On Gatekeeping and the GREAT AMERICAN WAY

Jonathan Silberman
Jun 25 · 4 min read
Illustration of a Black woman standing outside a hedge maze while white people wander around inside.
Illustration of a Black woman standing outside a hedge maze while white people wander around inside.
Illustrations by Jonathan Silberman; all illustrations are licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0

American (read white people’s) exceptionalism is a lie borne on the backs of enslaved people, stolen land, and pillaged resources. It’s the system that imbues us white people with the assumed power to debate, with impunity, the value of Black life. We’ve brainwashed humanity through generations of barbarism and through centuries of ignoring inequity in favor of the status quo. The world believes, to its core, that the right to breathe grows in the proportion to the lightness of one’s skin. And that your place in society is preordained by your access to wealth; never mind the fact that the system was set up to only benefit us and us alone — you clearly just aren’t working hard enough.

The world believes, to its core, that the right to breathe grows in the proportion to the lightness of one’s skin.

Imagine the American dream as the center of a vast hedge maze. It is a circuitous path with false starts and abrupt dead ends, and it’s a struggle to wind your way to the center. But if you can’t even make your way past the gate and into the maze proper, there is no way you can ever work your way to the center.

Structural racism is the mass of, often invisible and interdependent, regulations and decisions that make it nearly impossible for non-white people to make it past the gate and enter the hedge maze.

  • Pay inequities
  • Underfunded primary education
  • Cost of degrees & certifications
  • Educational requirements in job postings
  • Internships & required experience
  • Over-policing
  • Under-resourced or nonexistent community programs
  • Food deserts
  • Gerrymandering & redlining

American (read wealthy people’s) exceptionalism is a lie perpetrated by those unwilling to confront the myth of bootstrapping. Generational wealth is rarely clean — please don’t believe your family lore. If you are white, it is impossible for you to be a self-made person; doors were opened for you that were shut for others.

As an outsider, even if you are shown the “right way” to force your way through the gaps in the hedge maze you are still perceived as less-than for crawling in instead of being air-lifted to the center.

Structural inequity is the mass of, often invisible and interdependent, norms and requirements that make it nearly impossible for non-wealthy people to make it past the gate and enter the hedge maze.

Illustration of a white person parachuting into the center of the maze.
Illustration of a white person parachuting into the center of the maze.
  • Favoritism & nepotism
  • Educational institution hierarchy
  • Internships & required experience
  • Access to lines of credit / “risk-based” interest rates
  • Respectability and “well-mannered” expectations
  • Zero reparations
  • Capital is required to build capital
  • Insurance tied to employment

God love you if you are both BIPOC and poor; America would rather crush you underfoot than so much as acknowledge your existence.

The lie that there is a mythical queue into the hedge maze where downtrodden whites are pushed further and further to the end of the line is so pervasive that it has allowed the selfsame white people to blame their economic situation on Black and Brown people without losing a wink of sleep. It also allows them to distance themselves from everyone else who has to rely on government assistance as somehow distinct and superior: “It’s not a hand out. I’ve earned this — unlike those people.”

This longstanding race- and wealth-based gatekeeping has everyone jostling for a place outside the gate — the line ends at the gate no matter where you are in the queue and if you are in the line at all, your place is outside the maze.

Illustration of a line of people queued up outside of a gate.
Illustration of a line of people queued up outside of a gate.

Empathy is free.

Confronting the ways in which the system is rigged in your favor is free.

You lose nothing by acknowledging your power in the system; but might gain insight that will make you a more conscious member of society. Opening your eyes to the inequity in the world is powerful and meaningful; you can’t help but make better decisions because you start to see the gears that make society tick. As you move through the world; as you read about another Black boy being killed for a misdemeanor; as you read the news about another white school shooter who gets consoled by the police; as you see posts about trans women getting cut up and tossed on the side of the road; as you hear about a white man getting a slap on the wrist for raping someone; as you see the video of yet another George Floyd or read how Sandra Bland’s murderers are still walking free — you can interrogate the system rather than the individual.

Abstract illustration of two women overlapping, one Black and one white.
Abstract illustration of two women overlapping, one Black and one white.

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