I am compelled to respond to George Terhaar’s recent letter to the editor “Character, not skin color, leads to success” (Sept. 6, 2017).
Having been raised in the South King County suburbs that were not very diverse, it took me a long time to understand and accept that my skin color did give me privilege not afforded my nonwhite brothers and sisters.
Mr. Terhaar argues that it was grit and determination that allowed his relatives to survive and thrive.
While his family history is inspiring, it has little to do with the concept of white privilege. He speaks of the difficulties on the family homestead. At least his white ancestors were allowed to homestead!
The Naturalization act of 1790 allowed only “free white persons” to vote, hold office or own property. Later, a series of “Alien acts” throughout the west prohibited naturalization of people of asian descent to homestead into the 20th century (and when allowed to homestead, their land was usurped during Japanese internment during World War II. The racial policies of the past benefitted Mr. Terhaar’s homesteading ancestors. That, my friends, is privilege.
Mr. Terhaar may argue that these facts are ancient history and that we have moved beyond race to an effort based system.
Despite our progress on civil rights, this is not borne out by data. Today, people of color make up about 30% of the population, but make up 60% of the prison population.
This inequity is even more heightened when nonviolent drug offenses are considered. African Americans are jailed at a much higher rate than white people, even though drug use among white people is much higher.
Today, black and Latino people are 60% less likely to get a home loan than white people, even when all other economic factors are the same.
There is overwhelming objective evidence that white privilege exits. I do not suggest that Mr. Terhaar is responsible for this institutional racism, but to say he is not a privileged class flies in the face of reality.
As a white male, I accept that I benefit from white privilege. Since I benefit from this system, I am obligated to work towards a more just and equitable society where people are truly judged by their character, not the color of their skin.
Let us all dedicate ourselves to small acts to unstack the deck.