Is immigration enforcement more a crime than illegal immigration?


I’ve got some traveling to do today and tomorrow, so not a lot of time to share this thought. But I want to say a few words about how the kind of enforcement we’re seeing against illegal immigration under the Trump Administration more closely resembles a crime than does the “crime” of illegal immigration.

A key feature of any crime worthy of the name, it seems to me, is that the act of committing it is clearly and negatively disruptive, either to an individual life — a person may be injured, killed, deprived of property or merely their sense of well-being — or to the community at large. (Indeed the disruption to an individual is seen as a disruption to the community: That’s why criminal prosecutions are carried out in the name of the state, rather than individual victims.)

Illegal immigration is a different kind of crime, because the negative disruption is, at best, debatable. Maybe undocumented migrants lower wages for everybody else, but maybe not — or at least maybe not so much. Maybe undocumented migrants commit crimes, but the numbers suggest crime rates are lower among migrants than among native-born people. There’s evidence that migrants tend to be more entrepreneurial than native-born folks; there’s evidence that the influx of migrants has kept some towns in, say, western Kansas from drying up and dying out completely.

In other words, there’s probably a mix of effects from illegal immigration — I tend to use the word to describe the issue, not individuals, because the “illegal” part is the point of the undocumentation — but one of them is this: Those migrants often become part of the community.

So. When you start getting heavy-handed efforts to enforce immigration law, and to deport undocumented migrants, what you get is:

• Attempts to deport people who are pillars of their community.

Attempts to deport people who are trying to comply, even belatedly, with immigration law.

Fear among immigrant communities about doing the normal stuff of life like going to work or church.

I’ve got a lot more examples than this, but you get the point: The enforcement of the law becomes the thing that disrupts the community.

Especially when you consider that the enforcement is also falling heavily on American citizens and other people who are here legally, because they — by virtue of skin color — become objects of suspicion. Immigration enforcement hurts American citizens!

My friends who want harder borders and bigger walls will no doubt respond that illegal immigration is, after all, illegal — that the disruptions to the community are caused, foundationally, by the initial transgression of immigration. OK.

But it’s worth pointing out that illegal immigration is a somewhat arbitrary crime. We know instinctively if somebody’s committed a crime when robbery or a murder or an assault takes place; these crimes have been understood and punished throughout the history of humanity. Immigration? There’s a lot of legislative negotiating that goes into deciding where the lines are drawn. Illegal immigration isn’t a crime because the conscience is shocked by it so much as it’s a crime because a committee somewhere decided that it is. (This is the kind of thing that conservatives are usually against, by the way.)

All of which leads me, again, to believe that some immigration enforcement is much more a “crime” in the traditional sense than is illegal immigration.

But maybe I’m just rationalizing?

— Joel

A dirty, racist etymology

In his post on white justification for violence against men of color this week, Joel mentioned the word cuck, a favorite insult from the alt-right that is fast making its way into the “mainstream” right’s vocabulary. It’s from the portmanteau cuckservative, which combines cuckold and conservative.

The cuckhold part is an aviary metaphor. A cuckoo bird will lay its egg in another’s nest for that bird to raise. It starts to appear as a metaphor in Medieval lit, most notably “The Miller’s Tale” by Chaucer, to describe a man whose wife is cheating.

Image result for cuckoo bird

Above, the very ugly, very mean, very selfish, very smart cuckoo bird. 

It’s also the major theme of Othello, a tragic love story about a jealous black man murdering his white wife. (“I will chop her into messes! Cuckold me?”).

It’s also a fetish (a word that I use with no pejorative meaning) as Joel notes when he draws from an article on the term that originally appeared in GQ back in August:

The cultural importance of the cuckold in America is rooted in racism: in pornography, the wife of the cuckolded (almost exclusively white) husband is most commonly sleeping with African-American men, meant to provide an additional layer of humiliation if the white husband sees that man as “inferior.” In the world of pornography meant to elicit humiliation as an erotic sentiment, cuckold porn takes advantage of its viewers’ racist perceptions.

That’s also a source of the use of the term in white supremacy/alt-right circles: they see men who enjoy this fetish as weak, emasculated, effeminate, and not properly in control of/protecting their women/nation. The collapse of white women with White Womanhood with White Nationalism happens pretty quickly from here.

