I recently had the privilege of paddling through historic rice canals in South Georgia. The canals were dug by slaves in the 1700s. The slave laborers were replaced by Irish immigrants only because owners were losing too much money when a slave died. When I returned to my stepmom’s house in Atlanta, I was greeted by the news that riots had broken out in Midtown in protest of the deaths of George Floyd and Amaud Arbery (among others). These recent murders prove that the value of a black life is still not what it should be — an echo of a past in which black lives only had value if they could be used for economic gain.
I am a white college student. I have white guilt. Here’s why.
We all know that without slavery the South would not have amassed the amount of wealth that it did. The descendants of the slaves that generated this wealth in the South, though they were “free,” were still banned from many economic opportunities. Jim Crow laws and disenfranchisement ensured that blacks could not fully participate in the economic system. They could not vote for people that would protect their rights. Segregation prevented blacks from accessing all benefits of the economic system that they built.
That was 60 years ago. Now we say that things are equal. After all, there are no laws that explicitly target minorities. Every race has access to the same public schools. But we must be honest with ourselves. The murders of Floyd and Arbery are just the most recent in a long line of bodies indicating that the United States is far from equal.
I am not qualified to propose a policy-driven path forward. However, I know that we cannot move forward if we are unwilling to acknowledge that we have privilege because of our skin. As individuals, we are not at fault for white privilege. But it will be our fault if we refuse to start conversations about the systemic injustices that people of color face.
It’s time for us to generate honest conversations about racism, with the goal of righting the wrongs of the past. That means educating ourselves on race issues. This is the first step to bringing justice to all of the innocent men and women that were murdered because of their skin color.