Defining “Systemic Racism”
by David Laguerre, Sr.
Systemic racism or structural racism is the idea of a system in which some groups of people are placed at more risk of harm. It is the idea that some groups of people are more likely to be discriminated or treated unfairly than others because of their race, ethnicity, or any other group identity.
Systemic racism is a type of racism that happens everywhere, not just in the US. A racialized system has been set up in the US to keep people of color in a place of disempowerment. It is a set of institutional and societal processes that aim to keep people of color from obtaining equality, freedom, or basic human rights. It’s not just “true racists” who are at the root of this.
The impact of systemic racism
The impact of systemic racism, which is the hidden structural inequality in our society that is revealed by the striking differences in health, wealth, and education between racial groups, is not widely known among people. It is a significant cause of trans-generational poverty, as it prevents people of color from fully accessing opportunities. Systemic racism refers to the policies, processes, procedures, and laws that have been created in history, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, that have disproportionately disadvantaged people of color.
Did you know that the Homesteading Act, originally signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, by 1934, had given 270 million acres of western land – an area close to the land mass of both California and Texas – to individual Americans, almost all of whom were White?
Did you know that the United States government sponsored segregation in the 20th Century? The federal government participated heavily in creating poor African-American neighborhoods by giving tax breaks to White neighborhoods while refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American communities. Not only did they do that, but they also subsidized builders to build entire communities just for White families who could afford them, in particular Veterans of WWII .
The GI Bill which was designed to uplift and benefit WWll veterans denied the majority of the more than over 1 million Black Americans who served in uniform. Not only did they face continued brutal racism and discrimination when they returned home from the war, but the benefits of the GI Bill, which included money for education and training, loan guarantees for homes, farms, or businesses, and unemployment pay were denied to the vast majority of Black veterans.
The GI Bill funded the educations of 22,000 dentists, 67,000 doctors, 91,000 scientists, 238,000 teachers, 240,000 accountants, 450,000 engineers, 14 Nobel Prize winners, and two dozen Pulitzer Prize winners. Sadly, the G.I. Bill exacerbated rather than narrowed the economic and educational differences between Blacks and Whites.
In 2014, the state of Michigan declared an emergency when Flint residents’ tap water became contaminated with lead. The specific crisis occurred when Flint switched its water source from the treated water supplied by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to water drawn from the Flint River. The problem was that the new supply which at first appeared to be a cost-saving measure, was not properly treated with corrosion inhibitors and caused lead from pipes to leach into the water supply of a largely poor and largely Black city. Over 10,000 children were exposed to elevated lead levels, leading the state of Michigan to agree to a $600 million settlement with Flint residents. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of systemic racism, there cases are all over the country, unfortunately as a nation, no one is listening or the problems are marginalized and forgotten over time.
How systemic racism affects mental health and wealth of people
These include short life spans, limited income and wealth potential, impacted family structure as a result of mass community tolls of living with less while being viewed by White people as “less than.” Moreover, people of color are expected by White people to bear the burden of explaining, proving, and fixing racism while it is in fact White people who should take responsibility for changing these enduring racist realities they have benefited from historically.
Some people have a way of making decisions, which can sometimes include racist or sexist undertones to them regardless of whether they are aware. One such decision maker is someone who comes from a privileged background incarceration of Black and Latino people, limited access to educational resources and political participation, state-sanctioned killings by police, and the psychological, emotional, and is taking into consideration other people’s lives over their own. These types of decisions are being micro aggressed toward our communities because no matter the intent, the end result can lead to different forms of racism and hate crimes that become ingrained into our society without us even realizing we are personally contributing to it. Moreover, this is usually perpetuated by stereotypes about members within specific communities who do not always get the same privileges as others in society meaning they must work harder for even basic rights like education, healthcare, and living conditions. It leads to us feeling alienated from society and unable to trust or rely on others for support when needed.
Systemic racism in Education
All one has to do is take a look at some of the issues surrounding education in this country and they will realize that there are serious problems that need to be addressed urgently if future generations are going to have any chance of not being disadvantaged versus their peers – especially African American students as they tend to fall behind very early on throughout some form of their childhood which then serves as an indicator for other aspects throughout time due to no fault of their own but rather because society happens to treat them differently.
As reported on Benjerry.com. ”It turns out that are much more likely to be suspended from preschool than White students. They make up 18% of all preschoolers, but represent almost 50% of all preschool suspensions. Compare that to white kids, who make up 43% of all preschool enrollment, yet represent 26% of those receiving suspensions.
Why is this happening? A recent study might shine some light on what’s going on. It found that Black boys as young as 10 are routinely perceived to be significantly older and less innocent, when compared to White boys of the same age. In our society, this suspicion of guilt follows people of color throughout their lives.
Sadly, you won’t be surprised to discover that the news doesn’t magically get better for K-12 kids. Let’s run through some of the data released by the US Department of Education in 2014:
- Black students represent 19% of students with disabilities—and a ridiculous 36% of those with disabilities who are restrained at school.
- When Black students and White students commit similar infractions, Black students are suspended and expelled three times more often than White students.
- Black students make up 16% of student enrollment, but represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to arrest. White students, on the other hand, make up 51% of enrollment, 41% of students referred to law enforcement, and 39% of those arrested.
I believe that we can make meaningful change and improve things over time. Obviously, it will not happen overnight, and it will not be easy. It means working together and approaching this issue from the grassroots. Voting to elect everyone from the dogcatcher all the way up to the President. City Council is approaching soon, and next year the big one, School Board. Yes, I said the School Board; it is one of the influential positions in our city. Time to elect someone that understands what it is like to deal with inequality and understands what regular people want and need.
In conclusion, due to space restraints, the length of my column is limited, hopefully I covered enough of the topic to open some eyes and inform the average reader. If you would like a follow-up article, leave a comment on our website or write a letter to the editor.