As a white, heterosexual, cisgender man, I live in a country designed specifically for me. Its rules were written for me. Its systems were built for me. My country’s scales of opportunity and justice all tilt in my direction and have for the entirety of its existence, and therefore the entirety of my existence. I do not know any other experience.
My personal desire to be “a good human,” to “treat everyone as equals,” or to “value diversity” has no impact on my country’s design. It has no impact on the systems that favor me, except to keep them in place. My individual values do not even begin to nudge the scales of opportunity and justice back toward equilibrium. And they never will. Because “racism doesn’t require malice.”
Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe. It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.Scott Woods, January 3, 2014
This truth has not always been evident to me. It is becoming more clear every day. What is crystal clear, however, is that my unwillingness to look at this squarely has been part of the problem. It is clear that my ignorance and lack of self-education has been part of the problem. That I have not had to think about these facts is evidence of the privilege designed into the structure of my country. And that is the problem. The structural design is the problem. The structural design is flawed.
The Design Flaw
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Those are certainly inspiring words. But the structure that was immediately built on this aspirational foundation, was a system designed to oppress anyone not defined as “men.” And what our founding Fathers clearly meant by men, was “certain white males.” That is the specific architectural flaw.
The meaning of “all men” sounded equally clear, and so disturbing to the authors of the constitutions of six Southern states that they emended Jefferson’s wording. “All freemen,” they wrote in their founding documents, “are equal.” The authors of those state constitutions knew what Jefferson meant, and could not accept it. The Continental Congress ultimately struck the passage because South Carolina and Georgia, crying out for more slaves, would not abide shutting down the market.Henry Wiencek, Smithsonian Magazine, The Dark Side Of Thomas Jefferson
Oppressed classes, including blacks and women, have had to fight long and hard for inclusion in these rights. That struggle continues 244 years later. For example, the Equal Rights Amendment, first introduced in 1923, is still not officially ratified and only reached the 38 state ratification level in January of 2020. That is 48 years after passing both the House and the Senate in 1972 and 97 years after its original introduction in 1923. And just this past week the President threatened to end Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rules that have been a part of the Fair Housing Act since its passage in 1968. For those unfamiliar, the fair housing act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.
Recognizing those facts, when I read these words, “there’s nothing to salvage from a system built to oppress,” I am compelled to evaluate the truth of the assertion for myself. While I am not certain I agree in full, I most certainly agree that there is a need to take a radically different approach. It is painfully obvious that our attempts at reforms have failed over and over. And new policies seem to provide for equality in form only, not in practice. And certainly not in outcomes that bring us anywhere close to tipping the scales.
As a white, heterosexual, cisgender man living in a world designed specifically for me, I am faced with a choice. I can continue to focus on my personal behavior and proudly proclaim that “I am not a racist,” or that we are in a “post-racist world,” while continuing on my merry way, or I can abandon that comfortable position and turn my instead to the root causes of the structural design that continues to this day to weild some level of oppression on everyone except for “certain white males.”
An Independence Day tweet stream by a retired Naval Officer who is “dissatisfied with the moral distance between who we claim to be and who we are,” rang true for me yesterday.
Being proud to be an American isn’t about Lee Greenwood-style jingoism. It isn’t about chants of “U-S-A.” The arc of history naturally bends toward power and wealth. What has made the US special in the past is that our arc has bent toward justice. But this doesn’t ‘just happen.’ This is the product of citizens who are dissatisfied with the moral distance between who we claim to be and who we are. That distance began with the stirring words of Thomas Jefferson about all men being created equal, even as he owned slaves. If our story is to be one we’re proud of, we must—especially those of us who have unconsciously and without malice benefited from the bias in our system—commit to some level of personal discomfort, sacrifice, or disadvantage, in order to achieve true equality for all of us.Doyle Hodges on Twitter
Only Certain White Males
The original structural design that was built to benefit white males is still not equally benefiting anyone who is not a certain white male. And I say “certain white male” for a reason. Because not all white males benefit equally from racist policies, only racist power. This is a distinction Ibram X. Kendi makes in his excellent book, “How To Be An Antiracist.” I hesitate to pull this quote out of the context of the paragraphs that surround it, but I think it’s valuable in highlighting where racist power really focuses.
