I Am a Racist

Mark C. Chu-Carroll, Good Math, Bad Math, April 7, 2010

{snip}

{snip} I think that people like me have unfair advantages that we rarely appreciate, and that everyone deserves the same advantages that I’ve been lucky enough to receive. But however idealistic I am, however commited I am to social justice, the fact remains: I am, to my shame, a racist.

1. I am a racist–because I never noticed all of the unearned privileges that are given to me until someone pointed them out.

2. I am a racist–because even after learning about the unearned privileges that I recieve, I still don’t notice them.

3. I am a racist, because I have grown up in a culture that, at every turn, teaches me that to be white is to be better, and smarter, and I have absorbed that lesson.

4. I am a racist, because I instinctively react to members of minorities with fear.

5. I am a racist, because I live in a sunset town.

6. I am a racist, because I believe that I deserve the success I have, even though I know people who are more smart, capable, and talented than I am never had the chances that I did to be successful, because of the color of their skin.

7. I am a racist–because I am a white man who has directly benefited from the unfair preferences that have been directed towards me all of my life.

8. I am a racist–because every day, I benefit from the denial of basic privileges to other people.

9. I am a racist, because I do not notice the things that are denied to people who are different from me.

10. I am a racist, because I do not notice the advantages that I have over others.

11. I am a racist, because even when I do manage to notice what is denied to people of different races and backgrounds, I don’t speak up.

{snip}

People like me think of ourselves as the default–as “normal” people. We consider the incredible advantages that we receive to be normal, unremarkable. We don’t notice just how much we benefit from that assumption of our own normality–the benefits we receive fade into invisibility. We don’t even notice that they exist. And then when someone who doesn’t get those benefits has trouble, we naturally blame them for not being as successful as we are.

{snip}

I grew up in a wealthy town in NJ. We didn’t consider ourselves wealthy–but by comparison to lots of other people, we really were. I went to a very good school system. We complained about it a lot: the textbooks were too old; the equipment in the science labs were too beaten up; the classes were too easy, and so on.

When I was in college, I got to teach a summer program for top students from schools in Newark, Camden, and Jersey City. And I discovered that my students went to schools where they didn’t have to worry about their books being too old–because they didn’t have any books. {snip} I didn’t admitted to college over people from their schools because I was smarter. I got admitted into college over people from their schools because I was richer and whiter.

And when my students went to the campus bookstore to buy basic supplies like paper and pencils, the people who worked there followed them around the store–because what would a bunch of poor black kids be doing in a bookstore if they weren’t there to rob it?

{snip} My parents paid for me to go to college–which gave me the time to take courses not just because I needed them to graduate, but because they covered things that I wanted to learn, just for fun.

How could a person from a family that just managed to scrape by, who lived in a school system that couldn’t afford textbooks for the basic classes, much less the AP classes, how could they compete with me? It’s damned close to impossible. Not because they’re any less smart, or any less talented. But because I’ve had an absolutely uncountable number of advantages. Every day of my life, I’ve been given benefits which helped make it possible for me to become who and what I am. I’m here partially because I’ve worked damned hard to get here. But that work, by itself, wouldn’t have gotten me to where I am, without luck and privilege.

People like me need to remember that. We didn’t earn what we have all by ourselves. We may have earned part of it–but only part. An awful lot of what we have is built on privilege: on the advantages that we’ve been given because of race, gender, wealth, and family.

People like me need to remember that. We didn’t earn what we have all by ourselves. We may have earned part of it–but only part. An awful lot of what we have is built on privilege: on the advantages that we’ve been given because of race, gender, wealth, and family.

[Mark Chu-Carroll (aka MarkCC) is a PhD Computer Scientist, who works for Google as a Software Engineer. His professional interests center on programming languages and tools, and how to improve the languages and tools that are used for building complex software systems.

–Good Math, Bad Math]

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