White nationalists thus use cuck to describe conservatives who don’t mind their nation (women) getting “fucked over” by people of color. One example: When ex-Breitbart writer Ben Shapiro criticized this “alt-right” website, Milo Yiannopouls (who was behind the racist Twitter attacks on actress Leslie Jones) sent Shapiro, upon the birth of his son, a photo of a black (biracial) baby–the idea being that Shapiro (who is not black), in leaving and criticizing Breitbart, had become a “cuckservative.”

Read cuck like “race traitor” or “n—— lover,” but on a larger scale: someone who is deliberately betraying their people by allowing the population to be “polluted,” sexually, genetically, or through immigration. It means being a dupe–like the birds who raise the cuckoos babies. The cuckoo doesn’t even wait for the host bird to leave the nest; it lays its eggs while the nestbuilding bird is sitting right there, attempting to defend its own home and babies, unsuccessfully every single time. The cuckoo is larger than its hosts (three times bigger than the reed warbler, one of the birds it picks on), and it often hatches earlier. If it hatches earlier, it promptly rolls its foster mother’s babies out of the nest; if its foster siblings are born first, it pushes them out.

When racists say cuck (and racists are the only people who say cuck), they are thinking about nonwhites taking over white cultures by infiltrating them, then destroying or displacing people, all while forcing whites to pay for the process: anchor babies, refugees disguised as stealth jihadists, Muslims practicing taqiyya in order to penetrate Western civilization and topple it from the inside, demographic warfare.


Image result for cuckoo's nest eviction

Above, a featherless cuckoo, evil at birth, practices “nest eviction,” rolling its unhatched foster sibling to its death. 

This is why those in the alt-right don’t just talk about people as cucks but whole nations–white, European, Christian nations being dragged down by immigrants. Germany is held up as the primary example in white supremacist circles as a once-strong, homogeneous nation that is now weak, effeminate, emasculated, etc., as evidenced by its inclusion of Muslim/brown/immigrant bodies. Sweden is another place criticized for polluting its white population with brown and black skinned immigrants. If you wonder why Trump criticizes these nations for their immigration policies (even when such criticism sounds like nonsense to the rest of the world), know that he’s not talking to you; he’s talking to his extremist friends.

Cuck shows us how the alt-right (and their “mainstream” right allies) think about  white women (as white men’s property (a la Othello or, more importantly, the many women who are murdered each year by men who are “jealous” of their sexual attention) and nonwhites–people who, together, are fucking them over.



What Mike Pence Gets Right about Marriage and Wrong about Religious Freedom Makes Him Unfit for Office

I generally consider presidential and vice-presidential wives off limits for discussion, figuring that their lives are terrible enough, though I really struggle with anyone woman who could support either Trump or Pence.

Image result for mike pence wife inaugural ball

Above, Mike and Karen Pence wave at the crowd and one of the several inaugural balls this past January. Want to read more about how conservative Christian women understand freedom through constraint? Check me out

You may have heard that Mike Pence never dines alone with a woman who isn’t his wife, nor does he attend events where there is alcohol present without her. If he were someone else, I’d say cool, whatever your marriage needs.  Maybe it means he doesn’t trust himself not to sexually assault women. Maybe it means he doesn’t want to be falsely accused of sexual impropriety. Maybe it means he’s been unfaithful (or addicted to alcohol) before and that hurt his wife, or maybe her father was a philanderer or an alcoholic, and this is his way of addressing any insecurity she might have about lousy husbands. If it was just about them, I would be happy to give Pence the privacy and dignity in his relationships that he has withheld from same-sex couples.

But it’s not just about him. His decision to never meet with a woman alone means that men have had more access to him than women. That means that women have not had an equal opportunity to petition their government–our First Amendment Right. It means the women of Indiana (and now the women of the whole US) are not being treated equally under the law.

I’m sure Pence has his reasons–potentially even good ones–for this personal standard. If his reason is so worthwhile, though, he should have taken pains to insure that it didn’t undermine anyone else’s opportunities or rights. How?

He could meet with no one one-on-one.

If Pence could organize his life so that he never met with a woman alone, he could also have organized it so that he never met with a man alone.

This would have insured that all constituents had an equal opportunity to meet with him.

If that idea seems unworkable–How could he get any business done?–then you understand that his choice made politics unworkable for women. You also now see your assumption that politics is for men, not women.

This is typical Pence, though: willing to make women bear the costs of HIS personal choice. (Ironic, yes, for someone arguing against federal funding for Planned Parenthood on the grounds that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for someone else’s moral failing.)

