It took me over a year to feel ready to see 12 Years a Slave. Two weeks ago I finally saw the Oscar winner. It was as brutal and stunning as I expected, and I sobbed through most of the last 15 minutes. On a roll, I watched The Butler a couple days later, and then on the Sunday of MLK Day weekend I saw Selma. That’s quite a lot of African American history to take in all at once. And here’s my main takeaway:

Nothing in White people’s experience comes close to the suffering of Black people. Nothing. And we inflicted this suffering. We White people owe Black people a tremendous debt – still unpaid.

Let me be clear. Yes, White people suffer, and some at the hands of Black people. My brother and I suffered harassment by Black boys in our elementary school. I personally know White people who have been assaulted and violated by Black people. I’ve also known some Black people who have enjoyed relative ease and economic privilege – many more so than me, and more than some White people I’ve known.

I’m not talking about the real and pervasive individual pains we all experience. I’m not talking about the fair number of outliers and exceptions to the majority’s reality. I’m talking about our overall collective experience as real and distinct racial groups. I’m talking about our overall, collective experience as White and Black peoples.

The experience of Black people in what is today the United States, spans hundreds – hundreds – of years of being bought and stolen from their homelands, ripped from their cultures, parted from their families and their language, being sold and treated as inanimate objects. It’s an experience of systematic, frequent, and legal rape, beating, murder, torture, kidnapping, cruel working conditions and constant verbal dehumanization. For hundreds of years. Even after slavery ended officially in 1865, much of this continued for another 100 years, well into our lifetimes. Since slavery ended, the Black experience has included beatings, murder, burning crosses, vandalism, and intimidation and humiliation at lunch counters, drinking fountains, public streets, private homes, work places and the voting booth. It has included de jure and de facto exclusion from decent neighborhoods, home loans, schools, adequate jobs, political representation, legal justice in courtrooms, and even marriage to White people (until 1967). While increasingly less legal, much of this continues today, as does the fallout and trauma of coming from 12 or more generations of abuse.

And all this because they are Black. White Americans as a group have experienced nothing even close.

Let me be clear again. I have no slaveowners in my lineage as far as I know. I come from various strains of farmers and working class folks arriving from Europe at various points in history. My lineage is full of suffering: crops failed, plagues came, women had more children than they could handle and no socially acceptable channel for their genius, money was short, wars broke out. And still the life I enjoy today is in large part due to what people of African descent contributed to this country.

Black people’s bodies – literally and figuratively – tilled the soil, built the foundation, and grew the backbone of this country. They planted and harvested crops that fed us and grew White wealth. They built the roads and railroads. They nursed and cared for White children so wealthy White women could spend time doing other things like studying and developing their artistic talents. And on and on. Blacks weren’t alone; poor Whites and other people of color were part of this too. And we have yet to truly acknowledge that White people are rich – that White America is rich – because Black people did so much to build this nation, and built it for cheap or less than nothing.

The life I enjoy today is also made easier by the fact that I was born with White skin in a country where having White skin has brought meaningful, unearned advantages for hundreds of years. And yet so many White people think racism is gone, over, a moot point, or a tiresome topic. Especially Good White People. They point to all the progress we’ve made and how much better things are. Yes, we’ve made progress and things are better – but this was just as much (or more) due to Black peoples’ efforts as ours. Yes, we’ve paid down the debt, but we still owe a tremendous balance.

White people! We are the problem. We stand in the way of progress, of ending racism.

I think it’s almost funny when White people say race or slavery are sensitive issues. Really? Talking about slavery or race makes us feel uncomfortable? How about all the ways we’ve made Black people “feel uncomfortable” just for being Black? And for hundreds of years, in a way they could never escape? We have the luxury of not listening whenever we want – Blacks don’t have the luxury of not being Black. Can we agree that to say slavery or racism has made Black people “feel uncomfortable” would be insulting to an outrageous degree? And yet we’re the ones that feel uncomfortable with the topic of race or slavery. How dare we. I think our guilt is showing.

I think it’s almost funny when White people say they’re sick and tired of hearing about race and racism. Guess what? So are Black people. The difference is that most people of color think or talk about race almost every day…because they have to. They have to in order to survive, whether in city streets or the corporate workplace. African American parents start talking to their kids about race and racism in elementary school, and teach their young sons exactly how to behave with White people and police – to help them survive interactions with us. And you’re sick and tired of hearing about race or racism a few times a year in the media? How dare we.

No, not “everything is about race”. If you’re White and feeling that way, it’s probably because Black people and other groups of color are feeling more and more safe enough to speak up, and you’re getting a glimpse – a tiny glimpse – of what it’s been like to be them for hundreds of years in a way they can’t ever escape.

I think it’s almost funny when White people say police killing unarmed Black males like Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner who were doing little to nothing wrong is “sad”. Sad? Sadness is grief, an emotion we have when experiencing loss. Sadness is appropriate when a beloved pet dies, our favorite TV show is cancelled or our favorite restaurant goes out of business. What did you lose? Do you really mean it’s “unfortunate”? As in, “that event that happened over which I have no control is a bummer. Too bad, it’s just a matter of Fortune throwing the dice”. No, the appropriate emotion isn’t sadness, it’s righteous anger. How can it be that, in a country where we say we’re about equality and fairness and justice, that not only did this happen, it happens frequently, and those responsible usually get off scott free? The appropriate reaction is outrage and action, not “too bad!” How dare we!

