By Dave Oberting
My White Privilege
I was born into a middle-class Midwestern family. Both my parents were teachers. They stayed married to each other for 37 years until my father passed away about a decade ago.
The neighborhoods I grew up in were safe and secure — the kind of neighborhood where you could leave your door unlocked at night. Crime never entered my mind because there wasn’t any.
I spent twelve years in Catholic schools. They weren’t great schools, but they were safe. Aside from the occasional fist fight, there was no violence. There were no metal detectors. We learned the basics.
There was also never any doubt that I would go to college — both my parents had master’s degrees. There was also never any doubt that my parents would pay for it so that I graduated debt-free.
And most importantly, there was never any doubt that there would be a good white-collar job waiting for me when I graduated with a clear pathway to a successful career.
And here’s the key to the whole story — I took it all for granted. It was an entitlement. It was the definition of the American dream and it was mine by right.
We probably all define white privilege in different ways. For some, it’s a myth. For me, it was the right to pursue the American dream without obstacles or roadblocks.
The Other Side of the Story
Many African-Americans in the District of Columbia, and around the country for that matter, have been systematically denied the kinds of educational, economic and job opportunities that the average Borderstan reader takes for granted.
Look at a typical African-American child born in the District today: that child has a 72% chance of being born to a single mother. That child has a 47% chance of being born to a single mother who lives in poverty. That child will live in a District where poverty has grown steadily since 1989.
That child has a 40% chance of never graduating from high school, and as an adult, he or she will have a 20% chance of being unemployed, and a 39% chance of living in poverty themselves.
If that child is a boy, he will be 8 times more likely to spend time in prison than a white DC resident.
The median income for white District residents in 2014 was $113,631. The median income for African-Americans was $41,394. That child will also grow up in a District that has become steadily less equal for the past 40 years.
Most critically, the median white household in the U.S. in 2011 had a net worth of $111,146, while the median net worth of an African-American household was $7,113.
There are many elements of racial justice, but when I think about District residents, what comes to mind first is finding some justice of the economic kind, which is primarily about the availability of and preparedness for good jobs.
Every District resident, regardless of skin color, is entitled to the privilege of taking a good education, good job training, and a good job for granted. Right now, they’re not getting it.
Making it Right
Sometimes we forget the full name of Martin Luther King’s pilgrimage to the nation’s capital in 1963 was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” It was no typo that “jobs” came before “freedom” in the title. Dr. King knew the right to a decent full-time job is the most fundamental entitlement there is. So how do we make it right?
My rule is this: there is no justice without economic justice and there is no economic justice without economic growth.
The District government owes every African-American DC resident (and every other resident) an economy that grows fast enough to create a sufficient number of good jobs. Since 2007, DC’s economy has grown at an average rate of 1.28%. That’s not fast enough to get it done. The U6 unemployment rate (a broader measure of unemployment) is 11.6%.
For District residents who don’t hold a four-year college degree, the unemployment rate is 22%. The unemployment rate for white DC residents is 4.1%, for African-Americans it’s 20%.
The District’s economy needs to be stimulated. Since there can be no deficit spending, what’s left are reforms to our tax and regulatory system. We have to make the District a better, easier and less expensive place to do business.
Secondly, too many District residents have not had the opportunity
Dave Oberting is a candidate for an at-large seat on the DC council in next year’s election. Follow him on Twitter @Oberting2016. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.