But it’s the same logic behind his anti-LGBT efforts in Indiana. An anti-LGBT Christian makes the personal choice to be a florist. She refuses to provide flowers for a wedding of two gay men. If you think that the First Amendment and equality are important, you probably think that the florist is choosing both her anti-gay faith and her job. She is not compelled to either, but the law does mandate that she treats customers equally. She has a choice: defy what she sees as a key point of her faith (Thou shalt not arrange flowers for gay weddings!) or quit being a florist.

You make your choice, and you take your consequences–but you don’t demand that someone else take the consequences of you living out your faith. That’s on you.

And you know who really should understand this, dear 606 readers? Mennonites. Even conservative Mennonites who oppose gay marriage. Because we are asked all the time to make the choice to compromise our faith or live with the consequences. And we do! Our kids get heckled for not saying the pledge. (“You must hate God!” as one sweet child told my daughter this year.) Our grandparents went to CPS instead of war, and our great-grandparents got tarred and feathered for refusing to serve in or support World War I.  Some of us pay the consequence of war tax resistance. The proudest parts of our history aren’t Anabaptists dying for their faith–they are the stories of Anabaptists refusing to let our enemies die so that our faith could be protected.

Image result for martyrs mirror

Above, a woodcut telling the story of Dirk Willems. A Dutch Anabaptist in the mid-1500s when the faith was illegal, Willems fled a prison guard by crossing thin ice. When the guard fell in behind him, Willems turned back to rescue the man, leading to his own capture and, eventually, burning. 

Pence doesn’t have to be a theologian or a church historian to understand this, though. He simply has to care that his constituents and his colleagues have equal access to his ear. If he did–or if he had bothered to consult with a woman with more insight than the women he apparently does bother to talk to–he would have either stopped his discrimination against women or changed his policy to insure that he didn’t dine with men alone, either. His other choice was to not take a job that would require him to be alone with women in order to guarantee their basic constitutional rights. (Other examples: if you don’t want to look at ladyparts, don’t become an ob-gyn. If you don’t want to pour booze, don’t open a bar. If you don’t want to defend people who have done wrong, don’t be a public defender.) That, not his perhaps unusual marriage protocols, is why he’s unfit for office.

And his selfish, lazy Christianity should have clued you in.


If White Men Really Cared about Women

The story of the rape of a minor child in Rockland, Maryland by two minor students, both undocumented immigrants, is repulsive. The girl, 14, was pulled into the boys’ restroom in what the boys, both 17, said was a consensual sex act; their attorneys have said that a previous conversation, including the exchange of explicit photos, proves that the act was consensual. (In fact, this is not how consent works. Consent isn’t given the day before but the moment of.) And, according to Maryland law, a sex act involving a 14 year old is never consensual because people under age 16 cannot give consent. You might not like that law, but it shouldn’t be a surprise to two 17 year old boys.  It will be for the court to figure out of this non-consensual sex act was rape or something else.

In the meantime, parents at the school are asking why the school included undocumented students. I’m wondering why in the world they care. (I’m wondering this specifically as I dig up my youngest child’s birth certificate, which I’m required to show when I register him for kindergarten. Would the state prefer that non-citizen children not go to kindergarten?)

Immigrants, both legal and illegal, have a much lower incarceration rate than the native-born populations. (And, to really drive home the point, I’m citing stats from the CATO Institute on this one.) The data supports the theory, which is that undocumented immigrants face much stiffer consequences for criminal behavior, so they avoid it. What is a speeding ticket for me is deportation for them.

Above, Flora’s suicide in The Birth of a Nation, D.W. Griffith’s 1915 racist propaganda film promoting the KKK as a defense against imagined black violence. Young Flora bravely kills herself–a fate better than rape by a black man, played by white actor Walter Long in blackface. 

Joel lays out some of our (white people’s) long, ugly history of violence against people of color (especially black men), justified by fear or or punishment for crime, especially against white women. Narratives of sexual conquest, sexual ownership, and the patriotic duty to protect (white) women are central elements in our most enduring national myth: that white men must beat back people of color in order to protect the world from declining into chaos and disorder (which is to say, women but especially racial minorities having power).  They use sexual violence as both a strategy and a justification in this endeavor.


But let’s take them at their word–not the Dylann Roofs or James Harris Jacksons, but everyday white men who would never admit that their concern about the sexual safety of women was limited to white women and really about whiteness and not women. Let’s even give them the benefit of the doubt and say that their care isn’t limited to white women.