I think it’s almost funny when White people say Black people need to “get over” racism already. How about we tell Jews to “get over” the Holocaust? How about we tell Americans to “get over” 9/11? Can you imagine the uproar? Keep in mind that 9/11 only occurred once, and while it justifiably traumatized millions of people, it only really happened to a few thousand. What if you – and every American — experienced 9/11 every month for 246 years? How easy would that be to just “get over”? How cruel to say such a thing. How dare we.

Here’s the real question – what are we White people afraid of? Are we afraid of Black people taking over? Afraid they’re coming to collect their debt of centuries of oppression? How dare we think that Black people wanting – demanding – to be treated with the same fairness and dignity as White people is taking anything away from us. Even if it were, it’s high time we started paying our debt.

Or maybe we’re afraid that Black people are telling the truth – that their experience is real. Then maybe we aren’t who we say we are. Maybe we aren’t who we think we are.

It’s insulting when White people don’t believe what Black people are saying. Really? You think there is any justification for George Zimmerman shooting Trayvon Martin dead? Or police choking Eric Garner to death? I don’t care if technically Zimmerman was found not guilty because of the way the law is written and the jury instructed. Then the laws are wrong and there is something fundamentally problematic with our system! Laws reflect our values. They can, do and must change. Remember that slavery was legal and aiding a slave’s escape was a federal offense? Or that Blacks occupying “Whites only” public areas could be arrested for doing so? Or that it was legal to keep Black people from buying property in certain neighborhoods or marrying White people – during our lifetimes?

Why isn’t Black people’s experience enough evidence in itself that we – we all – have a problem? Do we not believe African Americans because their experience isn’t ours? Because we think they’re making it up? Because it’s unflattering? Inconvenient? Wow, that’s awful – almost as bad as slavery! Maybe we’re not hearing them because they’re Black?

How terrified we must be. This fear is further evidence that we know we owe a debt. When I ask corporate employees in workshops who they think got called back most often for interviews among Black and White people when the resumes were the same except for the names – they always know it’s Black people. When people test their unconscious biases, they (including me!) usually carry negative unconscious biases against Black people. We know that Black people aren’t given a fair shake or treated equally. And yet we’re unwilling to give anything to balance it out, crying unfairness. How dare we.

White people! Our voices are the voices of history. Either we speak and act consistent with the historical forces of oppress or the forces of progress. When you say Black people are “entitled” you’re really saying Black people are “uppity n—rs.” When you say “Police Lives Matter” you’re really saying “Police Lives Matter More Than Black Lives.” When you cluck your tongue and say “it’s sad” about Trayvon and Mike you are the same voices who shrugged when Solomon Northrup’s abductors, Emmett Till’s murderers, and so many other perpetrators like them not only got off scott free for their crimes, you allowed their names to be forgotten, naming only their victims.

Good White People! It’s time for action. History has been steadily moving in a clear direction – towards more freedom, justice and equality. Change is coming – with us, without us, or in spite of us. Which side of history will you be on? Will you act from fear, or from love – powerful love that insists on justice? How will the future judge your goodness and morality? Will you be the movie characters that inspire shame and horror in White viewers 50 – 150 years from now? Or will you be the ones that inspire cheers and pride?

Again, let’s be clear. Black people as a group aren’t any more saintly than White people. Yes, there are Blacks who “play the race card”, maybe even “race bait”. They are a minority. Their actions and voices tarnish, but do not diminish the truth that nothing in White people’s experience comes close to the suffering of Black people, and we White people owe Black people a tremendous debt – still unpaid. Their actions are in response to racism, not the cause. They are tiny ways individuals are making tiny moves to right the wrongs we have inflicted.

And since when does someone need to be blameless to receive justice? If that were true, none of us ever would. Why do we insist on African Americans being twice a good as us to receive half our rights? Like that county clerk in Georgia denying Annie Lee Cooper’s voting registration because she can’t name all 67 county judges. Like new American citizens having to pass a civics test few US-born college grads ever would.

Yes, there is division within the African American community – this is not one monolithic community with the same opinions and experiences any more than White people are. This does not change the fact that nothing in White people’s experience comes close to the suffering of Black people, and we White people owe Black people a tremendous debt – still unpaid.

Yes, there are wealthy and powerful Black people. And for every Oprah, Obama, Tyler Perry and Kobe Bryant you can name, how many wealthy and influential White people can you name? Look at the boardrooms, banks, movie production companies and political offices of this country. There are a whole lot more Trumps, Bushes, Weinsteins and Mannings. And it’s not because African Americans are a numerical minority – they don’t even come close to representing their 12% of the population in circles of power, however defined – even in entertainment.

Yes, there is bigotry and prejudice on all sides. Yes, many Black people hold stereotypes and prejudice against White people (I wonder why?). Yes, Black people have murdered, raped, beaten, assaulted, abused, and insulted White people. Individual Blacks’ prejudices do not change the truth that nothing in White people’s experience comes close to the suffering of Black people, and we White people owe Black people a tremendous debt – still unpaid.

