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We Don't Need to Live in a Society Where Race Limits Any Child's Destiny

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As a parent of 13-year-old twins, one with special needs, I often feel like my life is held together by duct tape, as I struggle to pay my bills, be a good father and husband, and make the most of my time on this earth. Despite the pressures that I experience, I'm acutely aware of the many privileges that come along with being a White father raising White children in America.

My parents came of age at a moment in American history following World War II, when working-class Jewish immigrants, whose families had lived in poverty and amid discrimination for centuries in Eastern Europe, came to be seen as White in the United States. They were able to work their way into a growing middle class.

I expect that my children will have a harder time affording higher education and finding work than I or my parents did. But I don't worry about them becoming entangled with the criminal justice system, and I know that they may have greater odds of growing up safe and successful than their peers who are African-American and Latino.

Today, African-American and Latino children are more than six times more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty than White children. Black men, who account for 43 percent of murder victims, are more than twice as likely to be unemployed, and six times more likely to be imprisoned than White men.

These grim statistics come from the first report of President Obama's My Brother's Keeper Taskforce, released on Friday. The report deserves our attention. While it contains familiar references to limited resources, public-private initiatives, and the need for greater personal responsibility, it also embraces important pieces of the emerging grassroots movement to end urban gun violence and dismantle mass incarceration.

For example, the White House report recommends that large employers, including the federal government, consider "banning the box" that prevents many people with criminal records from obtaining jobs, and support public campaigns to eliminate discrimination and bias based on past arrest and convictions records.

The My Brother's Keeper initiative is aptly named. Cain's insolent reply to God's question about his brother has for centuries stood as a reminder of our interconnectedness as human beings. Of course the answer is YES, we are our brother's keeper. But what's striking is how often we fail at this simple act of being human.

One of the great tragedies in America today is the mistaken belief that racial inequality is a sad but inevitable condition of our society. This myth manifests itself in the tone of pity that runs through much of the mainstream conversation about the challenges facing boys and men of color.

The truth is that it is in our power to create a society in which race does not determine destiny. What we lack is the moral imagination necessary to make the hard choices. We must invest the resources and rearrange the structures of privilege that make what is simply wrong seem inevitable.

As Ta-Nehisi Coates demonstrates in his brilliant article "The Case for Reparations," in this month's issue of The Atlantic magazine, the current social and economic conditions faced by African-American youth in 2014 are the product of 300 years of policy decisions. From slavery to Jim Crow to the exclusion of African-Americans from much of the New Deal to modern housing policy, African-Americans have been exploited for the economic benefit of Whites. In our country's scandalous deportation policy we see a similar willingness to destroy Latino families for political and economic expedience.

Reversing this exploitation is not for the faint of heart. It requires a fight against powerful interests that benefit from the hyper-segregation of our metropolitan areas; the increasingly low-wage, low-tax economy that locks so many people, especially people of color, in poverty; and the private companies that profit handsomely from over-incarcerating more people than any other country on the planet.

Change will happen, as it always has in American history, when people who most directly experience injustice come together to demonstrate that there is a different path. That's why the organizing network that I work for, PICO National Network, responded to the president's My Brother's Keeper initiative by organizing 15 multi-day bootcamps for more than 3,000 formerly incarcerated men and women, as well as others close to the pain of violence and joblessness in cities across the country.

It is a positive sign that many of the recommendations that came out of these grassroots events can be seen in the White House report. The work ahead involves hundreds of local organizing campaigns to open up job opportunities, restore voting rights, and reduce violence -- in order to build momentum and precedent for a large scale national change.

As with the civil rights movement, the success of efforts to eliminate obstacles so that young men of color can grow up free from violence and incarceration and able to succeed in American society, also depends on the response of White people. Most White Americans have a choice about whether to engage in the conversation about racial inequality, or look away, like Cain, with indifference or pity.

My belief -- and I think this is true for many other people of faith -- is that we are called to stop, listen, and engage, to acknowledge our common humanity. To say, here I am, with an open heart, ready to have honest conversations about my own experience of racial privilege and its benefits and costs, and to be part of a shared movement to build a society that is not based on racial oppression.