It is surely not my fault that I was born, as with so many others, into a social status over which I had little control. But this is hardly the point, and regardless of our own direct culpability for the system, or lack thereof, the simple and incontestable fact is that we all have to deal with the residue of past actions. We clean up the effects of past pollution. We remove asbestos from old buildings for the sake of public health, even when we didn’t put the material there ourselves. We pay off government debts, even though much of the spending that created them happened long ago. And of course, we have no problem reaping the benefits of past actions for which we weren’t responsible. Few people refuse to accept money or property from others who bequeath such things to them upon death, out of a concern that they wouldn’t want to accept something they hadn’t earned. We love to accept things we didn’t earn, such as inheritance, but we have a problem taking responsibility for the things that have benefited us while harming others. Just as a house or farm left to you upon the death of a parent is an asset that you get to use, so too is racial privilege; and if you get to use an asset, you have to pay the debt accumulated, which allowed the asset to exist in the first place.
Tim Wise, White Like Me