No, being the beneficiaries of racism doesn’t make things all hunky-dory. Having “privilege” doesn’t make us feel privileged. I have yet to meet a White person who felt their life was all peachy keen and easy street. This is why so many of us resist the notion that we have race privilege. But imagine just how much less peachy and easy our lives would feel if we didn’t have White skin. Imagine your presence, competence, and intelligence being constantly questioned – before you even open your mouth to speak, or even before you show up in person. Imagine being constantly watched by store owners and stopped by police and security guards. Imagine carrying the visible mark of your slave heritage everywhere you go. Only Blacks (and other people of color) experience racism: the systematic distribution of resources, power and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people of color (Solid Ground).

The chickens have come home to roost, my fellow Good White People. Now is the reckoning. We’ve been paying the debt down, but we still owe. Now is the time that we pay in full. The fact we didn’t incur this debt and we aren’t personally guilty for slavery and Jim Crow is irrelevant. Our system isn’t built on that principal. If my grandfather dies and leaves behind an outstanding debt, it doesn’t just go away, my father gets it. If he doesn’t pay it off, I inherit the debt. Someone always pays for debts, and us being beneficiaries of slavery and racism makes us co-signers. Bummer.

Nothing in White people’s experience comes close to the suffering of Black people, and we White people owe Black people a tremendous debt – still unpaid. We’ve inherited this debt. Here’s how we pay it down:

We must apologize. It’s a travesty that the US has yet to formally apologize for slavery. It’s a travesty that we’ve made no economic reparations to people of African descent from all our wealth. If that means higher taxes for me, I say bring it on. It’s a travesty we’ve had no Truth and Reconciliation process. Other nations – nations we deem inferior to us – have done this, and seen truly amazing results.

We must ensure legislation designed to even the playing field stays in place and is improved. It’s a travesty that the 1965 Voting Rights Act is being challenged. It’s a travesty that murder of our African American youth in our streets by those entrusted with our safety goes unpunished. And it’s way too soon to dismantle Affirmative Action. We can talk about everyone being treated fairly regardless of color once we’ve made that a reality by correcting the tilt in the playing field.

We must educate ourselves. Read the links in this piece. Read works on racism by White people like Waking Up White and White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and The Hidden Wound. Talk to other Good White People. Attend events and gatherings and rallies attended by African Americans. Listen. Develop your tolerance for discomfort and healthy guilt.

We must hold our own accountable. It’s not really my job as a White person to call out a Black person’s self-hatred, internalized oppression, “playing the race card”, or “race baiting”. I trust Black people can self regulate and help their own come correct – just like I gently check other women for putting themselves down, putting up with men’s chauvinism and abuse, or crying “sexual harassment” or “rape” with no truth behind it. To not hold my own accountable damages our integrity and our cause. And so it’s my job to hold White people, especially elected officials and public servants accountable for what they say and don’t say, what they do and don’t do, and what policies and programs they get behind.

We must look slavery and racism squarely in the eye. Use your unearned privilege, built on the bedrock of millions of slaves we have yet to acknowledge, much less thank, to insist on true and complete equity for those who need it most, and the descendants of those our ancestors abused. We don’t need a Police Lives Matter campaign – we already know police lives matter, and police sign up for duty voluntarily knowing the many risks. We don’t need to dismantle programs or policies that give African Americans a leg up – we got a 396-year head start on them!

We must address the triple threat that King identified – racism, poverty and militarization. We glorify King for aspects of his message and actions, and conveniently forget how anti-war he was, how he fought to dismantle poverty, and how he was ostracized for these beliefs by Whites and Blacks, conservatives and liberals. Are you a Good White Person who donates to the food bank every Christmas but shops at WalMart every weekend? Do you vote with your dollars only at big box stores and megagrocery stores? Are you against early childhood education, equitably funded public education and health care for everyone? Are you OK with dark money in elections and ongoing war? Then you are part of the problem.

So that’s our debt, our bill due and payable. Sound difficult? Scary? Unfair? How dare we! Nothing in White people’s experience comes close to the suffering of Black people. Nothing. And we inflicted this suffering. These actions are the very least we can do.

Tired of hearing about race and racism? Then make it stop.

 

 

35 Comments

  • Avatar Suzanne Scott says:

    I apologize, and am working on not being a part of the problem. I am using my privilege to right the wrong. Thank you for this pointed and highly relevant writing.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Awesome Suzanne, good for you! Welcome to a growing community of inspired change agents. Thank you for reading, and for your comment.

  • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

    Here’s a fabulous cartoon a friend of mine sent me – “a concise history of Black-White relations in the US”: https://susanarinderle.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/concise-history-of-Black-White-relations.jpg

  • Avatar darlene eliopoulos says:

    Thanks for a well-written piece on what ails all of us. I have shared on FB and the response is glowing. It has been shared three times today..so far. Keep up the excellent work. You are needed.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Thanks Dar! That means a lot. As you might imagine, this was a tough piece to write and not everyone has embraced it. But I care more about what people like you and your allies think and feel, than those who aren’t ready to hear this and prefer to stay in the darkness and fear. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

    From an African American Facebook follower (reposted with permission): I appreciate your honesty…Speaking for myself, I don’t feel we are owed anything. What’s done is done. We were not the only ones to suffer; look at the Natives, Jews, Chinese, Mexicans, Mayans, Nigerians, and women and children who are victims. What I feel annoyed with are the ones who say ‘get over it’ or that racism is over. Everyone wants to dress and act black but never want to ‘live’ black. I loathe being stereotyped. My tactic in combating racism or ignorance is through being an example. Actions speak louder than words. While I agree with the anger of those supporters of Brown and Garner, burning our community was about the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. Black people enslave themselves. As Harriet Tubman stated, ‘I could have rescued thousands more if only they knew they were slaves.’ Rather than participate in a pity party I stand with those who take up the cross MLK carried; you catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

  • Parker Johnson Parker Johnson says:

    (From African American colleague on facebook, reposted with permission): Susana Rinderle thank you for sharing this passionate and thoughtful article. I agree with many points and your efforts to connect with white people on battling white supremacy, affirming humanity, and challenging intersecting oppressions. I am not a reparations person, yet I support the idea. Debt is a hard thing to discuss, so I really applaud you for jumping in. You may find this book compelling if you have not read it. Thanks again for being an accomplice in dismantling oppression and white supremacy. http://m.democracynow.org/stories/1510

  • Avatar Charles Hawk says:

    I disagree with your comments. While you are doing your research please research the people of Ireland. The 1000 years of oppression, slavery and worse on there own land. Then upon arrival in the New World being greeted with No Irish Need Apply signs.
    For that matter you can looking into the history of the Koreans and Chinese who at various points were under Japanese control, and see how lovely they were treated.
    Or the Aborigines or Australia.
    Or the Native American’s.

    The list can grow forever but not one touches the Irish story.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Hi Charles — thanks for writing. I’m pretty familiar with Ireland. I spent time there a few years ago, and in fact I’m part Scots-Irish. I actually agree with you, but this piece isn’t a statement about every racial/cultural group in the US or in the world, just the debt we Whites in the US owe Blacks in the US. As I mention in the piece, pretty much every human being on earth has an oppressor in their blood line, and ALL of us have suffered, or seen suffering in our bloodlines. This doesn’t change the fact that the centuries of slavery in the US, defined for centuries across racial lines, benefits me every day as a White person (even though I have no slaveowners in my lineage), and that as a White person it’s my responsibility to make it stop. We White people owe Black people a tremendous debt and it’s time we pay up.

  • Avatar Cherokee Lakes says:

    With all due respect, this is ridiculous. Racism absolutely exists today….but it is the exception, not the rule. I understand that there are white people, many of them holding positions of power, who still discriminate and are outright, blatantly racist. We have no use for these people. They are preventing progress that would benefit everyone. However, these people do not represent the majority of whites, no more than a black man who commits crimes with no regard for others is representative of all blacks. Feel free to ostracize and condemn those with racist beliefs; I will support you 100%. Feel free to engage in self-guilt and the idea that you personally owe a whole race reparations. Do not, however, include me. I owe nothing to any one except for my family who have raised and supported me. I pay taxes, rent, utilities, and a car payment. I do not live off of wealthfare; I pay my own way and work for everything I have. Again, the only thing I am responsible for is the debt to my family who have supported me throughout my life. I do not benefit from any white “privilege”, and neither did my parents before me. They have worked their whole lives for everything they have, as I am now doing for myself. I did not create the slavery of the past or today’s discriminatory beliefs. Therefore, that is not my debt to pay. The only thing I owe a black person, or any person for that matter, is to treat them with the respect and decency any living being deserves. No more, no less. The though of monetary reparations make me sick to my stomach, and proves that you are a fool. I owe nothing.

    • Avatar Cherokee Lakes says:

      Again, I would like to say that my response is meant with all due respect. I do not mean to call you a fool or speak harshly, yet I feel strongly in this matter and cannot help but to express my beliefs.

      • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

        Hi Cherokee — thanks for reading, and for your comments. However, you did call me a fool and referred to my piece as ridiculous. Name calling like that is not respectful. It only points to the fact you either weren’t fully engaging with the ideas I present, or they frighten you. My perspective is entirely valid, and your perspective isn’t the truth for millions of other people in this country. Also, you misunderstand the basic premise of my article, which is that bigotry and racism aren’t the same thing. I agree with you about bigotry — individual mean behaviors that people of any race can, and do, direct at each other — in fact, I say in my piece “Yes, there is bigotry and prejudice on all sides.” I agree this is on the decline, for sure. However, I’m not talking about bigotry, I’m talking about racism, which is structural and pervasive in our society and (some might argue) perhaps increasing compared to a few decades ago. Also, if you are white-skinned, you benefit from White privilege whether you like it or not, or choose to or not — you seem to have missed that explanation in my article as well or didn’t understand it. Feel free to go back to my piece in a spirit of courage and curiosity, read my definition of racism 2/3 way through, follow some of my links to studies about unconscious bias and the like (including what other countries like Canada and South Africa have done — with greater success than us — around their racial issues), then feel free to further engage with me about the ideas. That is how you can be respectful and part of the solution.

