August 18, 2010

Race: An artificial distinction?

Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white. The need for inclusiveness in our society is undeniable and irreversible, both in our markets and in our communities. Our government should be in the business of enabling opportunity for all, not in picking winners. It can do so by ensuring that artificial distinctions such as race do not determine outcomes.
Back in July, Jim Webb, a Democrat and Senator from my home state, Virginia, wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal’s online edition entitled Diversity and the Myth of White Privilege. If you haven’t read it, do.

The article speaks little to white privilege as we typically discuss it in the transracial adoption community – that is, white privilege a la Peggy McIntosh. The article instead presents a case in favor of ending affirmative action programs.

There are stats which, if unspun, make points that certainly explain some of the frustration voiced by affirmative action opponents. I get that; I understand that when you look at individual life situations, not every white person lives a more affluent life than every person of color, which may lead them to feel disenfranchised. I can understand (not agree with, but understand) why some whites may feel ignored by their government when programs designed to support recent immigrants ignore their own need.

But I cannot agree that the need to support minority communities and reform immigration means that white privilege does not exist. I suspect that Mr. Webb had nothing of Peggy McIntosh’s definition in mind when he wrote this opinion, but the responses I have seen online include many that applaud his point of view and proclaim that white privilege is dead.

It is, of course, live and well. You don’t have to look to affirmative action programs to find it, you simply have to look into the hearts and minds of white Americans who do not accept that their whiteness provides privileges that make their daily lives secure in a way that people of color may never enjoy.

I don’t disagree that the way our government addresses racial disparities is necessarily the best way. But I do disagree that the right response to improving such programs is to say the reason it was started in the first place no longer exists.

We are of many races; the distinction is real. Those of us who are white enjoy the collective benefits that centuries of dominance have provided. It’s up to us to work to ensure that our privilege is made possible for every single person in this country.

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