As a white woman, here’s what I’d like white men so concerned about women’s sexual safety to do:

  1. Stop raping.
  2. Stop being surprised that rapists look like nice young (white) men. Most rapists choose victims of their own race. If you care about white women, keep your eye on white men.
  3. Stop other men from raping.  Intervene if you suspect an assault is about to or is happening. Empower other men to intervene, too. Not sure how to do that? Take a class in bystander intervention–just like you ask us to take ridiculous classes in self-defense.
  4. Call out rape culture every single time you see it or hear it. If you aren’t sure what it looks or sounds like, educate yourself. Stop participating in it, condoning it, or ignoring it. Boycott companies that profit from it, and tell them why.
  5. Make violence against women a men’s issue, not a women’s one.
  6. Stop passing the cost of rape prevention on to women.  We don’t want guns on campus or rape drug detecting nail polish. We want you to not rape us or laugh as other men do.
  7. When women say they have been threatened or harmed, believe them. If you find it easier to believe a white woman who has been raped by a black man than a white woman who has been raped by a white man, ask yourself if you are really caring about women or really caring about whiteness.

Really, it’s not complicated: stop raping, ignoring rape, encouraging rape, or dismissing rape. If you want to do more, look for places where rape is more likely to occur: the military, fraternity houses, and high school, college, and professional athletics teams.

Silver Whistle Necklace

Above, a stylish silver rape whistle on a matching chain, available for $21 on Etsy. It comes with a “stunning Swarovski birthstone drop charm,” so you can personalize your rape defense system. Or buy several charms to coordinate with your closet!

Oh, prefer not to look at how such cultures contribute to sexual violence against women? Then perhaps what you really care about is maintaining white power to dominate men of color and not women at all.

Rape, race, and Rockland: Why you shouldn’t believe the hype


The brown men are coming to take and rape our women. Did you hear?

Sorry if this opening is too snarky, but it’s difficult not to pour derision all over the age-old racist trope that we must protect white women from the dark hordes. This seems to be the most elemental of all the dumb racist fears, led to a fair number of lynchings back when lynchings were common, resulted in the murder of Emmett Till, and even formed the basis of one of America’s most-loved anti-racist novels.

Despite being thoroughly discredited, though, the trope — the fear by white men that somewhere, somehow, a brown man is having sex with a white woman — is durable. (We shouldn’t be surprised, I guess: Congress made clear in 1964 and 1965 that African Americans had the rights to vote and to public accommodations; it took a few more years after that for the Supreme Court to add that, yes, it was OK for men and women of different races to get married. That was years after Barack Obama, the product of a black-white relationship, had been born. We treat this like ancient history, but it just happened yesterday.)

I mention this because of James Jackson.

You’ve heard of him, right? He’s the racist who drove to New York last week and killed a black man … because he wanted to kill a black man. Any one would do.

And why did he desire this? The New York Daily News found out in a jailhouse interview.

Most chillingly, Jackson said he had traveled to New York from Baltimore intending to kill numerous black men, imagining that the bloodshed would deter white women from interracial relationships. “‘Well, if that guy feels so strongly about it, maybe I shouldn’t do it,’” he said, imagining how he wanted a white woman to think.

One almost has to admire the pathetic grandiosity of the candor here. Jackson wasn’t even trying to protect white women from the “dangers” of black men — he wanted to scare the white women away from even thinking about romance with a black man.

It’s only been two years since Dylan Roof massacred African American churchgoers for the same reason. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country — and you have to go,” he told victims as he mowed them down.

Maybe, Rebecca, some of our readers will suggest that these tropes are being revived only on the extremes, by the worst of the worst, by killers who might be too crazy to fairly count as being part of the discourse.

Except: The trope is working its way into our politics. It’s not totally explicit yet, but it’s getting there.

Remember, Donald Trump opened his campaign for the presidency with this jaw-dropper:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

It doesn’t matter that the numbers suggest immigrants have lower offense levels — Trump has kept this up through the first weeks of his presidency. The White House is creating an office specifically to deal with immigrant crime, specifically to hype and rile up the population against the brown hordes.

And just in case you didn’t get the clue, the Trumpist alt-right’s favored insult du jour is “cuck” — short for “cuckhold,” which is a term, that, well…

The cultural importance of the cuckold in America is rooted in racism: in pornography, the wife of the cuckolded (almost exclusively white) husband is most commonly sleeping with African-American men, meant to provide an additional layer of humiliation if the white husband sees that man as “inferior.” In the world of pornography meant to elicit humiliation as an erotic sentiment, cuckold porn takes advantage of its viewers’ racist perceptions.

