I’m constantly told how lucky I am to be both white and male by my millennial peers, but I’ve never felt lucky in that way at any point in my life.
What exactly does my skin color get me? Does it earn me generational wealth? Can it raise me out of poverty? Make me immune to police brutality? Is it the reason I’m not in jail? My life itself would lead any honest person to think otherwise.
The problem with the generational-poverty argument made by millennial journalists (like Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic) is well-defined by my own life experience. My mother came from a family of Italian firefighters, they never passed much onto their kids, and my mother specifically gained no inheritance. She—throughout her life—decided not to pursue her own personal wealth and success. She became an alcoholic who never worked for more than 15 dollars an hour, and that was only for a couple weeks at a time. My father was a troublemaker when he was younger, and wound up a furniture mover. As much as I love my parents to death, there is no refuting these professions leave little inheritance for me, despite being tied to a familial chain of wealth. But like any chain it can be broken.
Poverty is yet another hurdle in my life. After my mother left my father, she took me and my little sister (who is special needs). She had no place to go, no job, and no family to run to. She wound up making up a story about being physically abused by my father in order for us to seek refuge in a battered women’s shelter in the west suburbs of Chicago. We were homeless there for about 6 months until Section-8 housing kicked in and we got a small townhouse in the area. Later on, we had no money left to pay our bills and we had to ration our meals—sometimes to one a day—just to scrape by. My skin color was the last thing on my mind.
This was hard on me, and I missed my dad dearly. I used to run away to my grandfather’s (dad’s side) when I was 15 and the cops always dragged me back, often threatening to beat me for not complying. Once, my father and I got into an argument and the police were called. The detective threatened to throw me through the drywall if I didn’t implicate my father for physically abusing me when he actually had not. I had another run-in with the law once I reached adulthood. A bum stole my friend’s wallet, and me, him, and my other friend went to retrieve it. Once we threatened violence and got it back, the police showed up and pointed a loaded firearm at me (not my two African American friends standing next to me) while I was unarmed and tried to do a warrantless search of my vehicle. I never felt my skin had ever kept me safe from the police, nor did it keep me any less fearful of angering them.
Although I’ve lived among gangbangers, drug users, and drug dealers of all colors, I never found myself part of those groups, mainly because I recognized the potentially future-destroying consequences. In all my days, I’ve yet to meet someone who had absolutely no options outside of joining a gang or selling drugs. Not to say it doesn’t take a strong will to avoid… just that the blame lies with both the individual rather than the system. The major factor: the inability to take blame, which leads me to believe it was my good judgement that kept me out of jail, not my skin color.
My goal is not to tear down any people or group. I’m not here to articulate how great of a person I am compared to others, or to negate the horrors endured by minorities in America’s past. However—among the millennial generation—I see little if any difference in the way my friends in the minority community were treated by society versus the way I was treated by it. We played together, we were brothers, and—most importantly—we were Americans together.
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