I am ashamed to admit that I was one of those race vs. class people. Perhaps this worldview was seeded by a junior paper at Princeton focused on public perceptions of Affirmative Action which became a chapter in Race vs. Class: The New Affirmative Action Debate (1996, University Press of America). Perhaps it was nurtured as I traveled the well-trod post-graduate path to a top management consulting firm where I made more in my first job out of college than either of my parents; seeming to confirm the dominant theory that socioeconomic mobility through educational pathways was working, even for me, an African-American first-generation college graduate. And perhaps it was cemented as I came of age in a time when, even on the left, a race-neutral social justice world view was more socially acceptable and therefore, less threatening, to my white colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances.
Either way, I quickly began ascribing to the notion that socioeconomic mobility through improved educational opportunities could change the life trajectories of many economically vulnerable populations, including those who were racially marginalized. While tragic and all-too frequent national events provided sobering counterbalances to my wholehearted embrace of socioeconomic mobility as a tool for racial equality, everything else in my life was pushing me to a race-neutral world view on which I doubled-down.
However, this race-neutral worldview is a lie.
The fact is that as an African-American Ivy League-educated woman in the 97th income percentile with the privilege of living in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the suburbs of Northern Virginia and sending my children to the best public schools money can buy: Persistent gender and race pay gaps mean I am undercompensated as compared to both white men and white women. (#EqualityCan’tWait) I am still three times more likely to die in childbirth as a white woman, even after controlling for education and income. (#Serena Williams) My beautiful elementary-aged brown boys are more likely to be mistaken for criminals holding real guns during an epic neighborhood nerf battle than their white age mates. (#Tamir Rice 5th Anniversary) My strong, independent 4th grade brown girl is more likely to be adultified by society and disproportionately disciplined or even criminalized in school. (#Girlhood Interrupted)
In my idyllic Great Falls neighborhood, if one of our wonderful neighbors calls the police to conduct a welfare check on us because the front door is open or something else is askew, any member of my family might pay the ultimate price. (#Atatiana Jefferson)
And even though our first gift to our children was strong, distinguished (and not coincidentally) race-neutral names to limit the impact of explicit and implicit bias in their life aspirations, IF my boys make it to adulthood, they will have a 50-50 chance of falling from the top income quintile to the bottom income quintile, compared with white kids who grow up wealthy and are five times more likely to stay wealthy than to become poor. (#OpportunityInsights)
All of these experiences rest upon my race, and not my socioeconomic status. In 2019, in America, no factor, not my Ivy League education, advanced degree, career as a foundation executive, or 401k balance can mitigate the burden of living black in a society built for white people. The fact is: Race STILL Matters.
So, consider this both an apology for ever discounting the role of race in the social justice fight and official notice that I will no longer stand by and watch others discount race either.
Ricshawn Adkins Roane