Race influences American dream
Posted April 3, 2009
Rafael Anguiano
Speaking on the injustices of white privilege, Matt Witt, associate professor of public administration, facilitated the Colloquium on Diversity and answered questions. The event included a short clip from “The Matrix” and a lecture on the unity of humanity. The next Colloquium on Diversity will be May 7 about “Cultural Identity Development.”

Matthew Witt, associate professor of public administration, contributed his topic of white privilege to the University of La Verne’s Colloquium Series on Diversity.

In his presentation “My short history of whiteness…on the run,” Witt explained that as a Caucasian male, he has experienced and enjoyed certain privileges living in the United States.

“There is an experience and there is an awareness,” Witt said.

Witt also spoke about the racism that is present in home loans in the United States.

Witt presented an article by Larry Adelman from the San Francisco Chronicle in June 2003.

“Racism doesn’t just come dressed in white sheets or voiced by skinheads, but lies in institution that have quietly and often invisibly channeled America’s wealth, power, and status disproportionally to white people,” Adelman said.

A set of New Deal programs led by the Federal Housing Administration allowed millions of average white Americans to own a home for the first time and down payments were lowered from 50 percent to 10 or 20 percent, Adelman said.

“It was not an accident,” Witt said. “People of color were directly targeted.”

Adelman’s article explained that Federal investigators evaluated 239 regions for risk and communities with one or two black families were deemed financial risks and ineligible for low cost home loans.

“Government appraisal maps color those communities red- hence the origin of the term ‘redlining,’”Adelman said in his 2003 article.

Redlining is the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services such as banking, insurance, etc to residents in certain, often racially determined areas.

Witt said that blockbusting is still a problem in the United States as well.

Blockbusting is the practice of persuading white homeowners to sell quickly and usually at a loss.

That is done by appealing to the fear that minority groups and especially Black people will move into the neighborhood, causing property values to decline. The property is then resold at inflated prices.

“Americans are housing racism one block at a time,” Witt said.

This month the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is accusing Wells Fargo and HSBC of forcing blacks into subprime mortgages while whites with identical qualifications got lower rates.

“HSBC ironically calls themselves the world’s local bank,” Witt said.

According to an article written by Jesse Washington, black homebuyers have been three and a half times more likely to receive subprime loan that white borrowers.

Witt called real wealth the American Dream but so many have made that unavailable to people of color.

“I hope in a sense if you are white like me you see that your freedoms are now in peril because they are privileges not freedoms,” Witt said.

Witt is now comfortable saying that it has been his privilege to do what he has done.

“I do not have to defend myself,” Witt said.

“What we have is delusion,” Witt said. “We have an image of hopelessness and freedom.”

“How do you live with yourself and your white privilege,” Witt said to Al Clark, associate vice president of academic affairs, at the end of Witt’s presentation.

Witt said that it has been a privilege and that he will spend the rest of his life figuring it all out.

“I try to make every interaction with a person an unencumbered beginning,” Witt said.

Claudio Munoz, professor of accounting, was impressed with Witt’s opening and ability to admit that he had received privileges because of his race.

“I think that it takes boldness to recognize some of the privileges we receive,” Munoz said. “To recognize it is honorable and admirable.”

Munoz said that he sees Witt as a person who has enjoyed his privileges, not for himself but to share with society and to give back.

Lisa Saye, assistant professor of public administration, enjoyed Witt’s overriding theme that stated freedom cannot be achieved out of self interest.

“To accurately see someone is freedom,” Saye said.

“In very subtle ways privileges are everywhere,” Witt said. “To be free is to confront that.”

Victoria Farlow can be reached at victoria.farlow@laverne.edu.

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