Restitution and the Role White People Play in Enacting Change


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I've been reflecting on many social issues lately. We are watching our government transition from being on the bring of fascism to what is shaping up to be the most diverse administration in the American history. Joe Biden, a privileged, well-connected, wealthy white man is leading this transition. It made me think about the role white people play in enacting change.

Just a few days earlier we celebrated Martin Luther King's Day and our daughter was learning all about the civil rights movement. One of the children books we were reading together included small section in each chapter with a thought provoking question. One question stated "how would you feel if you had to stop being friends with someone because of their skin color." She became emotional and struggled to understand why such reality ever existed. I realized that we haven't really talked about racism before. At least not in those terms. If you ask her to describe her best friend from school, she'll tell you she's the other "super reader" with curly hair and dimples. She won't mention the fact that she's also black.

I suddenly realized that not teaching her to be racists simply isn't enough. If racisms can be thought, so can be the compassionate and inquisitive approach toward other cultures and people. Yet, it's not that simple. I don't suggest we raise our children to be "colorblind." That would, in fact, be racist and ignorant. To say you "don't see race" is to invalidate someone's entire culture, history and identity. Likewise, to simply welcome, accept and even celebrate black culture seems hallow in the context of slavery and the centuries of oppression, which demonstrably impact black people today. It's a bit of a paradox.

On the one hand, white people have undeniably played a role in enacting change. White people obviously fought and died in the Civil War to end slavery and marched in solidarity during the civil rights movement. Today white people join in the Black Lives Matter movement to end police brutality. Yet again, white people today still benefit from the residual effects of slavery and racisms in just about every aspect of life. How do we reconcile the two?

I believe restitution is the next step and doesn't come from some misplaced white guilt. It's the next logical step. Our daughter may not see her black friend as being different but she is different. She will have a harder time getting into a good college. She will have a more difficult time getting an apartment or buying her first home. She will be less likely to advance in her career. She will be less likely to come from a wealthy family. She will face the legacy of racial and socioeconomic disparity that has existed in this country since it's founding.

What do you think?

Is Restitution necessary for America to make more progress in ending racial inequality? If not, why not. White people also struggle with poverty or income disparity and even face discrimination, for example due to sexual orientation, and many of them don't feel "privileged." What about them? It's easy to understand why they may oppose the idea. Is that position fair as well?


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If I had the answer to that I’d have run for office myself. We definitely need some kind of leveling of the playing field. When most people think of restitution they are thinking in terms of money being paid out. That’s just too unwieldy to imagine. However, it’s time to stop thinking of schools like Howard as just being HBCUs. The competition to get into those schools has become every bit as steep as that to get into Ivy League schools like Harvard. Let’s start by no longer looking down at degrees from those institutions and recognize them for the quality they are.
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