Headwinds and Tailwinds: How I finally came to understand systemic racism

Chapter 11 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving

Consider each of these tangible and intangible aspects of your life: work, sense of belonging, social connections, choice, education, healthy food, legal protection, housing, transportation, medical care. How easy or hard has it been for you to attain each?

Ms Irving came to the conclusion that systemic racism was not just one thing. It has to have three elements to exist:

  1. skin color symbolism: using skin color to imagine innate levels of intelligence, athleticism, aggression, and so forth in oneself and others
  2. favoritism: the idea that one is the best
  3. power: the ability to make decisions for and/or distribute resources to people

I think I already talked about how I and my siblings benefitted from a tailwind of educational opportunity. I also recognize that privilege came because we always had access to housing in the “nice” areas of town, and peers whose families could and did help us as we stepped out into the world.

After my husband and I married, and as we were raising our boys, we benefitted from living in Officer’s Quarters on base or from having a larger housing allowance as an officer. We got that because my husband was able to take advantage of GI Bill benefits in education so he could finish his degree (he spent four years as an enlisted man before graduating from college and returning to the Air Force.)

Of course, in the military, we also had advantages of being able to shop at the commissary, and base exchange, where fresh, healthy food and clothing were less expensive than on the civilian economy because there was no pressure to “make a profit.” Additionally, because he stayed in the service for 20 years we had free medical care while he served, and now enjoy virtually free health care for life with a combination of Medicare and Tri-care.

I can see how, at every point in my life, the way has been paved and comparatively easy.

If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.

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