Whirlpools exist in many areas of our lives. Some come because of disease, for instance addictions to drugs or gambling. Some come because of choices, for instance lies we tell that take on a life of their own. When our lives get caught in such whirlpools, they can suck us in and keep us from reaching our full potential.
As I’ve spent the last two months considering racism in the United States, I’ve come to appreciate that race is a unique type of whirlpool. First, this whirlpool was intentionally created early in our country’s history precisely to pull down people of color. It allowed us to enter into a policy of genocide for Native Americans, and to enslave blacks who were brought over from Africa. This whirlpool was created precisely so that others, whites who came to this country, could build their own wealth and power. What is so striking is that into the 1950’s, it was not only individuals and corporations that worked to build this whirlpool. The United States government used policies like redlining, a Federal Housing Authority (FHA) policy that gave lower finance ratings to homes in black communities or those on their way to becoming black, to fuel the whirlpool.
Civil rights and ongoing vigilance by many work to take away the fuel that has made the whirlpool grow. But we are foolish to think that the whirlpool of racism no longer exists.
This whirlpool has a life of its own. The wealth gap in our country, the statistics that show blacks are put in jail far more than whites for drug crimes, and the lower quality of education available in many black communities are but a few examples that new generations of black Americans continue to be sucked down in its vortex. This is a life or death struggle that many are loosing. And not only do those of us who have benefited from the history of this whirlpool too often fail to help those caught in its grasp as they struggle to get out. We are unaware the whirlpool exists, insisting that racism is no longer an issue in our country, or that if only “those people” had a real will to get out, a few strokes of the paddle on their part would be sufficient to allow them to escape and join the mainstream. After all, it’s how we got where we are now at; through our own determination or that of our ancestors. No one was there to help us!
Except for all those who historically have been caught in the whirlpool of racism and who served as the foundation for our historical rise to power and wealth.