Americans after World War
II. This created a boom in home ownership and helped suburbanize
America, but blacks were excluded from participating. At this
same time, the government was building high-rise public housing
for minorities in inner cities. The segregation in America between
a largely dark inner city and a largely white suburban community
is not something that just magically happened from market forces.
It is part and parcel government policy.
When the government
instituted rental housing in inner cities, in the form of public
housing projects, for poor minorities, and then developed home
ownership in low-cost, suburban communities for low-income whites,
where you could put almost nothing down, they created this incredible
What does housing have to do with wealth?
one's family lives in America is not just a matter of taste and
preference. It has important consequences for the perpetuation
of advantage or disadvantage across generations for a lot of reasons.
First, you have the issue of housing and wealth. The majority
of Americans hold most of their wealth in the form of home equity.
So, that is their nest egg. It is their savings bank. They are
living in their savings bank.
To make matters worse, the way
that we finance education in America public schools is based on
local property taxes. This means even if you never cash in the
value of your home, just living in a high property value district
or a rental and low property value district is going to affect
what kind of school your kids go to.
Increasingly, there are
lawsuits in various states against this way of financing, where
school funding is based on local property taxes. But still, it's
the dominant form. We pay for our schools locally based on property
taxes. So, in high value neighborhoods, which are predominantly
white, you are getting well-funded schools. And in low-value neighborhoods,
which tend to be predominantly minority, you are getting inadequately
The constraints that minorities face in the
housing market doesn't just affect quality of life issues, you
know, and the selection of homes and styles that people can live
in. It really has enormous consequences for economic stability
and upward mobility and the life chances of the next generation.
minorities have faced limited housing options in the past, now
they are usually confined to areas that have worse environment
conditions, have poor school funding, have increased risk of violent
crime, have worse tax bases. Plus their homes have less equity
value, so even if they want to move, they are less able to afford
to. Therefore the whole economic structure of the next generation
can be really readily viewed in the limited housing selections
of the previous generation.
Didn't the civil rights era fix everything?
The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s really marks
both an opportunity and a new danger in terms of racial relations
in America. On the one hand, the Civil Rights era officially ended
inequality of opportunity. It officially ended de jure legal inequality,
so it was no longer legal for employers, for landlords, or for
any public institution or accommodations to discriminate based
on race. At the same time, those civil rights triumphs did nothing
to address the underlying economic and social inequalities that
had already been in place because of hundreds of years of inequality.
danger lies in the fact that many white Americans see the civil
rights changes as having solved or addressed the racial problem,
because it addresses the rules of the game. And many minorities
recognize that because the starting line is so different for whites
and blacks, it is almost irrelevant that the rules of the game
were altered to be more fair. You really have this danger, where
there is a complacency about issues of inequality, because we
have addressed the official forms of segregation and discrimination.
What do you mean by equality?
There's more than one kind of equality.
One is equality of opportunity, which means that as long as the
rules are the same for everybody, then there is fairness. The
motivation for the civil rights movement was really based on achieving
equality of opportunity, and this notion of a colorblind society
is based on that.
Unfortunately, the rules are often bent, if
not broken, and you can't talk about having a fair shot in the
game if the starting line is staggered. Even if the rules of the
game are fair, some people have advantages and some people have
handicaps depending on the social position of the families they
are born into and what kind of wealth they have, based on past
opportunities. This brings us to the second type of equality,
and that is equality of condition, which is a more progressive
or radical form of equality that doesn't just look at the rules
but where everyone is starting from.
The notion of a colorblind
society is really based on a mythology - the idea that as long
as the rules are fair, we'll have equality. This doesn't recognize
the fact that the rewards, the house, the Lexus, you know, the
big bank account, those are not only the rewards, the pot of gold
at the end of the game, they are also the starting position for
the next generation. Until we recognize that there is really no
way to talk about equality of opportunity without talking about
equality of condition, then we are stuck with this paradoxical
idea of a colorblind society in a society that is totally unequal
How did the wealth gap come about?