Of course, ordinary White people benefit from racist policies, though not nearly as much as racist power and not nearly as much as they could from an equitable society, one where the average White voter could have as much power as superrich White men to decide elections and shape policy. Where their kids’ business-class schools could resemble first-class prep schools of today’s super-rich. Where high-quality universal healthcare could save millions of white lives. Where they could no longer face the cronies of racism that attack them; sexism, ethnocentrism, homophobia, and exploitation.Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist, Page 129
“The moral distance between who we claim to be and who we are is larger than most of us are willing to admit.”Tweet
The moral distance between who we claim to be and who we are is larger than most of us are willing to admit. Admitting it means we will need to make sacrifices. It will also mean that we’ll have to pause our passion for extreme patriotism long enough to recognize that if we truly want to make America great, we have to stop adding the word “again” to the end of it. Our past is not a good exemplification of what great should look like. Romanticizing the past while denigrating the present is a recipe used by fanatical leaders to reshape reality. Scott Monty recently wrote about this in a blog post entitled, True Believers – A look at personality types behind mass movements. It is helpful in understanding how certain white men get others to follow them, even when following them is counter to their own best interests.
We need a new vision and a new structural design. We must craft a new model where all men are not just defined as “created equal.” We need an action plan, a blueprint for ensuring that all humans actually are equal, where the scales of justice and opportunity are put into balance, even if that feels uncomfortable, and where the results of these changes can be seen and measured. And it may cause us to have to rethink how our brand of capitalism works.
It will not be easy or quick. Because as Ruth Wilson Gilmore states, “Capitalism requires inequality, and racism enshrines it. It started racial without what people imagined race to mean, which is black people, and it will continue to be racial without what people imagine the not-race to be, which is white people.” The men who continue to benefit the most from racist policies hold the vast majority of the wealth, and therefore they hold the vast majority of the power.
What am I going to do?
I am in the process of choosing the focus for my personal actions. This list will almost certainly change or be supplemented over time. My re-education is just beginning. Even so, there are areas that are emerging as clear choices for me and I’m going to start my list with these.
Be actively antiracist.
The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’ What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an anti-racist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an anti-racist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti-racist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.Ibram X. Kendi, How To Be An Antiracist
I’m taking direct actions to do my own study and, at the urging of Gahlord Dewald, to “fix my inputs” and listen to different voices than mine. Back in September of 2019 Gahlord tweeted this: “Look through your list of people you follow. Is it mostly white dudes? If so, you can fix your inputs by following some of the people mentioned in this.” As my inputs have changed, so has my voice.
Focus direct action on local issues.
It pains me to admit this publicly, but it hit me during a conversation with Jovan Hackley, that I had never been to a city council meeting. Ever. So I committed to him and to myself that this would be something I would change. I live in Santa Clarita, California and now have the upcoming City Council meetings in my calendar. I was shocked by what I saw in my first meeting. 10 people in a row spoke at the beginning and called for the resignation of one of the City Council members over strong racist comments made in the past. The board was universally tone-deaf. I will begin to insert an antiracist voice in our local discussions and decision-making processes. And it will be with a specific focus on policy changes that increase racial balance in real estate ownership and property values.
Rob Hahn recently wrote a fabulous piece titled, The Hard Stuff: Systemic Racism And Real Estate. It’s a long read and worth every second. I will not begin to do it any justice here. But in it, he recommends two courses of action. I’ve thought long and hard about each of them and have come to the conclusion that I agree with them both.
- Actively oppose zoning. Rob writes, “Zoning that restricts density perpetuates the legacy of redlining, of racist zoning policies, and continues to drive massive inequality between the rich and the poor, which has a racial element because of the intergenerational wealth effects of housing as Nate Bowling so clearly laid out.”