        • Avatar Jason says:

          “white people” cant owe black people. The idea that a person can be spoken of as a generalization is the problem. I have been surrounded by and grown up with people of all colors my whole life, and what i can tell you as a fact is that every asian, mexican, black, or indian person ive ever known who doesnt obsess over their skin color has had the same success and opportunities as me, every single minority ive grown up along side has had a great life and has not been held back by skin color, with that being said i have a minority friend who was raised to believe that he will always have the short end of the stick, he is very poor because he thinks of himself as a victim, he is a lazy alcoholic and because of that he loses every job he has, but unlike the successful minorities i grew up with… He blames his setbacks on his skin color, so he never takes personal responsibility and is always waiting for white America to treat him better so he can succeed. “The white people owe us” mentality is a disease. There was a time when it wasnt true, but in general today If you are a minority and work hard and stop waiting for the next “racist” thing to happen you will succeed. No matter what you look like you can be president if you want. Another reason why whites cant be generalized is because white people are actually the most diverse race of people by far just think about it, for example…. Over 90 percent of black people vote Democrat, that isnt true for white people because there are so many white people with a million different views and life styles. You cannot lump people into a category because you perceive them a certain way, white is a color, not a type of people. Every white person has their own brain, and every humans brain is the same color. There are some benefits to being white, but for the most part its because there are more white people, if i went to china i would accept and understand that chinese people would have it a little better than me. Its just the way it is, its about population not skin color as racist. It is a fact that in america if you work hard and stay positive you can and will live a comfortable life. And no white person is gonna pop up out of nowhere and stop you. Stop waiting for the boogeyman and live your life and you will be ok no matter what your skin looks like when the lights are on. When i was born in the hospital on october 30 1988 there may have been a minority born in the bed next to me…. We got here at the same time, and i dont owe him anything, what i will do is treat him with respect…. But only as long as its mutual. Period.

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            Hi there Jason! Thank you for reading, and commenting. I’m assuming you’re White, and a good person. If I’m correct then you’re missing a classic difference between White people and people of color — White people are treated as individuals, people of color are not, and their experience is shaped by this dynamic (check out this awesome article). Two thoughts about what you say you know “as a fact” about the people of color you’ve known who have the same opportunities (IF they don’t “obsess” over skin color): (1) how do you know this for sure? (2) I have no doubt this is your experience, yet this is not a “fact” for all people of color. You can read all kinds of examples on the Internet and my website — probably even hear them in your community. I totally agree with you that there are many people of color who take on a victim mentality and blame the world, White people and/or their skin color for their problems. This, however, is not the situation for the majority, nor the source of the problem. People of color are not inventing their experience. Just because Obama is president and people of color enjoy more prosperity than ever before doesn’t mean we still don’t have a ways to go (I made this point in my piece). I agree with you that Whites are very diverse! However, Whites aren’t the most diverse group as you say — all racial and cultural groups are highly diverse. I don’t think the 90% figure you give is correct (I don’t think it’s that high, and it depends on the election) — perhaps you might get curious why African Americans are so much more likely to vote Democrat (perhaps it’s because Democratic policies and ideals are better for them and their families?). I’m glad you can see that there are benefits to being White. I agree that Whites are the majority in the US but that’s not the only reason we get more goodies — the systems were set up to benefit us from the get go. Heck, it wasn’t even set up for me as a woman since when our country was founded only White men were deemed full humans with full rights (and Whites were NOT the majority at the time 🙂 ). Power isn’t always held by the majority — for a racial example, look at South Africa (Black majority, Whites in power — even after apartheid was officially dismantled, although it’s getting better). And having White skin — and being from the US — is an advantage anywhere you go on the globe because it brings power and privilege with it, even for folks that aren’t rich back home. That doesn’t mean we don’t experience poor treatment because of it, but it’s because we HAVE power, not because we don’t. Like most Good White People you believe the myth we’ve been taught that all folks need to do is work hard to get ahead but that’s not the truth (based on boatloads of data about mobility and race in this country — and I personally have met hundreds of people of color who work their butts off for years and never do). In fact, it’s less and less true with each generation. Perhaps you might read some of the pieces on my FREE Stuff page (articles at the bottom) and also check out Michelle Alexander’s work. I really appreciate you reading the piece and sharing your perspective, Jason! Indeed the issue is complicated and involves poverty, class, and individual beliefs and efforts along with race and history! Please join me in a quest to continue educating ourselves, being curious, and doing our part to create a world that works better not just for our families but everyone’s families! Best to you…

        • Avatar Jason says:

          I am a very open minded individual and am not one of the people on here that just thinks your saying crazy off the wall stuff, i just think saying “whites owe blacks” is the wrong way to say it. It puts out the wrong message. I understand the bigger idea of what your saying. Its just that my brother just had a white baby girl a few weeks ago. And she doesn’t owe anyone anything. That being said i do believe our country has alot of work to do regarding race.