There's a lot
of reasons why there are enormous wealth gaps between minorities
and whites in America. The most simple answer is, it takes money
to make money. Part of the reason that there's this enormous gap
is because whites have long had higher wages and wealth to pass
on from generation to generation. And it's like a snowball - it
gets bigger and bigger as it gets passed on, and the interest
gets compounded. That's partly the reason why the wealth gap has
actually increased since the 1960s, since the civil rights times.
But that's not the whole story. There's a long history of exclusion
of minorities from wealth accumulation in America, going back
to right after the Civil War.
First of all, during slavery,
slaves were forbidden legally in most cases from owning anything,
including their own bodies. After the Civil War, Jim Crow laws
instituted policies such as the Black Codes, which required black
entrepreneurs to pay, for example, a $100 licensing fee but required
whites to pay nothing. Back in 1870, $100 was basically like a
million dollars today. It would shut people out of business. So
blacks in the 19th century through that mechanism, and through
pure terror, threats of lynching, were precluded from becoming
business owners, as one example.
By the 20th century, you had
the institution of redlining as a policy in which banks rated
neighborhoods for loans based on a four-tier system, red being
the lowest ranking that a neighborhood could get. And African
American neighborhoods were invariably given this red circle around
them, and no loans from private banks would go into that system.
That was a policy that was initiated by the federal government
and adopted by private lenders.
Fast forward to the New Deal,
when Roosevelt really cut a devil's deal with white southern senators.
He didn't overtly exclude blacks from Social Security, but subtly
did it by excluding agricultural workers and domestic workers,
who were predominantly minorities, from receiving Social Security
benefits. This was done explicitly to appease southern Senators,
to exclude African Americans, who were disproportionately employed
in those two sectors. It wasn't until the Truman Administration
that that got corrected. But there's a whole generation of elderly
African Americans that didn't receive Social Security benefits,
when in fact, it was the biggest giveaway of all, because no one
had paid into the system yet.
So you had whites receiving this
sort of windfall, and blacks not getting it. More poor black elderly
not receiving Social Security means that working families in the
African American community have to support them and pay for it.
So it's not only an issue of that generation. It trickles down
through issues of inheritance and having to support the aged.
Fast forward again to after World War II when you have two
separate American housing policies. You have this really pro home
ownership policy where the government guaranteed low-interest
loans for whites in suburban America and helped them obtain wealth.
And for minorities you get rental, large-scale, inner-city public
housing, which of course is a wealth destruction policy.
the 1960s there were occasional efforts to foster minority asset
accumulation, but they really focused on things like financial
skills, and community benefit which was, by definition, nonprofit.
These efforts really didn't focus on rectifying the enormous wealth
inequalities that had grown up to that point.
Until we correct
the fundamental wealth inequalities, these little programs of
financial education and other sorts of cultural issues aren't
going to make much of a difference, because the underlying economic
structure is still unequal.
I also would like to mention, by
the way, that savings rates are the same for blacks and whites.
That's a common stereotype, you know, of why these gaps exist
- the idea that white people save more. And the data show that's
simply not true.
But aren't there cultural factors that affect performance
and have nothing to do with wealth?
Many social observers point to outcome differences
between blacks and whites, say in education, where the college
graduation rate for whites is double that of blacks. Or in occupational
achievement, where whites are twice as likely to have a white
collar or managerial job as blacks. Or in income, where white
family income is on average about double that of the African-American
unit. Or family structure, where whites are much more likely than
African Americans to delay childbearing past their teenage years
and until marriage. In almost any realm of life you can think
of, there are racial disparities.
Often when policymakers or
social scientists want to compare the outcomes between black and
white kids, they'll look at kids who come from families with the
same income level. And when you make that comparison, you'll find
that there's still a racial gap. People often point to this as
something cultural or innate.
But often when we're talking
about these racial disparities, we're comparing apples and oranges,
because there's still an enormous wealth gap between those families
with the same income level.
