I’ve been seeing a lot of posts of white conservatives claiming systemic racism doesn’t exist. My hope with this post is to address any of my white conservative readers who might not understand how it still exists today and to help you see how it does. Even though I’m addressing primarily white conservatives, this is in no way an attempt to blame you for systemic racism. Everyone along the political spectrum has had their hand in shaping the systemic racism in this country at some point in time, whether Republican or Democrat. I’m only addressing white conservatives because you have primarily been the ones I’ve seen claiming that systemic racism no longer exists. But of course, if you’re reading this and you’re black, liberal, or anything else and you deny systemic racism, this applies to you as well.
Before we go any further, it’s important that we understand exactly what is meant by “systemic racism”. According to the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Institute, systemic racism:
includes the policies and practices entrenched in established institutions, which result in the exclusion or promotion of designated groups. It differs from overt discrimination in that no individual intent is necessary.
So, in a nutshell, systemic racism is policies or practices that exclude or promote particular groups of people. The Jim Crow laws of the 1800’s were an example because they were policies that excluded black people from certain activities.
But can we find examples like that today? We’ll see.
Since many of the conservatives I’ve been hearing rely heavily on statistics, I’m going to first lay out a list to start things off. Then I’m going to show how these statistics are evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that systemic racism still exists(This is admittedly the shortest section because people of color don’t believe systemic racism exists purely because of the statistics, but because of our experiences. Most of us honestly can’t even quote half of these stats to you.). Next I will give a philosophical analysis of how we know systemic racism still exists. Then in the next post(because I don’t want to overwhelm you with an outrageously long post), I will explore some counter arguments and finally, I’ll end with testimonial evidence. Feel free to skip over to whichever section suits your fancy.
When black children grow up in wealthy families, live in the same neighborhoods as white children, and attend the same schools as white children, they still grow up to make less money than their white counterparts.
These statistics are examples of systemic racism because by definition, they are practices that exclude a particular group of people. So even though there are no Jim Crow laws legitimizing or sanctioning the above statistics, there is a pattern of practice. There is a practice of arresting black drug users more often than white drug users. There is a practice of not accepting job applications with black-sounding names. There is a practice of funding white school districts more than black school districts. This is why it’s systemic racism.
When I was taught about systemic racism in college I was taught this analogy. Addressing injustice is like pulling people out of a river. Addressing systemic racism is going upstream and stopping the person who’s throwing them into the river. It’s dealing with the root of the problem. In the past it was very clear who was throwing black people in the river and how: slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynchings etc. But things have changed now.
Firstly, the people haven’t stopped throwing people in the river, they’ve just changed their reasoning for it. The thirteenth amendment makes it clear that slavery can no longer exist(you can’t throw black people in the river) EXCEPT when they’ve committed a crime. This is a green light for systemic racism because you can now make someone a slave if they’ve committed a crime. So what has happened? People are throwing black people into rivers not because they’re black, but because they’re criminals. As we saw above, white people commit 70% of drug offenses, but 60% of prisoners convicted of drug offenses are people of color. Black people are still getting thrown in the river. The reason has changed, but the action has not, which has led writers like Michelle Alexander to call mass incarceration “The New Jim Crow”.
Secondly, imagine we go to the police department in the town where that river is and tell them that people are throwing people into the river. We ask them if they could set up a fence to reduce that sort of activity, kind of like they’re planning on doing with the Golden Gate Bridge to reduce suicide jumps. But let’s say the police department ignores us and despite our repeated efforts refuses to do anything. Why would they not be willing to build something that would protect the lives of citizens? Could it be that those particular citizens simply aren’t as important? This pattern is exemplified when we see clear problems in black communities, but little to no funding is being provided to solve them. Schools in predominantly black communities are generally subpar in comparison to those in white communities, but as you saw above, they receive $23 billion less in funding than white school districts. In 2015, more federal money was allocated to reducing mortgage rates and property taxes(things that predominantly affect white people) than was allocated to the Department of Housing and Urban Development(a department that predominantly serves blacks and hispanics). On top of that, renters don’t get tax breaks and the majority of renters are people of color.
So what we see here is a system that assists the majority while neglecting the minority. One could argue, however, that this is necessary because more people in America are white and own homes so it only makes sense to allocate more of our resources to them first. Except for the fact that the federal government spends so much money on unnecessary things. Like the $1.7 billion that are spent every year to maintain completely empty buildings. Or the $5 million that were spent to convince hipsters to stop smoking. Or the $300k that were spent studying how cocaine affects the sexual behavior of Japanese quails. We make a practice in this country of funding the needs of a particular group of people while neglecting to fund the needs of another group of people. Since one group is predominantly white and the other is predominantly black, this is why it’s systemic racism.
Hopefully this has been helpful to show you enough evidence that systemic racism exists today. But you may be thinking of some counter arguments that disprove what I’ve shown. We’ll examine some of the opposition in the next post.