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            Wow, congratulations to you and your brother, Jason! And thank you for the opportunity to have respectful dialogue. I think we’ll probably disagree about whether Whites owing Black is the right or wrong message — I think it’s one of the right messages (obviously), and I also believe there are many other “right” messages I’m guessing you can totally get behind (Yay, diversity! 🙂 ). I believe your niece already owes a lot of people — not because she’s a bad person or anything other than a perfect beautiful baby girl, but because she’s inherited a system set up to give her advantages that began even before she was born. Perhaps you might consider getting curious about how her experience might already have been different if she or at least one of her parents had been African American…? It really sucks to ponder such things and there are lots of layers I’d be happy to explore more with you offline (e.g. the health of Black women as mothers compared to White women because of the legacy of slavery and the stress that bigotry and racism takes on Black women’s health). I’m not into us Whites folks going into paralyzing shame, I believe we need to take more responsibility for solving the problem than we have, and properly express the tremendous gratitude towards Black folks for what we enjoy today. I’ve enjoyed communicating with you Jason — best to you and your family!

          • Avatar Gary Dailey says:

            I’d love to see the research and the data behind the study that black women are under more stress than white women because of slavery! Could you post a link to this research?? Also a new born is responsible for a unfair advantage in life because she’s white and already has extra privileges?? We are a constitutional republic, could you post the research that backs up that statement as factually and well researched information that bears out that statement??

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            Gary while I’m aware that you’re not asking these questions because you’re curious and really want to know (based on our many previous interactions), I’m posting your comment and replying to you for only two reasons: (a) it’s the first non-offensive comment you’ve posted in years which does not violate our comment policy and (b) there are others reading that might actually want to know. There are mounds of research on health disparities for African Americans including Black women and mothers — all you need to do is Google it (start with “Black women health disparities”) or go to your local library. There are multiple sources for these health disparities discussed in the literature, one of which is believed to be the trauma of slavery, passed on epigenetically. I challenge you to be curious and question your beliefs — I used to believe a lot like you, and changed my mind when I got curious and really listened to others. Your comment about “constitutional republic” is irrelevant to your question, and I’ve already answered it both in this piece and others I’ve written. I’ve never claimed that my views on White privilege are backed up by quantitative research — they don’t have to be, to be valid ideas and opinions. They’re based on my experience, reading, talking/listening and 40+ years of thinking about race and racism. Still, you can read some qualitative research found in the articles on my webpage if you like. As I’ve told you before on and offline, you have my permission to disagree, seek your own truth, and live in integrity with your values. I will continue to do the same, and as such I cannot help you with the deep fear you carry.

        • Avatar Jason says:

          Thank you for the respectful conversation first off. I wanted to reply to you asking me how i know that the minority individuals i know are doing good and have had the same opportunitys as me, well its because im not guessing, im 26 years old and in my lifetime people are very connected, this is not a case of a white person back in the day who would say things like “oh im surely not racist and understand black people because i had a black person over for dinner once upon a time” These Black people and minorities are my close friends, family, and co workers, people in my generation dont lose touch with eachother after high-school like previous generations. So i talk with these people about every topic under the sun. I have a black cousin who im very close to who is 15 years old, he is one of the most popular kids in school, he plays sports and gets good grades and has not experienced any sort of racism nor does he feel held back because of his race, if anything it has helped him, nowadays its kind of “cool” to be black if anything. Most white kids are afraid to say anything even remotely racist because it could be taken the wrong way. Minority people i have spent my whole life around dont think that they have some huge disadvantage because our lives are pretty much the same. With that being said there are “pockets” of our country where the disadvantage is much more serious. But in general in the United states it is not the way you portray it. Obama said that white women hold their purse a little tighter when a black man gets on the elevator, but that comes down to expression in most cases, take a white kid dressed in sagging pants and a crooked hat and a black man in a suit and the woman will get on the elevator with the black man first, it was ironic because after obama said that me and my mother were at the library and a white kid dressed kind of gangster was about to get on with us and we took the stairs because he made us both uncomfortable. So obama saying things like that arent exactly accurate. When i was a teen i used to dress like a rapper, and i would get followed around in stores and treated different, but if i was black i would think it was because of my color, rap is still my favorite type of music but i realized that people judge you based on expression. So my point is that all the minority friends i have that express themselves in a way that doesnt draw attention are doing good and they would tell you that first hand. They do not feel “owed” by me. And as for a baby girl owing blacks, with all doe respect i find that unsettling, this is an innocent human life, not a financial transaction, i understand you say that she is born into a white privileged system, ok… Well as i said, whether she will receive those “unearned benefits” is uncertain, that depends on where in america she lives, what school she goes to, who she knows, ect. And as a matter of fact she is growing up in a part of corpus christy texas where when i visited, it was mostly latino people, so maybe she will have a hard time being a white person. White privilege is 100 percent a real thing. But it is real in the sense that white people have a better shot at having privilege than minorities. Its not for you or anyone else to decide if an innocent baby girl owes a great debt, as i said this one individual human life is not a financial transaction. America as an organization owes black people, individual white babys whos lifestyle you cannot predict do not owe, they get a clean slate. Its Americas debt. Not hers.

