As a Black person in America, Whether it's being followed in the grocery store, or being stopped by the police for "driving while Black," racial codes aren't a new phenomenon. They're rooted in a long history of policies that have been designed to keep Black people down. Take, for example, the "vagrancy laws" that were enacted after the Civil War. These laws made it a crime to be without a job, and they were disproportionately enforced against Black men. This led to the practice of "convict leasing," in which Black men were arrested and then hired out to plantation owners. This was essentially the birth of mass incarceration in America.
Another example is the system of "redlining" that was put in place by the federal
government in the 1930s. This system used maps to determine which neighborhoods
were "too risky" to invest in, and these neighborhoods were almost always
predominantly Black. As a result, Black people were effectively banned from buying
homes in white neighborhoods, and real estate agents who helped Black families buy
homes could lose their licenses.
Even the GI Bill, which was supposed to help returning Veterans buy their first home,
was discriminatory. Black Veterans were largely excluded from the benefits of this bill,
and as a result, many Black men who fought for their country were unable to buy homes and build wealth.
These policies have had long-lasting effects on the Black community. Today, the
median net worth of a Black family in Boston is a staggering $8, according to the
Boston Globe. Black people are underrepresented in the financial sector and are rarely
given executive roles. And even when they do manage to secure loans, they are often
offered less favorable terms than their white counterparts.
But racism isn't just about overt acts of discrimination. It's also about the subtle microaggressions that people of color face on a daily basis. Whether it's being assumed to be foreign-born if you're Asian American, being mistaken for the school janitor if you're a Latino college student, or being asked if you got into college on a sports scholarship if you're a Black student-athlete, these microaggressions can be just as damaging as more overt forms of discrimination.
Despite all of this, many white people in America still insist that race doesn't play a role in Black success. They claim that Black people are "overreacting," that they are
"combative," and that they need to be reminded that "there's only one race: the human race." But this kind of "color blindness" ignores the reality of systemic racism and the impact it has on Black and brown communities.
So the next time someone tells you that race doesn't matter, remember the invisible
backpack that Black people are constantly carrying. Remember the long history of
policies that have been designed to keep Black people down. And remember that, until we address these issues head-on and work towards true equality and equity, this
backpack will continue to weigh heavily on the shoulders of people of color.