Letter to the Community from Seth Friedman


Privilege is propped up on the back of oppression


A few weeks back I sent out a video explaining the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, its ties to institutional racism, and the importance of Passage Home’s work to mitigate these impacts. The events of the past week have once again been a reminder of how deep-rooted institutional racism is. The murder of George Floyd and countless other black and brown men, women, and children by the very institutions that are supposed to protect them is revolting.
My deepest sympathy is with everyone who is suffering–especially my black colleagues, friends, mentors, neighbors, and all who have historically targeted in America.
I purposefully wrote sympathize and not empathize, for I cannot empathize with the stress, pain, and fear that every Black American must live with.  To empathize is to understand. I can understand their anger, but—as a white male—I can never understand their pain.
It is, however, my responsibility as an ally to use my position to support their movement. Support can come in many fashions: I can
listen, I can learn, I can stand strong beside them. Today, I am choosing to use my position of power and proximity to other levers of power to speak up about my own white privilege and what that means.
There is no doubt in my mind, without my privilege, I would not be CEO of Passage Home today. That is not to say that I am not good at my job, nor that I don’t deserve my job, but rather to say I only had access to this job through the long history of institutional clemency I was granted.
I grew up upper middle class in the Northeast. My teachers looked like me, the police looked like me, community leaders looked like me, the people on tv looked like me. I had representation everywhere I turned. That is privilege. ‘Til this day, when a cop pulls me over (mind you I am firmly “middle-aged”)—my visceral reaction is “My dad is going to kill me (figuratively).” That is privilege. For individuals of color, they are concerned with literally being killed by the police. I can jog any time of day or night with headphones on. That is both white and male privilege. I can work out in any gym, my kids can play with toy guns, I can walk through any neighborhood, I can drive any car, I can argue with police, I can walk into State Houses, I can pretty much come and go as a free person. That is the ultimate privilege.

It is only through recognizing our privilege that we can ever support those who don’t have the same fortune. I encourage everyone to learn about America’s history with the Black community to understand the present oppression and community anger.

If you don’t think this history has led to the cycle of poverty that a disproportionate amount of the black and brown people live in—you are mistaken; if you don’t think this unfortunate history has led to their righteous anger—you are mistaken; If you don’t think our privilege comes at the cost of other’s oppression—you are mistaken. 

Privilege is propped up on the back of oppression. 

There is no quick fix to the racial inequality that stains our nation. I am asking everyone who receives this email to do their part: recognize your privilege, educate yourself, engage in anti-racist work, and if you are a person of color, please know Passage Home stands beside you. I stand beside you.  

There is a deep intersectionality between the systemic oppression and the majority of our clients who are individuals and families of color. As a leader in Wake County’s housing sector, I have an important role to play. The privilege or oppression many of us live with today can be traced back for hundreds of years through housing and land laws. From acres of land
promised but never given to the redlining practices that have led to our country’s massive wealth gap.

As the CEO of Passage Home, I will make a promise—I will continue to use my position of power to speak up against oppression and I will always listen to—and stand beside–the communities being oppressed.
With sympathy,

Seth Friedman

CEO, Passage Home