          • Avatar Jason says:

            I apologize for poor spelling or any punctuation issues ive been replying on my phone so its a bit difficult haha

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            Hahaha! No problem Jason, and thank you for your reply. I’m glad that you have such positive relationships with people of color and that those folks have felt racism hasn’t harmed them. And you’re right, in Corpus Christi there are a lot more Latinos than African Americans, and Texas is a “majority-minority” state. Indeed, the issue of race is very, very complex as both you and I have demonstrated! You seem to be a good hearted man and well intended. I applaud you for engaging with this topic and being caring and respectful in our dialogue, and likely with others. I don’t think anything you’ve mentioned changes my mind — I’ve heard everything you’ve said before, and when I was younger I actually believed just like you do! Still, I believe you’re doing your part to create a world you’re proud of. And I’d like to invite you to get more curious when (if) you’re ready. I wish you were right that the majority of the US is the way you describe. You might try reaching out farther than your immediate personal circle and listening to what people say more broadly around the country. Why would Obama, Michelle Alexander, or any of the authors I include on my website be making this stuff up? It’s their lived experience and they’re not imagining it. Also check out the super cool research on Unconscious Bias, like the IATs (even better, take the one on race yourself!). I do a lot of work with that stuff. I agree it’s way offensive to think a newborn baby girl might owe African Americans for what she enjoys today and it’s super offensive and scary to think we might not be who we say we are as a country. But to not listen, and deny the full truth is more offensive, and doesn’t help us solve the problem. Even White guys like you that listen to hip hop and dress “gangsta” can be the victims of bigotry and prejudice, but in those cases it’s because you emulate or imitate Blackness. You say “White privilege is 100 percent a real thing. But it is real in the sense that white people have a better shot at having privilege than minorities.” Awesome! Exactly! Take a look at how pervasive that it, and what holds it up. You and I hold it up. Our beliefs, our behaviors, and what we vote for hold it up. There is no “America the organization” outside of people. People like you and me. People that can listen more deeply, take a courageous stand our kids will be proud of and make change so everyone’s kids can be the best they can be. I have no doubt you will be a part of that. Happy Labor Day!!

        • Hi Susana

          Great article.

          I’m interested in why you think South Africa has been successful (where you write “including what other countries like Canada and South Africa have done — with greater success than us — around their racial issues”). I moved from Europe to South Africa three and a half years ago. I see a country that is still very divided along racial grounds where most Black people are born poor, live poor and die poor while most White people are born well off, live a better quality life than their skills and abilities would give them in most other countries, and die with wealth to pass on to their children.

          There was no transfer of wealth in 1994. Consequently, Blacks have been forced to start from a position of disadvantage and compete on unequal grounds (pretty much just like the cartoon to which you linked – just scrub out the “U” from “USA” and it describes today’s struggle for a Black South African). Because Blacks are poor they don’t access to good schools, so they get a poor education and are therefore less well prepared for jobs. Because Whites are rich they get access to good schools. They are better prepared for jobs academically and from a life skills viewpoint. Furthermore, they build networks in these schools which benefits them immensely (nepotism is very much alive and kicking in SA, shockingly so for a foreigner like me).

          A few Blacks break through and make it. But such a small proportion that it will take many generations to reach some level of equal opportunity, unless there is another intervention.

          Best regards
          Rob

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            Hello Rob — thank you for reading, and for your thoughtful question and enlightening comment. Are you referring to my response to Cherokee Lakes’s comment in July? In that sentence you quote I was inviting her to “follow some of my links to studies about unconscious bias and the like”, and my reference to South Africa was about the links in the “We must apologize” paragraph. They include a story about Truth & Reconciliation processes inside the US, and also Canada (where one major church has paid damages to indigenous people and reparations are being discussed) and South Africa, whose Truth & Reconciliation process are well known and, by all accounts I’ve heard, powerful and positive. I have a dear friend who’s a Black (Xhosa) South African who lives with her (Zulu) husband and child in Johannesburg and while there have been incredible positive changes in South Africa in the last 25 years, indeed as you elegantly point out, there is still plenty of work to be done around racial and economical justice. However, at least South Africa has had the courage and decency to at least apologize and commit to official dialogue and truth-telling, something the US has — shamefully — still not done.

          • Hi Susana

            Yes, it was in response to your comment to which you refer.

            I’m not convinced that the TRC was a huge success. I wasn’t in South Africa at the time and nor did I experience first hand life here before 1994. So I can only speak from my experience of living here now and interacting with people of different racial groups, observing their different life experiences.

            It seems to me that the main beneficiaries of the TRC are the Whites. In general, and yes I am stereotyping, they see the TRC (plus the ending of apartheid, the introduction of democracy and the concomitant political emancipation of POCs) as drawing a line in the sand that allows them to start with a clean slate. They see this as making full reparations and hence they see affirmative action (called BBBEE here) as racism against Whites when actually it’s a highly ineffective measure that goes one small fraction of the way to levelling the playing field and providing equal opportunities.

            Additionally, the TRC and associated processes were poor in achieving justice in the cases where the crimes were not within the remit of the TRC to grant amnesty to the perpetrators. As an example, look at Steve Biko’s killers. They didn’t admit to killing him (admission of guilt being a prerequisite to being granted amnesty) and they got off scot free.

            So from my viewpoint, the transition in South Africa has not been a huge success. What did Blacks get from it? Political freedom. What else? Err, can’t really think of anything else. What did Whites get from it? They got to keep all their wealth and privileges. They got to stay in their homes in the nice suburbs near the good schools that preserved the privilege that they already enjoyed, and to continue to hold an outrageously unfair majority of management positions which enabled them to ensure that Whites still received positive discrimination for employment. They received amnesty (individually) which (collectively) gave them the licence to no longer feel guilty. They got a brand new start, a bit like the 396 year head start that you refer to for White Americans. In essence, they got to feel that they had done everything necessary to make up for decades of apartheid.