And I find that when you make the
right comparison - when you compare a black kid from a family
with the same income and wealth level as the white kid from the
similar economic situation - rates of college graduation are the
same; rates of employment and work hours are the same; rates of
welfare usage are the same.
So when we're talking about race
in terms of a cultural accounting of these differences or a genetic
accounting of these differences, we're really missing the picture,
because we're making the wrong comparison. We're not comparing
blacks and whites on an equal footing if we don't take into consideration
these wealth differences in addition to the income differences.
So a lot of times when we're talking about race it's really
indirectly race. It's that race is associated with these vast
income and wealth differences. And that's what's driving these
seemingly cultural or behavioral differences in the next generation.
The real issue is inequality.
Why don't we just replace race with class then?
In the post Civil Rights era it's very difficult
to talk about race and class as two separate entities, because
they overlap so much in our society. Many things that we associate
with race on the surface, like differences in savings rates or
differences in education and performance, are really class differences
when you get the data and compare individuals coming from similar
But the complicating factor is that
those very economic circumstances are determined by race, through
historical inequalities; through contemporary dynamics where whites
get jobs disproportionately more than blacks do and other minority
groups. So race matters, but it often matters indirectly through
the class position, the economic situation of a family.
How does past wealth help the future generation?
we like to think that our property is a result of our talent,
hard work or even luck - that it's our individual fruits of labor.
But economists have shown that about 50-80% of our lifetime wealth
accumulation is really attributable, in one way or another, to
Inheritance actually plays a small role in
that. What's more common is something like your parents financing
your college education, supporting you while you're in school
or taking care of you, letting you live with them, while you're
looking for a job. It's also little gifts along the way, co-signing
the loan for a mortgage, that sort of thing.
All those kind
of things lead to lifetime wealth accumulation. And it's this
enormous debt we have to our ancestors' wealth that largely explains
the perpetuation - in addition to discrimination and government
policies - of racial equality in wealth over generations.
a lot of our wealth comes from our ancestors. Since whites have
wealth in their family histories to a disproportionate amount,
they're able to confer wealth upon their descendants, and this
reproduces racial inequality.
Blacks, on the other hand, tend
to have not had wealth accumulation in the past generations for
a variety of reasons. But whatever those reasons, even if the
current generation makes a lot of money - because there's not
also the past wealth to pass on, this racial inequity in wealth
gets reproduced generation after generation, and maybe in fact
How does the housing market continue to perpetuate disparity?
The housing market is a place where culture meets
economics - where values about what people want and where they
want to live actually influence prices. Whites control the market
by virtue of pure numbers, being the largest group. So when whites
want to live somewhere, prices go up, and when whites don't want
to live somewhere, prices go down.
If you compare housing in
black and white neighborhoods that's otherwise exactly equal -
the quality of the housing is the same, the income level of the
residents is the same, education system is the same, almost everything
is the same - you'll find that the white housing will be worth
more precisely because it's white. Because whites are the biggest
group in the marketplace, their preferences count the most in
terms of supply and demand. So wherever whites want to live, housing
values will be high.
The flip side is that if whites don't want
to live somewhere, the value of houses in that neighborhood will
be less. Think about it: if you have a group that makes up 12-14%
of the population like African Americans do - or even 25% of the
population if you take the entire non-white population of the
United States - they can't compare with the demand created by
the other 75-80% of the population, so houses in neighborhoods
where whites don't want to live will be depressed by virtue of
supply and demand.
The evidence shows that even if a house is
in exactly the same condition - it's been kept up at the same
rate, the neighborhood is almost exactly the same, but it's black
racially - it's going to be worth less money than a similar situated
At one time we had explicit legal racial
covenants and/or redlining policies on the part of banks. Today
we don't need those anymore, because once we've segregated the
market, it becomes in whites' interest to perpetuate the divisions.
