I have a Black patient from a poor family, 8 years old, who is absurdly intelligent. His mother, equally intelligent, created, of her own accord, a family tree in a notebook which she showed me during the consultation. It was very organized, and full of collages.
It happens that, four generations back, her grandfather's grandfather was a slave. Just after slavery was abolished, he was kicked off the farm where he worked for being too old. He ended up living on the street with a family of four until he died of tuberculosis.
His son- her grandfather's father- had to support the family doing odd jobs and petty crimes, and was imprisoned soon after his wife became pregnant- with, of course, her grandfather.
This grandfather was born without a father: his father, my patient's great-grandfather, died in prison when he was eight years old. He grew up without a chance at an education, having to work from a very young age to sustain his mother and her three younger children from another father. These four children were orphaned when he was 15, upon her death. He worked on farms, had five children. The fifth was my patient's maternal grandfather.
He never went to school, grew up on the farm, and when he became an adult, he married and had four kids, including my patient's mother. She too grew up on a farm and never had a chance to go to school. Today, she is a cleaning lady, and insists that her children get an education.
"You're very intelligent," I said to the boy.
"Do you know what you'll be when you grow up?"
"Yes, I'll be a truck driver."
"But, have you ever thought of anything else? You're very capable, you can be anything!"
"Well, I would really like to be a doctor."
"All right, then be one!"
"You can't? Why not?"
"Because I'm Black."
Why do you imagine he believes this? Imagine how being five generations from slavery might have influenced this family's history and this child's current condition. Imagine how decades of prejudice undermined this family's chances at giving their descendants a better life than they had...
Now imagine how absurdly privileged you are compared to them.
Now, try to find the nerve to say that the question of race is no longer relevant, that affirmative action quotas are unfair, that redistribution programs are "for bums" and that you've truly earned what you have today...
This post originally appeared in HuffPost Brazil and was translated from Portuguese into English.