            Now I wasn’t in South Africa at the time and this might be the least bad outcome that could have been achieved under the circumstances. At least a civil war was averted. But the transition was certainly not equitable.

            Best regards
            Rob

          • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

            Thank you Rob! I’m no expert on TRC or South Africa by any means and very much appreciate hearing your perspective. For sure the process of healing and evolution in South Africa is FAR from perfect or complete. Two things come to mind — one, we don’t dismantle systems like apartheid or slavery (or their effects) in 25 years, especially when such systems are reinforced by old parts of our brains that respond to us-them, friend-foe, good-bad binary thinking and hierarchies of power-over. It takes time, effort and commitment. It’s messy and non-linear. Two, while TRC wasn’t perfect, I still believe that the idea, intent and formalized, official process of truth telling, apology and envisioning a new future is one excellent starting point for dismantling oppression, and one the US has yet to have the courage and humility to take on. I believe fear and lack of clean and perfect examples to follow are sorry excuses to not try. Best to you — Susana

  • Avatar Dave Matthews says:

    You seem to have made a career off of this tired subject. You may owe a larger debt than most.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Nope, I’m just doing my part. I wish nothing more than to put myself out of business (at least around the racism aspect of my work). Yes, the subject of race and racism is tiring, which is why I’m taking action to create real, sustainable change. Hopefully you too can be part of the solution. It’s not over, and we all have work to do.

  • Avatar Milton Marcus says:

    Susana, I am a 23 year old African American. I graduated from the University of South Florida in 2014… I don’t know who you are or where you come from, but I think I can speak for my entire community when I say thank you… This article brought tears to my eyes because for once in my life I feel like a white american finally understands the impact American history has had and continues to have on black americans. This is a very deep subject and we can go on and on and on for years about this but I choose not to because nothing will come of it. Racism has been institutionalized and unfortunately a great deal of people in America don’t wish to speak on what has happened and what continues to happen to blacks. But I thank you so much for being honest. God bless you!

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Milton you are so very welcome — THANK YOU for reading it and saying out loud what the piece means to you! Your comment just made my week since I’m so used to getting hate mail about this piece. As you can see on my blog, even 8 months after I published this post, I continue to get nasty letters about it from White people, almost all men. And not all of the comments have been posted because they were too inappropriate. All these folks do is only make the case for why it’s so important for us White allies to speak up, and it also tells me how afraid they are, probably because things are truly changing (and they’re losing privileges they can’t even recognize they have!). But I figure if y’all can keep on keepin’ on for 396 years, then I can handle a few trolls. Congratulations on your degree and remember, there are many White allies out here, many White people who are questioning and learning, and our numbers are growing! We can change things — and we will, even if neither you nor I live to see it. 🙂

  • Avatar Hanz Strop says:

    I just have to ask why you feel so bad for African Americans,there is plenty of opportunity but many don’t even try to grasp it out of simply being lazy. Jews have been taken from their homes and enslaved in Egypt,Hated for centuries,enslaved again by the Germans and murdered by the millions. They started their own county and immediately faced war after war with the surrounding Arab nations. Since then they have faced constant terrorism and hate just because of their race/religious beliefs. Yet they have built one of the most successful countries in the world from next to nothing. So don’t tell me that blacks are owed somthing because the Jewish people have had it way worse yet they don’t constantly complain they just push through to success.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Hi Hanz. I already answered your question in the article. I’ve also already addressed your mistaken assumption about African Americans having “plenty of opportunity” in this piece, and in others. You are comparing apples and oranges. It’s deeply offensive and patently inaccurate to say African Americans are lazy as a people and that’s their main problem. The current Jewish nation wasn’t built out of nothing, nor without tremendous international support, which is ongoing. Nor was it built on top of nothing, nor without oppressing others. Yes, anti-Semitism is real and troubling, but you would be unable to argue that Jews don’t have access to more than adequate resources (globally) and have for many centuries. African Americans haven’t had this access, and their history as a global and US American people is very different. Also, anti-Israeli sentiment and “terrorism” isn’t mainly based on hate, race and religion, it’s a reaction to their occupation and terrorism. You would be more correct to compare Palestinians to African Americans. Jews and African Americans both face prejudice, but to compare the two is apples and oranges.

  • Avatar Gary dailey says:

    I keep reading that white people still owe
    Black people a enormous debt still unpaid. Could you articulate exactly with no ambiguity exactly, precisely in your opinion how that debt would be repaid?? I’m sure people would be fascinated how this debt can finally be repaid so that this no longer has to be brought up!!

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Hi Gary — where else are you reading that? Please share, I’m interested in others’ perspectives on this. Regarding your question, I’ve already answered it in the piece with my 6 suggestions.

  • Avatar Tibor says:

    i dont mean to insult, but the writer of this article seems like the typical liberal who treats “black people” like they are children.

    that is all.

    in my opinion.

    • Susana Rinderle Susana Rinderle says:

      Hi Tibor — thank you for your feedback. That’s an interesting comment! Please say more — what ideas in this piece strike you as treating “black people” like children?