“…Once there was a man who was about to leave home on a trip; he called his servants and put them in charge of his property. He gave to each one according to ability; to one he gave five thousand gold coins; to another, he gave two thousand, and to another, he gave one thousand. Then he left on his trip. The servant who had received five thousand coins went at once and invested the money and earned another five thousand. In the same way, the servant who had received two thousand coins earned another two thousand. But the servant who had received one thousand coins went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid the master’s money.” Matthew 25:14-18
The US economic system is like the parable of coins. The master (the institutional power,) gave five thousand coins to less than one percent of the people in the US. Less than one percent were white people, whose ancestors were of western European descent. Having little or no fear of losing, because of their skin coloration or lack of skin coloration, this group invests many coins in their future. They knew that the system is on their side and they are free to do what they want with their coins.
Two thousand coins were given to a select group of people. Most were people of European ancestry, but a handful were people of color. These people, both those of color and white, can see and feel a glass ceiling. They dream of having status one day; however, they live in fear of losing their coins unjustly. Yet, overall, they still trust the system and regularly invest in their future.
For those with one thousand coins, the quality of life varies greatly. This majority of this group are people of color from a variety of ethnic communities. However, a small number of this group are white, people of European descent. Of this group, one third have learned to live a meager existence and invest a little in the future. Another third live paycheck-to-paycheck, barely making ends meet, and invest very little, if any, in the future. The bottom third live a life of despair, never seem to make ends meet, and fear losing everything. At the end of the day, they have nothing left for the future.
Another important thing to point out is how the white people of the one thousand coin group perceive themselves. For one, they feel if it wasn’t for the people of color, in this same group, they would be more successful. Those people of color are taking their jobs, their money, their good education, and their place in society. It is frightening that the highest office in this country currently encourages this misconception.
Whether we admit it or not, the US is a majority Christian country, built on Christian values that were largely ignored in its inception as well as today. For example, contrary to Christian teaching, European immigrants who escaped their poverty and religious persecution stole and claimed this country, never admitting that intelligent, civilized people, grounded in their God, already lived on the land. Thereafter, Africans, human beings, were bought and sold as property, and their exploitation became a huge piece of the nation’s economic system and still is today. The present-day “law and order community” continues to exploit black and brown people. The fastest growing industry in the US is the privatized prison system. Sixty-six percent of the youth and adult criminal justice systems, both male and female, are people of color. Our economic system is profiting at their expense.
We have a tragic history of racism in the US. When it was decided to stop killing the native peoples and enslaving the African peoples (not because it was wrong or sinful,) the native people were placed on reservations similar to prisoner-of-war camps, and the African slaves were set free on the streets with no place to call home. They had no food to eat, no roof or walls for shelter, and then were blamed for the misfortune imposed upon them.
The 5,000 coin white people were in need of more cheap labor. Therefore, the Chinese were brought over to replace the African slave to build the railroad system in the West—mind you, on land bought by white investors from other white people who had stolen it from Native Americans in the first place. The exploitation of the Chinese continued through the end of the 19th century.
No separation exists between US economics and racism. Today the US economic system still depends on the heavy burdens of racism. Racism is defined as personal racial prejudice plus the misuse of power by systems and institutions. The misuse of institutional power allows the creation of systems deliberately kept in place to oppress people of color. This is done for the benefit of white people, especially the ones with 5,000 and 2,000 coins.
Communities of color continue to live under the thumb of institutional and systemic racism even though they are entitled to equal status under a constitution that declares we are all free, equal human beings under the law. African Americans, people whose ancestors were stolen and torn from the African continent, and Native Americans, people placed in prison camps known as reservations, have had the most difficult time obtaining equality in the US in housing, employment, legal protection, in our churches, and in education. Even with a good education and experience, they still have a difficult time obtaining equality in income.
The less than one percent that received the five thousand coins have internalized life in a racist society. They have and continue to enjoy their white privilege and feel they are entitled to it strictly by the color of their skin.
Those that received the two thousand coins try to stay out of the middle. They enjoy their status as a white person and believe it as the normal way of life. They have internalized this racist society and have internalized their racial superiority. On the other hand, the people of color in this group love their status. The white people remind them that they are different from those other people of color. Some are convinced that they are. They also have internalized this racist society’s norms and embraced their internalized racial oppression. A small number of this group, however, are vocal on the inequality and the inequity that exists. They recognize that the system is intentionally rigged. They have decided to become agents of change.
And those with one thousand coins… they live life amid violence and genocide in their neighborhood. They celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, retirements, weddings, births and deaths – while hoping, praying, working toward getting out of the impoverished, war-torn area in which they live… hoping and praying that someday… someone… will understand the plight of their community and work toward a systemic change in the U.S. economic system. Are you that someone?
Actions for Groups or Individuals
- Most people born in the U.S. today come from mixed ethnic heritage. Do you know the history of your ancestors? All of your ancestors? Take the time to discover the real you. You can’t move forward until you know where you’ve been.
- Which of the three groups—the groups of people with 5,000, 2,000, or 1,000 coins—are you a part of? Why?
- Everyone does not have the same set of skills. Some are called to be vocal leaders through voice or writings, some are called to be protesters, marchers, and some are called to provide direct service and compassion. What is your call? How do you become an agent of change?
- Examine your neighborhood. Is it all of one ethnicity or skin color, same income level? Why?
- Study another ethnic group outside the continent of origin of your ancestors. Compare their cultural norms to your own. Visit their neighborhood. Visit their churches: attend a funeral, baptism, and a wedding. Participate in their cultural events. Eat their food. Dance their dance.
- Monitor carefully the national budget proposals. Who is receiving the most? Who is receiving the least? Write and lobby your congressional representatives to advocate for a fair and just budget.