All of which, unfortunately, brings us to this: A 14-year-old girl in Rockville, Maryland says two undocumented immigrants raped her earlier this month.

The story is horrifying.

Also horrifying: It’s become a national political football, a log thrown on the fire to help ensure  that we get our national blood good and boiling. It’s becoming a cause celebre in righty outposts like Fox News and Town Hall and Daily Caller and, of course, Breitbart.

My friends — yeah — at the Trumpista website American Greatness have published two posts about the matter in the last day. (Which is twice as much coverage as they gave to the failure of the GOP health bill.)

It’s hard to find a good way to respond to this. The public will hear RAPE!!!! and rational mewling responses of “that’s awful, but truly immigrants are convicted of crime less often than native-born whites” will go mostly unheard. Because this story is horrifying, and what? Do you care more about your precious “illegals” than the women in your life? Why don’t you hate rape enough? Guess you’re not an ally to feminists after all! It’s not, for the most part, a good-faith argument.

Me, I’m pretty sure can be a feminist ally and be cynical about the motives of people who otherwise don’t spend much time, interest or energy on rape prevention, except as a means of defending gun rights or criticizing campus feminists who rail against “rape culture.” The problem? Demagoguery has a better, easier, more enticing elevator pitch. It always does.

So. The Rockland story is awful. But the coverage appears to be attempting a narrative — THEY are coming for our women — that isn’t supported by the existence of one awful act. We should work to get the victim all the help and services she needs, all the community support that can be afforded her family. And we should still push back against people who cynically exploit her story to try to make the rest of us as afraid of brown men as they are.

— Joel

Republicans and Motherhood

If you are or were ever a young liberal or progressive in a family with older conservative relatives, it’s likely that one of them has thrown that (wrongly attributed) Winston Churchill quotation at you at some point:

“If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart.  If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.”

Not only did Churchill not say that, it doesn’t even align with his thinking. But don’t roll your eyes as you tell your elders this. Have pity on them. They were probably listening to Wayne Newton and watching Robert W. Welch, Jr. movies with their friends while all the cool kids were at Woodstock and now they have no stories to tell their grandkids. But I digress…

Being a mother has provided me with a little insight into why it’s actually Republicans who act like spoiled teenagers. Teens, of course, grow up; this week’s healthcare debacle in the House, led by “policy wonk” (ha ha ha!) Paul Ryan shows us that Republicans are struggling to do the same.

Here’s my insight, which came to me while dislodging a Lego–a piece very important to the Battle of Scarif set–from the innards of the garbage disposal yesterday:

Mothers get to make all of the no-fun decisions. I get to choose between which vegetables I will later fight with my children about eating. I get to decide which way we will spend our emergency savings: fixing the car or fixing the van. I say no to everything fun: riding without a seat belt or a bike helmet, adopting stray dogs, sleepover parties with neighbors we’ve just met. I get to decide on how toddler misbehavior gets handled, under what conditions a PG-13 movie is okay for a kid and under what conditions it is not, on what strategies we will use to bring up tween child’s grades, and on who started it, who had it first, and what order kids have to take showers, which shouldn’t have to be a *@!*& decision at all because they’re all going to get them before the night is over. I give all the fun choices–which game we will play, what kind of pizza topping we’ll order, what movie we will watch on family movie night–away.

Image result for cheese pizza

Above, cheese–the pizza of motherhood.  

Society demands that mothers act as scolds–it’s how we keep our kids safe, and when kids are not safe, it’s our fault–and also blames us for being so controlling. The rewards are great, of course, but they take a lifetime to accrue.

And our kids do blame us and resent us, too. If you were a teen once, you probably at some point (perhaps for a very long time) were pretty sure you knew how to be an adult better than your parents. You may have even mentioned this in a sulky comment or screaming match. When I’m a parent…!

But what if they actually had (or did) leave you in charge? You would have stayed awake all night playing video games and eating Taco Bell for every meal. For, maybe, like, years.

That’s the present-day Republican Party. They can cry and scream about how awful the Democrats are because they haven’t had to actually do anything except symbolically attempt to repeal Obamacare.  They sulk that America isn’t living up to Ayn Rand’s dreams. (Side note: Outgrowing Ayn Rand is a sign of the development of the frontal lobe, which is why most young people are done with her by their junior year of college.)

