And though government action created these systemic problems, there is hardly any political will to use government policy or resources to resolve them.
Why? Because the very men who have benefited from being on the other end of these disparities remain in the positions of power that could effect change.
In 2007 Chief Justice John Roberts became the poster boy for white men out of touch with reality when he wrote, in a Supreme Court ruling on the ability of a Seattle school district to integrate its resegregating schools, that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”
In other words, and in his opinion, the attempt to integrate was discriminatory.
But he’s not alone. As Joan Walsh famously pointed out in her book What’s the Matter With White People? the white middle class benefited from government-sponsored affirmative action through the postwar GI Bill, expansion of public universities, mortgage-lending guarantees and strong unions—but many continue to believe the myth that white Americans haven’t depended on government, but minorities are draining the government coffers.
This thinking, especially when manipulated by political elites to exploit racial anxieties in order to win elections, fosters a callous form of white privilege—one that ignores the worst elements in our nation’s tortured racial history, and thereby forces us all to repeat it.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently addressed the issue during a commencement address at the historically black Morgan State University, saying, “Chief Justice John Roberts has argued that the path to ending racial discrimination is to give less consideration to the issue of race altogether. This presupposes that racial discrimination is at a sufficiently low ebb. … In its most obvious forms, it might be. But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statute. And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”
Herein lies the strange dichotomy of what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls elegant racism in the so-called postracial, colorblind age: There is very little daylight between the vantage point of John Roberts and that of Donald Sterling or Cliven Bundy.
Each of them abides on a wealthy plantation of white privilege and the ignorance that it affords.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.