Not coincidentally, during my first city council meeting, the lone dissenting voice in a vote on participation in a LEAP Grant Program to obtain funding for the establishment of a City Center Specific Plan that would create a mixed-use center and facilitate new housing production in Santa Clarita was the same voice being asked to resign over his racist comments. So, I’m including Nate Bowling’s video below. It’s excellent.
- Work to eliminate school districts and local levy funding. Again, quoting Rob, “It is hardly a secret for us in the industry that property values are directly connected to the quality of schools. And every American knows that education is the key to success. We know that poor communities, with low property values, have worse schools, and those poor communities are the ones locked in a vicious cycle of poverty and violence and oppression. They’re also heavily Black and Latino. If the real estate industry is serious about doing something about systemic racism, then we have to do away with local schools based on arbitrary school district lines and local property taxes.”
Why should there be any disparity in the quality of our schools? There is only one correct answer to that question. There shouldn’t be any disparity. School funding should not be tied directly to a local levy. Let me encourage you again to read the entirety of Rob’s article, but his personal education story at the end is poignant. Here’s a portion:
The average price of a house in Jericho, NY is $830,232; the average price in Hicksville, NY is $504,866.
Jericho, NY is 86.36% White, 1.42% African American, 0.03% Native American, 10.69% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.51% from other races, and 0.98% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.44%.
Hicksville, NY is 69.3% White, 2.2% African American, 0.3% Native American, 20.7% Asian, 4.8% from other races, and 2.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 14.5% of the population.
And Jericho is a mere 2.2 miles from Hicksville. It’s a 7-minute drive. But they might as well be two different worlds. Why? School districts, funded by property taxes, is why. Since this is Long Island, maybe it’s also because of racial steering by real estate agents, not in the 1950s or 1960s, but today, as I write this.
Jericho has expensive houses, which means more money for its schools, which drives home values, which generates more money for the schools… and the virtuous cycle takes off. The opposite is true for Hicksville: less expensive houses mean less money for its schools, which depresses home values, which means less money for the schools… and the cycle of poverty takes off.Rob Hahn, The Hard Stuff: Systemic Racism and Real Estate
Get involved in change at the National Association of REALTORS®.
I’m officially raising my hand, Bob Goldberg. I’m here to volunteer to help you and the National Association of REALTORS® in any way I can. I desire to participate in hard conversations. I desire to assist with the formation and implementation of solutions that will provide meaningful change. If I have any influence at all, I want to use it to make sure we’re not having the same conversations a decade from now. I’m not interested in merely being a part of a resurgence in “ally culture.” I want to impact meaningful and measurable change. Use me. Please.
Push harder for female and BIPOC-owned startups at REACH.
I am Entrepreneur In Residence for Second Century Ventures and its REACH accelerator. SCV is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Association of REALTORS®. SCV and REACH play a significant role in bringing new technologies forward in the real estate vertical. While REACH does well, in comparison to other accelerators, in bringing in female-owned companies, and 3 of 5 managing partners are female, there is so much more we can do to ensure the top of our funnel is more inclusive of gender-diverse BIPOC founders. I’ll need a lot of help with this one.
A Country Designed To Work For Everyone
I don’t have all of the answers. Until recently, I didn’t even have the right questions. I am not woke, but I am in the process of waking up from my complicit slumber. I don’t know what a country that is specifically designed to work for everyone should look like, so I’m likely to make more than a few mistakes along the way. I’m just going to try to do the next right thing and trust I’ll know what that is. I’ll happily admit when I don’t and seek help.
But I promise you, this old dog is already learning new tricks, and I intend to use them to create meaningful positive change.
I’d like to say a specific thank you to @iamsherrelle, for her excellent post, “To The White People Who Want To Be Down.” Her writing was the inspiration for the first few lines of this post and the impetus to begin it. In her post, she writes, “White people live in a world that is built for them. Can we just acknowledge that?” I suppose I could have just said a silent, “amen” and moved along, but this felt like the next right thing.