My father grew up seriously poor, but when he died over 30 years ago he owned our family home, a two-story, four-bedroom house with a pool on the side of a hill in a beachside suburb of Sydney. He had a portfolio of investments and had put me through university.
To hear my dad tell it, he had dragged himself up by his bootstraps. Abandoned by his own father on the eve of the Great Depression, he was raised by a single mother in abject poverty.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he lost an arm during World War II and returned home a barely educated, physically handicapped kid with no prospects whatsoever.
And yet, he made it. And he made it big! And I was the beneficiary of his hard work and graft.
But, God love him, the way my dad used to tell it wasn’t the whole story.
As a wounded returned serviceman, my father was entitled to a number of very generous benefits. For a start, our government gave him a medical benefits gold card (it was literally called a gold card). Every single doctor’s bill he and his family ever received was covered by the state. Every. Single. Penny.
But there’s more.
Veterans were entitled to no-deposit home loans on ridiculously low interest rates. Many were offered a “soldier settle block,” a land grant for them to build their houses on.
They were also entitled to free university tuition.
In other words, in return for his military service to his country, the government of Australia paid to lift my poor, unqualified, working class father into the middle class where I was raised with all the benefits and opportunities that comes from being the child of the Greatest Generation.
Don’t get me wrong. He worked extremely hard. But he would never have had the success he had without all the government support he received.
After the war, Aboriginal veterans, who served the country as bravely and as selflessly as their white fellow servicemen, were offered nothing. Nada. Nix. And during their military service they were only paid roughly half what my father was paid.
Very few black Australian soldiers were granted a soldier settler block. They were not even entitled to full citizenship to the country they fought to defend. Most of them still had to live under the so-called ‘Protection Acts’ that imposed strict control over almost every aspect of Aboriginal life.
See, I am the direct beneficiary of white privilege.
It doesn’t matter if I’ve never thought a racist thought in my life. It doesn’t matter how heartfelt my opposition to racism might be. My government footed the bill to make me a privileged, educated, middle class kid and I have been afforded plenty of opportunities for advancement as a result. And my black counterparts didn’t get those opportunities through no fault of their own.
Sucks, doesn’t it? The system was rigged in my family’s favor.
Acknowledging this is only the first step in combating racism and inequality. There are still the seemingly insurmountable obstacles of our history of slavery, institutional racism, police brutality, etc etc. But while ever privileged white citizens can’t even see the inherent racism in the system they’ve benefited from nothing will change.