Juneteenth 2020 presents itself surrounded by optimism, anger, sadness, and hope. I observe these tumultuous times as a 52 year old white male who spent half that time on the Northwest Side of Chicago and half that time in the far South Suburbs. I’ve experienced systemic racism from the privileged side. Being stopped by police and being let go most every single time. Watching judges and employers give me the benefit of the doubt. At the time I didn’t see the big picture. It’s only when you see how others are automatically not given the benefit of the doubt, or outright assaulted just because they have darker complexion that you, that you, as a privileged person, can see how systemic this is. Even in the African American community lighter complexion provides more privilege than darker complexions. That’s how systemic and deep rooted this is. That’s what prejudice over such a long period of time produces.
I went to a grade school where there were no black students. There was an Indian student, Sanjay, a very peaceful and timid kid, who started getting blamed for the Iran hostage situation when that was playing out. At this time, I don’t believe this was ignorance of the kids who were making derogatory statements to him. I believe the parents of these kids taught these prejudices to their kids, and this was one of the many times it surfaced. He was so confused that he as an Indian was being blamed for something that was happening in Iran just because his skin tone was darker than others in the school. My high school, the same that Hillary Clinton attended many years before me, had one mixed race student and I often heard her be called Oreo by students with disdain in their voices just because she had a black and a white parent. And I really hope we come to a day where the whole population can see we are all different shades of brown with different backgrounds and cultures, but that we share commonalities with all the other inhabitants of this marble and we are all in the same boat. We are all interconnected. Our similarities supersede our differences, and our differences are what make the world interesting and beautiful.
As a Realtor I have had the privilege of helping many people sell their houses and buy houses. It’s an intimate relationship when you go through the process with someone genuinely. When you are there to help them, and to put their needs over your own, it is a wonderful experience for all. But Real Estate was one of the many ways systemic racism was propagated. Redlining, where lenders wouldn’t lend in predominantly black areas, or block busting, where Realtors would use fear of black people moving into white neighborhoods as a tool to get white people to sell their houses. So I wasn’t a Realtor in those times, that was mostly 60s and 70s, so I didn’t see that first hand, but getting into the field in the 2000’s, I saw that these old tactics and feelings still lingered. The owner of the first company I worked for would put out job postings and only give the phone number so he could hear the applicants voice and make decisions on who to interview based on that. Now it’s easy for that person to say that race wasn’t the reason that was done, he’d probably say he wanted professional sounding people answering the phone, but the fact that we were in an area with many white and black people, yet all his employees were white tells a different story. A story that keeps getting clearer and clearer as we see black people being mistreated merely for the pigment in their skin. I also witnessed offers to purchase properties being thrown in the garbage because they were submitted by black Realtors. These practices weren’t only limited to the place I was working at, the banks who were selling these foreclosure properties started giving preferential treatment to minority owned real estate companies to give their listings to and have even developed systems for buyer’s agents to submit offers directly to the bank so the list agent doesn’t have the ability to manipulate the outcome of these sales. This has been a very successful means for banks to abolish systemic racism and preferential treatment in the sale of their properties. At the time, as a white Realtor, seeing a policy put in place to give minority owned companies preferential standing, I saw many white owned companies take on partners and try to work the system to get minority status, but looking back 10 to 15 years after this was a big thing, I see the benefits. I see many minority owned companies doing a wonderful job, and all they needed was an opportunity. In my lifetime I’ve seen too many people who are claiming that others just need to work harder are the very people who are placing obstacles in front of people in an effort to make success unobtainable. The same mentality that wants to suppress votes and to hide behind country club gates.
