Putting Your Body on the Line

I live on the dividing line. Literally.

On my side of the street, a suburban mostly white township, the gateway to mostly white, mostly privileged America.

Across the street, a thriving, diverse inner ring suburb.

On my side, all my neighbors are white.

Across the street my neighbors are black. And their neighbors are brown. Every shade of beautiful brown.

We spend so much collective energy on our ranking and filing. If only we could stop sorting one another and realize that that, like nature itself, biodiversity makes the strongest ecosystem.

White self-segregation is harmful to our communities and the health of our democracy. In the political bubble I live in, there is widespread agreement on that point. The disconnect, though, seems to be a complete lack of ownership over our selective access to privilege and the underlying white supremacy that governs our decision making on where we put our personal and economic power over the course of our lives.

When I talk about white supremacy, most people I know think KKK. When I tell them that white supremacy is “literally you and me” they look at me like I have two heads. That’s a problem.

How, specifically, have I benefited from white supremacy, you ask?

As a somewhat rebellious teenager I put myself in multiple situations that would have put me in jail if I were black. I had at least three interactions with the police that I can remember before I was 20.

I’m not really sure how my college was paid for, I’m guessing my dad put some of my tuition on his credit card and perhaps took out a second mortgage on the home that he owned. And speaking of home ownership, I was able to purchase my own home at 25 with the help of my family.

This is how white wealth travels through generations. My children have their educations because of my access to credit. My access to credit stems from home ownership. 72% of white people own homes. 41% of black people own homes. The Wall Street Journal found that only 5% of mortgages were offered to African Americans in 2014.

Children suffer the most from self-segregation.

Children of color suffer when concentrated wealth and power create inequitable schools with inequitable outcomes. The only way that black children can even glimpse the American dream is through strong public education and equitable investment in all communities.

But it’s not only children of color who suffer. White children also suffer when they are fed a storybook narrative about the world they live in.

Self-segregation robs us of access to a rich wealth of cultural and ethnic traditions that are so much richer when experienced directly from engaging with people. Experiencing the cultural fabric of all Americans, not just white Americans, makes us all fuller, more empathetic human beings.

Isn’t that what we all want? Truly.