It is great for us to have this conversation! Thank you!

It would be wonderful if we all could--myself included--understand our own biases, work to push ourselves beyond those biases, and get to know one another as people. Sadly, we are not there yet.

Slavery, Jim Crow, and Racial Bias Are Awful And Deeply Unfair

It is fair to argue that America can't debase a group of people for three-hundred years and then have the right to declare, "OK. You are right. We got rid of chattel slavery and racist laws and all that bad stuff. Now let's forget the past and just start the economic and social race all over again! 1-2-3-Go!"

That new economic and social race will usually not be fair because many Black Americans (obviously not all) have not been able to accumulate the same level of physical or social capital as their White or Asian or Latinx peers in America.

How can any game be fair if folks start at wildly different places on a track in a wildly competitive country like America?

How can it be fair if unconscious bias still exists in banking, housing, education, and some traffic stops?

The US Is Different Than WWII Germany

The author implicitly compares the slavery of Blacks in America to the actions of Germany in WWII. Building on that comparison...

It is true that many German people did NOT immediately face up to the horrible things that Germany did during the war.

The broader Germany, however, did change its education system, insist that children and adults listen to truths about its WWII atrocities, and create laws to stop future atrocities. Today, it continues to pay reparations to foreign nations and individuals. Over $90 billion dollars to date and over $1 billion per year.

America finds itself in a similar place as Germany but with real differences. The first nuance is that the participants in the obvious crime are long dead. The second nuance is the fact that a large segment of white Americans see themselves as equally disadvantaged as are Black Americans.

The Participants In Slavery and Jim Crow are Mostly Dead

Most White Americans feel psychologically distanced from the crime of slavery. Though the vast majority admit the crime, many can struggle to see the victim in the current world. They imagine the perpetrators to be long dead, beyond punishment.

Many Americans further say to themselves, "America abolished slavery in 1865 (156 years). America introduced laws to break down Jim Crow in the 1960's (56 years since the 1965 Voting Rights Act). America has introduced round after round of affirmative action laws since Kennedy's Executive Order 10925 in 1964 (57 years). America has rewritten much of its history, arguing that even the character of its favorite "I cannot tell a lie" President George Washington can be called into doubt because he owned slaves. And the American federal government has paid out trillions in social programs, including annual spending of over $200 billion in welfare, $800 billion in medicare, and $1 trillion in social security (approaching half of the Annual US Budget)."

Systemic Racism

The concepts behind systemic racism and critical race theory have materialized in part to explain why, despite so much having been done over the past 60 years to eliminate the impact of racism in America (non-discrimination laws, affirmative action, and the social safety net), there has been less progress than hoped for.

It is hard for most Americans not to see some truth in the idea of critical race theory. The recent BLM protests appear to have reduced implicit and explicit racial biases even though biases are historically very hard to change.

Many Whites Feel Disadvantaged, Too

Racial prejudice can go far deeper than economics. Nonetheless, poverty is a metric that is often used to assess disadvantage in the US.

In 2010, there were twice as many White Americans as Non-White Americans living in "poverty." The US Census Bureau published that there were almost 32 million White Americans (13% of all Whites) living in poverty. At the same time there were 15 million Non-White Americans living in poverty (23% of all Non-Whites) .

Through the lens of systemic racism, one can argue that those 15 million non-White Americans were poor primarily because of systemically racist laws, rules, and educations that limited success in America. The theory clearly argues that their poverty is primarily not their fault.

By the same logic, one can also infer that--given all the inherent advantages that Whites possess, as asserted by systemic racism theory--those 32 million White Americans were poor primarily because they had not worked very hard...or because they were stupid. The theory clearly implies that their poverty is their own fault.

No one, Black or White, wants to be called lazy or stupid.

Some Good News

The majority now agree that Black Americans have faced an unfair playing field in America. The proportion of US Voters that believe Blacks are discriminated against has doubled from 28% in 2008 to 59% in 2020 (NBC/WSJ surveys).

Much research has looked at the question of what makes people disadvantaged. It usually agrees that Black, Native American, and Latinx Americans suffer disproportionately because of racial bias against them. But it also sees a host of other groups or sub-groups suffering: recent single mothers, the disabled, less-than-high school educated, recent immigrants, and more.

So, What Can We Do?

There are lots of things we can do. Lots of policies, of course. But there are a lot of things that we can do personally:

1) Talk to other people, sharing our family stories, face to face as much as possible. Build alliances across multiple attributes, perhaps even friendship.

2) Reel-in our biases by thinking about the world from others' perspectives.

3) Avoid using words that heighten division while often muddying the conversation. These words are usually poorly defined: they, them, left, right, socialist, liberal, capitalist, conservative,...

4) Channel our justifiable anger to attack clear injustices: voting laws that put disroportionate burdens on different groups, laws that are biased against specific groups, bad practices in real estate, bad practices in our teams at work, bad practices in our schools,...

5) Listen to less national news. Moderate social media consumption.

6) Try not to attack the heritages that others hold dear. (When you do, they are more likely to fall back on open warfare.) Of course, if there is a nasty practice (slavery, rapacious colonialism,...) in that heritage, feel free to discourage it! Most people will denounce it too if addressed specifically.

7) Let's think about reparations more in the context of remaking our society and economy to be fairer and more energized across many dimensions, not just a few.

8) What else do you think we can do?

J. Andrew Shelley is a veteran of startups, a student of group behavior, and an author. Despite some lessons, he still has hope that we can listen and grow.