Do Whites Benefit from Racism?

Ampersand says, in comic form, that white people who claim not to benefit from racism are in denial. This is a common theme in left-wing circles. I'm not 100% sure, but I believe the idea is to instill in whites a sense of collective guilt, or at least responsibility--even if you're not actively oppressing anyone, you're still guilty of benefitting from racism.

But is this true? To illustrate his point, Ampersand shows five scenes in which Bob and his ancestors benefitted from opportunities that were denied to racial minorities. This is a clear illustration of how racism has historically hurt minorities, but it doesn't follow from this that whites benefit from racism.

If I were to ask Ampersand what he would like to see changed about these scenarios, I'm quite sure that he'd say that minorities should have gotten the same opportunities as Bob and his ancestors, not that Bob and his ancestors should have been denied those opportunities just to make things fair--in short, that without racism Bob would be no worse off than he is now.

The equation of benefit to whites to harm to blacks and other minorities suggests a zero-sum mentality not entirely dissimilar to the mentality which can give rise to racism under different circumstances (commenter BananaDanna alludes to this in comment 29: The "No jobs for blacks while white men go hungry" slogans from the Great Depression).

But economies aren't zero-sum. Racism places constraints on the ability of markets to operate efficiently. When those constraints are removed, there are more opportunities for everyone, not just those who were discriminated against.

While I'm sure that there must be some cases in which whites have benefitted from racism (e.g., highly competitive zero-sum competitions), it's pretty clear that on balance racism has been a net loss for whites. Aside from the general loss of efficiency noted above, racism was largely responsible for the Civil War, arguably the most destructive event in American history, and racism and its legacy have been responsible for a great deal of social strife ever since.

Furthermore, the disproportionately high rates of crime, incarceration, single motherhood, and welfare dependency within the black and Latino communities impose a burden upon white taxpayers (and crime victims, though I'm not sure how many there are, since most crime is intraracial). It is generally believed on the left (and by Ampersand specifically, IIRC) that racism is the root cause of minority underachievement. If this is true then this is yet another way in which whites continue to be hurt by racism.

Also, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. QED.

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Zero sum thinking

I conjecture that Ampersand is seeing every scenario as zero sum. In each case, there is (in Ampersand's mind) a fixed pie to go around, and if the black person is denied a piece of the pie, then more of the pie is going to a non-black person. And since it is racism that deprives the black person, then it is racism that benefits the non-black person.

Devil's Advocate

One could argue that positive discrimination is racism, and that therefore the perks received due to race (or not being the wrong race) are the dividends of racism. I wouldn't argue that though.