Whites get a boost in their property values by maintaining a segregation
of the marketplace, maintaining their position as the dominant
group in the housing market. So once you sort of have the initial
push of racial covenants or redlining or any other policy that
segregated the housing market, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
And in fact, there's a vicious cycle here. Because
when a neighborhood, a previously white neighborhood starts to
integrate, even if individual whites don't have personal or psychological
animosity or racial hatred, they still have an economic incentive
to leave. Because they recognize that others might make the same
calculation and leave first.
And therefore, if there's a rash
of selling by whites, which are the biggest group in the marketplace,
prices will go down, by virtue of the laws of supply and demand.
So you get a vicious circle where whites calculate that other
whites are going to sell when the neighborhood integrates. Therefore,
they want to sell first to avoid losses, and they actually make
it happen - they make white flight happen and drive down property
values when the neighborhood becomes more integrated.
obviously disadvantageous to African Americans who want to accumulate
equity in integrated or in predominantly black neighborhoods.
But people don't talk about how it's advantageous to whites.
What's in it for whites?
The strongest argument you can make to white
people is that the current system is not in their own interest,
in the long run. The fact is that homeowners and people who have
a stake in the American dream are better citizens. So when you
systematically shut out a group from wealth ownership, from their
slice of the American pie, you're creating an unstable and dangerous
situation. You're inviting civil unrest. You're inviting crime.
You're inviting a situation where there's incredible tension.
When you have an inclusive society, a republic of property
owners where everyone has the opportunity and reality of owning,
then you create a stable society where people care about their
communities and have a stake in their future. And it's in everybody's
interest for everybody in America to have a stake in the future
in terms of asset accumulation and economic self-sufficiency.
What can we do to remedy the wealth gap?
If we want to seriously
address the issue of racial inequality in general and wealth inequality
in particular, it's going to take dramatic, progressive action.
Simply guaranteeing equal access to financial institutions and
to housing markets isn't good enough anymore. There's just too
much wealth inequality already built up, that the playing field
is not level, no matter what you do to the rules of the game.
Of course the most direct way to fix the black/white wealth
gap would be reparations - a simple payment of wealth from whites
to blacks. That's the most direct, racially explicit way - but
probably also the least likely to happen.
Another way is to
take redistribute wealth not based on race but in a way that has
enormous race effects. Say taxing the wealth of the rich and redistributing
it through direct payments or matching savings plans to the wealth
poor. It's going to take something along those lines to correct
this racial inequity. Just simple equal opportunity won't do it
at this point.
I don't expect wealth redistribution to be popular.
But it's already going on all the time. It went on in the 1940s
and 1950s when we essentially gave away lots of equity in the
form of suburban homes to white Americans. It's going on today
through all sorts of mortgage interest deductions and corporate
It's happening all around us. It's just we don't
want to recognize those, because they're benefiting the majority
or dominant group of Americans. If we talk about something explicitly
to benefit a minority of Americans, people have a lot more problems
Should whites today be held accountable for things that happened
in the past?
Often whites who resist wealth redistribution
make the point that, well, my ancestors didn't own slaves; no
one in my family was on a plantation, so I'm not responsible for
the crimes of history. But the problem with that rationale is
it ignores the fact that we're all interconnected and we're all
inheritors of the past.
If my family arrived here in the 1920s
or the 1960s and is white, I've still benefited from the legacy
of slavery. Slavery was the initial push that got the ball rolling
and helped generate racial segregation, wealth inequity, inequity
in job networks, inequity in housing markets, and so on. The legacy
of slavery lives on, because those unequal conditions are still
in place, and I benefit as a white person, even if I arrived in
No matter one's own personal views, you can't escape the larger
system in which you're operating. Even if I'm not personally racist
or if I can say, Oh, I've got plenty of black friends, I've got
plenty of Latino friends. It doesn't matter in the end, unless
the overall system has changed, because the question is, How did
I get my job? I got my job most likely through social connections,
through somebody I know who told me about it and put in a good
word for me. And most likely that's somebody white, because whites
own more companies and control more jobs.