Image result for paul ryan

Above, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, in his gawky, adolescent, delusional, intolerable, utterly-unprepared-for-leadership phase.

For the first time in more than a decade–and only the third time (two short periods during the GWB years) since the Depression–Republicans are fully in charge: House, Senate, White House. They can’t rely on Democrats from stopping them from making destructive decisions. It’s easy to complain about Mom when you know she’s not going to let you do stupid stuff. You might even use her as an excuse as to why you can’t do something dangerous and complain about her at the same time. It’s okay! We take on that role willingly. Tell your friends I’m a bitch, but don’t get in the car with a driver who has been drinking. I’ll always come to pick you up.

But now it’s time to be a grown up. And Republicans have shown that they can’t. They call Democrats naive and unrealistic, but what’s unrealistic is to expect Americans to believe that a tax cut to billionaires is a patriotic duty.

Republican’s hatred of the poor and people of color, which they try to disguise as patriotism, works fine to gin up votes and donations. It doesn’t work when you try to enact it by taking away much-needed help in the battle against opioid addiction or maternity coverage. Even Confederate flag waving Trump voters recognize that they aren’t gaining freedom when rural hospitals close. This is why most Americans support a simpler, more transparent, more affordable version of the ACA: single-payer health care.

Trump promised Republicans that they would win so much they’d get tired of winning. Instead, they’ve been lazy losers so long that any talent or skill they had in leading has been forgotten.


Do fathers get to make boring, sad choices too? Of course. But I’m writing about my experience. You can ask my husband about his when he gets done vacuuming and washing our 15 year old minivan.

Apologies? No–Justice.

Central, I think, to the feedback Joel recently received about white people owning up to our racial mistakes is the idea that white people today shouldn’t have to apologize for past racial injustices that they didn’t commit. After all, some whites–just like some blacks–don’t have family trees that even touch American slavery!  This is a common argument, so I want to focus on it.

Factually, it’s not wrong. Lots of white immigrants came here after the Civil War was over, just as lots of black immigrants have come since. If what is being sought is an apology from those whose families fought for slavery to those whose families were enslaved, we’d have a real mess. Some of us had families on both sides of the war. Some of us have ancestors who were slave owners and ancestors who were enslaved–either at different points in history or at the same time, producing enslaved children from rape. If apologies were in order, lots of individuals would be apologizing to themselves.

Image result for civil war union soldier grave kentucky

Above, a Civil War cemetery for Union soldiers in Kentucky. To my family’s great pride, one of our ancestors fought for the Union. He was white, was willing to die to end slavery, and still benefited from white privilege. How do we know? Because he got $1o of pay per month for soldiering, compared to a black soldier’s $7 per month. The US government finally granted equal pay–and supplied it retroactively–after black soldiers refused to re-enlist.

White people have never had to fight to be equal to blacks. That’s white privilege and black punishment.

But it’s not apologies that are in order. It’s justice.

And it’s not just justice over the issue of slavery (though that needs to happen too). It’s the years of interest that have accrued since then. While some white people deflect by saying that “Slavery was so long ago!” it’s the very “long ago” of slavery that has allowed inequity to build.

Think of it this way: Would you be better off if your great-, great-, great-, great-, great-, great grandpa was a billionaire or if your father were a billionaire?

It depends on how well your family managed wealth. If your family had done a great job, over generations, of managing great-, great-, great-, great-, great-, great grandpa’s wealth, you’d be much better off than if that money had been around for only one generation.

So the issue isn’t (just) slavery: it’s the generations between slavery and now. Over time, systems that are overtly racist have been legally struck down: slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, rampant stop and frisk. But the benefits that white people collected during that time still collect interest. Whites who bought houses in neighborhoods where people of color couldn’t still own those houses, and they continue to rise in value at a rate higher than the houses that people of color were able to purchase. Redlining might be illegal now, but the generations of people it harmed still live with the consequences. And, as Joel says, it’s not just white privilege–it’s also black punishment. A century and a half after slavery, half a century after Jim Crow, it’s still being felt, too.

You don’t just “apologize and move on” because an apology doesn’t right this wrong. It’s a wrong that grows bigger over time, not smaller, because interest accrues one way (if you are white, in your favor, whether your family was here during slavery or Jim Crow or not) or another (if you are black, against you).

And everything I just said assumes that opportunities are equal now, that the deck isn’t stacked in the favor of white people, which just isn’t true.