I grew up poor. I started working when I was 14 so that I would be able to buy better school clothes than what my parents could afford. This allowed me to pretend I had the comfortable life that I would one day achieve.
But I didn’t have that comfortable life. Not then. I chose “fake it ’til I make it” as my motto.
The jobs I found were manual labor — tough and, at times, grueling work. I discovered that I was a hard worker, and for the most part, I enjoyed the sweat, the grime and the physical workout.
As it turned out, throughout my life, leadership roles would quite often fall to me. The odd thing I noticed, in those steaming warehouses and factories of my youth, is that there was always men of color doing the same tasks and I. Usually, they had been doing the job for decades.
But they were passed over for promotions that instead went to a 17-year-old kid. A kid who happened to be white.
One Christmas, I landed a seasonal job at a Sears store that lasted only two short months. The department manager was a very proficient African-American lady. Within a week, she was deferring to me.
White skin was a powerful influence institutionally and in the psyche of working-class minorities.
The equality that has been gained by small measures in this country — such as required quotas — are rather a recent development. Employers could hold onto their racist attitudes about hiring for most of the 20th century. And the truth is those attitudes prevail to this day.
The corporate world, for the most part, adheres to the non-discrimination guidelines. But smaller businesses remain unrestrained, and racism remains alive and well in many places of employment.
The complaints around the quota system and its perceived bias against whites continues today. But I absolutely believe that if that system were dismantled, individual employers as well as societal institutions would quickly revert to their former racist and discriminatory practices.
As I got older, my work environments improved. For a time, I worked in privately-owned mental institutions. There was not any blatant racial preference on the worksite — mainly because there were no minority employees or clients.
Eventually, I drifted into what became my chosen career path: High-end dining.
There has always been a deep vein of racism in those plush environments. It was almost into the 1990s before I first heard a chef condemn racial slurs in his kitchen. Here in Dallas, as recently as 15 years ago, black people were rarely seen dining in such places. Why would they want to? Those establishments were not overly zealous in their welcome. And upscale restaurants in this town — to this day — that develop a strong minority clientele often see their white guests flee and never return.
Have I prospered at the expense of minorities in this field? I have. I was the one who was hired and promoted in most instances.
I’m exaggerating, you say? Things have changed, you say? Sure, you insist, there is no longer any white skin privilege.
But you know what I say? I say BULLSHIT.
I profited as a poor kid working in hell-holes. I have lived in apartment buildings and homes in which someone of any other race would have been denied residence. I excelled in a field that kept minorities from participating, and I have benefited tremendously from workplace support staff in instances where the only thing preventing them from having my job was their brown skin.
Yes, white skin privilege most definitely exists at every level of our society — at the very top of the social order, and at the very bottom. I have profited from it.
And if you are white and honest with yourself, SO HAVE YOU.
Gary Bellomy is a longtime Dallas activist working on issues of LGBT equality, HIV/AIDS services and family violence prevention. He is a war resister and a Trump resister.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 7, 2017.