How did I get to live where I live? I have more freedom because
I'm white. I can choose to live in a predominantly white neighborhood,
and I can actually choose to live in a predominantly minority
neighborhood, without facing the same kind of resistance had the
situation been reversed.
So, no matter what your personal views about race are and who
your friends are, whites are still advantaged, in an institutional
and social way, that often they don't even recognize.
What about affirmative action?
People who criticize
affirmative action as antithetical to a colorblind society aren't
recognizing that we're not in a colorblind society. Already color
matters, and affirmative action is just a way to counteract some
of those overall trends. First of all, whites and blacks are coming
from very different economic circumstances, due to a long history
of economic and political exclusion from blacks. Also, there's
the cultural and psychological legacy of generations of racial
A lot of people say that affirmative action is
problematic because it's giving preference to a single group,
but we're doing that already all the time in our "colorblind"
society. Take the example of college admissions. Sure, there are
racial preferences, but those are only meant to countervail some
of the more subtle preferences that tend to benefit whites. For
example, look at legacies. Kids who have a parent who went to
that college have an increased chance of getting into the college.
It's an explicit policy among admissions officers. Since whites,
in the past, were more likely to have gone to college, especially
elite colleges, that's conferring racial advantage, without ever
being an explicit racial policy. Affirmative action is one way
to counteract that.
Another criticism of affirmative action
is that it stigmatizes the group that's receiving the aid. So
if a white sees a minority kid in the hallways of Yale or Harvard,
they always think, well, did he get in because of affirmative
action or does he really "deserve" to be here? No one says the
same thing about legacies, who get in at a much higher rate. Now,
that's because race is something that we can clearly mark or identify,
in a way that you can't see whether someone's parent went to Yale
or Harvard on their lapel when they're walking down the hallway,
So, it is true that affirmative action as it's currently designed
has some stigmatizing aspects, but it can be mended. I think it
shouldn't be eliminated, because the absence of it would mean
that we're doing nothing at all to level the playing field, when
we recognize there's enormous disparities.
Are there any personal experiences you draw upon in your work?
So much of the
discourse about race today is about how race disadvantages minorities.
People hardly ever talk about the other half of the coin, which
is, How does race benefit whites? And I think it benefits whites
in many ways, and some are very evident from my own personal experience.
grown up as a white minority in a community of color and in a
community of housing projects at that, I'm able to see, in a way
that many whites take for granted, the advantages that distinguish
me from my neighbors. For example, when my local school deteriorated
so badly that my parents had to get me out of there and had no
money to move or to send me to private school, they had a friend,
a social connection on the other side of town, on the rich side
of town, that let us lie to the school board and use his address
to say that we were in that school district, and go to a well-funded,
Now, there's an example of my white privilege
because my parents had both the confidence and the sense of entitlement
that the system was theirs for the taking. And, at the same time,
they had a connection, a white person on the other side of town
who lived in a wealthy neighborhood, who let us use is address.
So they had both the cultural resources and the social connection
that fostered my mobility to a better school district, over and
above money. There's a way that race matters.
When I was an
adolescent I made a big mistake with a friend of mine after school
where I set his apartment on fire. After the fire was put out
and the fire marshals and the police came and did their investigation,
they decided to let us go. They said, "You seem like good kids
who did a really stupid thing. We'll leave it up to your families
to discipline you." So this didn't go on my record. I didn't have
a mar on my official life history that would have knocked me off
the course to college or even worse, have sent me to jail.
can't be 100% sure, but I'm 99% sure that had I been a different
skin tone, or had it been back in my neighborhood of predominantly
minority, low-income housing projects, things wouldn't have been
handled so informally. I wouldn't have gotten that free pass.
And that's one of the major privileges of whiteness that isn't
often talked about, but happens to whites in the criminal justice
system, for example. We always talk about what happens to minorities,
but we don't talk about what happens to whites.
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