My View | Molly Dahl: Working to end racial inequality

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Like communities all across the country, Alexandria has a past that is beautiful, brutal and bound up with race. ACT for Alexandria, Alexandria’s community foundation, recently launched its Racial Equity Initiative, working toward a future in which race no longer predicts outcomes in one’s life.

But what is racial inequity, really? Here’s a story about my daughter, who is
white, and her friend, who is black. These two girls live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school and have parents who are doing the whole school volunteer-PTA-coach thing. Their parents have similar education, income and dreams for their daughters. The girls are alike in so many ways.

One day, the girls were playing near their school, pushing boundaries in the way 10-year-olds do. They came to the edge of someone’s lawn. My daughter was determined to cut across. Her friend wouldn’t do it. She was worried she’d be arrested and thrown in jail. And, frankly, perhaps she should’ve been worried about more. She couldn’t have known that a white woman would pull a gun on black boys fundraising for their high school football team that summer, but it happened.

That the black girl hesitates to cross the lawn is bad enough, but the truly insidious thing is that the same hesitation is likely to color every decision that girl ever makes. It will affect her decisions about whether to join a team, whether or which college to attend, what to study, whether to start a business, ask for a raise or otherwise stand up for herself.

Sure, we say, there are societal differences in outcomes between blacks and whites, but isn’t that because of differences in education? Or income? Or family? The answer is no, those aren’t the only reasons. I have spent my career as an economist studying employment and economic well-being. Whites are, on average, more economically secure than blacks, no matter what factors you consider. And those differences will persist as long as racial inequity exists.

So why am I, a white woman, concerned about racial inequity? As a mother, I want my children to understand their privilege. As a community member, I want everyone to have the same chance to succeed. It’s good for me, it’s good for my children and it’s good for the country.

I cannot tell you what it is to live life as a woman of color – and certainly not as a man of color. Were people more helpful to me as I struggled to maneuver a stroller through a heavy door? Probably. Is the store manager less likely to call the police because my kids are goofing off in the produce aisle? Almost certainly. I couldn’t give up my privilege if I tried. But that doesn’t mean I’m helpless.

And so I stand for the little black girl who hesitates at the edge of the lawn, in the hope that one day she can go for it, whatever it may be. I stand for her by participating in an ACT-sponsored workshop on what it means to be an ally for racial equity. The next one is September 13.

I read books like “White Fragility,” by Robin DiAngelo. I talk with my children. I talk with my friends. I give more to ACT, in full support of the Racial Equity Initiative. And I’m honored to do so. It’s the least I can do for that little girl.

The writer is the vice chair of ACT’s Board of Directors. If you would like to learn more about how to support ACT’s Racial Equity Initiative or attend a workshop, please visit actforalexandria.org.

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