Opposition to this plan brought out the media. But according to the mayor’s estimates, he and other council members had received around 85 emails, with only five or so arguing against the project.
Four citizens spoke against the project. One white participant expressed his concern that the project might inadvertently blame him and other current-day white citizens for their ancestors’ actions, talking mainly about slavery.
I had spoken earlier–in favor of the project—but I was tempted to violate protocol, jump to the microphone, and respond to him.
I have encountered this argument many times over the years, so I would have told this man what I said to many others through the decades. Yes, I will hold you accountable for what your White ancestors did to my Black ancestors until the day you give up all that has come to you due to your ancestors’ actions.
After hearing me say this in various discussions over several months, a friend once remarked, “Wornie, I have thought about your statement, and it seems that a white person would have to die to give up all their privileges.” To which I replied, “That is about it.”
That statement is one I have made many times in debates about reparations. Many people argue that the United States should not provide reparations for slavery because that is something their ancestors did, and they should not be held accountable.
And I say, yes, you should be held accountable.
When my family and I moved to Milton, Massachusetts, in 1986, the town was losing its fight with a Black attorney who had sued the municipality for $400,000 for police harassing him as he sat in his car on an upscale street. He was waiting for his school-age daughter, who was visiting a White friend.
As the town stopped pursuing a losing case and agreed to pay the $400,000, I thought the situation was interesting. The city would use some of my money paid to the town in taxes to pay this Black man for an act of racism that happened before we moved here.
But that is the way things should work. I was now a part of the town whose police had done this wrong. Therefore, I had a duty and obligation to participate in helping to fund the city’s debts.
President Lyndon Johnson described a somewhat similar situation in his commencement speech at Howard University in 1965 when, among other issues, he presented the concepts of real affirmative action.
“You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire…” He continued, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, ‘you are free to compete with all the others.’ And still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”
White Americans have privilege—White privilege. Unearned White privilege.
Merriam-Webster defines White privilege as “the set of social and economic advantages that white people have by virtue of their race in a culture characterized by racial inequality.
Peggy McIntosh, the White author of the “catechism” of White privilege in 1989, is correct when she says,
“My work is not about blame, shame, guilt, or whether one is a “nice person. It’s about observing, realizing, thinking systemically and personally. It is about seeing privilege, the “upside” of oppression and discrimination. It is about unearned advantage, which can also be described as exemption from discrimination.”
White Americans have unearned White privilege due to 346 years of slavery followed by 100 years of racial apartheid.
Thus, White privilege came from their ancestors. And current Whites are accountable.