When I worked in that office I got busy enough to need an assistant and I hired a person who I thought was the best of all the applicants I received. Her name was Tamika but she told me she goes by Tammy. After meeting her and talking to her, it seemed weird to me that she would want to go by Tammy, so I asked her why. She said she used to work for an Insurance Agent who told her she couldn’t use the name Tamika because his clients wouldn’t want to deal with someone named Tamika, so he told her to go by Tammy, and she figured she would need to do the same to work for me. This was probably 2003-ish. I told her she’s going by Tamika and if any clients I have don’t want to deal with me because my assistant is named Tamika, that I don’t want them as a client. I’m not a believer that you should compromise your beliefs in the workplace because money may be lost if someone knows who you are or what you believe. I don’t think that politics or religion or anything else that makes up who you are should be purposefully withheld from people you deal with. You should be proud of your beliefs and proud of how you treat others, and you should not try to hide that in your employment dealings. Your greatest asset is who you are at your core. Let that be seen.
So here we stand at a point in time that we feel we’ve been before. Where a large population is standing up for change, standing up for disenfranchised people and demanding equality for all. But it does feel different. I know the movement from the 60s had Freedom Riders and some privileged people, mostly college students, standing for change, willing to be persecuted for standing with the oppressed populations who refused to allow this to continue. But now I hope it has gone beyond the oppressed population and a group of students standing with them. I hope and I believe this time it has gone way farther into the mainstream. I saw corporations jump on the bandwagon of trying to be green in the 90s when the environmental movement was making waves. From this vantage point we can see that some were genuine and are providing organic and sustainable products while others merely put out press statements directed by their marketing departments to make sure their bottom line didn’t suffer, or worse, they lobbied politicians so the definitions of words on their marketing provided an image in the consumers mind that is starkly different from the legal definition in the legislation that no one purchasing the product has read or could even comprehend if they did read it. I see some corporations putting out statements of solidarity now that reak of PR and don’t feel genuine at all. I am glad to see prior workers of companies doing this call them out and am happy that some businesses have closed because their owners are perpetrators of hate and racism. The only power we really hold is who we give our money to, so we get a chance to vote every single time we buy something, and we vote every time we refuse to buy something, too. This is powerful.
So on Juneteenth 2020 I stand with those who are the victims of systemic racism. I continue to reject the subtle and overt ways that people discriminate. I try to become aware of implicit bias that I have and seek to overcome it. I use my actions to speak for my convictions more than words, but feel this is an important time to share some words. As a person of privilege who stands with those who are disenfranchised, I feel it’s important to speak with others who don’t hold my beliefs. Not for the sake of proving one is right and one is wrong, but for the sake of public discourse, to seek to understand others and to have others understand what they don’t see. We all see the world through the lens of our experience, and thankfully for cell phones we are able to see the experience of those who see a very different world. Yet there is only one earth. We are all seeing the same thing. Just from different angles.
My wish for Juneteenth 2020 is that all marginalized and oppressed peoples realize that they are not opposing forces trying to fight for the same thing, but that they are the same. Black Lives Matter. That is critical to believe to live and to acknowledge at this point in time, since it’s been denied and fought against for way too long. It is glorious to see the variety of people standing behind, in front of, and with our black brothers and sisters. It brings hope to see this becoming a movement stronger than any that have risen before. But history points to the Black Panthers being assassinated for starting breakfast programs for children and for trying to fight off the systemic racism that is still here now, but was even more intense then. At the time of this post there have been black bodies hung from trees in California. In 2020! This must end. Black people and women and immigrants and native peoples and workers and LGBTQ and homless and poor and people with disabilities are all oppressed. We are seeing many people who are not in any of these populations who are standing and fighting for them, because oppression is wrong and the number of people realizing that it growing. The people fighting oppression are not only the oppressed, but those who refuse to oppress, because they see the world a better place without oppression. These are the observations of a relatively old Realtor in an extremely segregated city who is working in his own little sphere of influence for change. As Realtors we are taught to work our sphere of influence as a means to increase business. To me it feels egregious not to use our sphere of influence to work toward equity and retribution for the oppressed. Whether you are oppressed or not, it is merely the right thing to do!