The roots of racism run deep. They permeate our culture beyond the existence of racial slurs and persist regardless of our first black president. To see examples of systemic racism, you don’t even need to look far. If you have gone to school, lived in a house, had a job, or been to the doctor, you’ve likely been hurt or helped by institutional racism at some point in your life.
Institutional racism, or systemic racism, is defined as the pattern of social and political systems discriminating against a group of people based on race. If you’re wondering how a school or a bank or any “thing” or “system” can be racist, ask yourself who runs those “things” and “systems.” A government or any other institution is created and run by human beings. While a building or a document cannot itself hold prejudice or beliefs (on account of...they’re made of bricks and/or paper), human beings are more than capable of holding prejudicial beliefs, and in turn, creating systems that reflect those beliefs.
My “But slavery was abolished and hate crimes are illegal” senses are tingling; this is usually the part in the conversation where laws established or struck down are used as examples of why institutional racism can’t exist. If Equal Employment Opportunity Laws make it federally illegal, how can job discrimination based on race persist? Oh, sweet, naive, hypothetical question. Making something illegal doesn’t make it go away. If that were the case, murders would never happen and even if they did, they would all be solved and the victim brought justice. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but unsolved murders still very much exist. Like, there are whole basic cable channels dedicated to them.
The validity of institutional racism and whether it exists is a debate that is far from over. In September, Mike Pence criticized conversations on institutional racism, claiming those comments calling out systemic bias are what is actually creating division throughout the country. In his statement about the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, Pence said, “We ought to set aside this talk, this talk about institutional racism and institutional bias.” Before a problem can be solved, we need to acknowledge and agree on the fact that problem exists. There is disagreement at the highest level of our government about the existence of institutional racism.
Institution racism is real. Systemic bias exists. Here are just seven examples of how our systems treat people of color differently — and how it shows that institutional racism is still a very real problem.
1Black people are 12 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of drug-related crimes than white people.
A new study on wrongful convictions shows how the justice system disproportionately affects black people. The study found that among three types of crimes (murder, sexual assault, and drug crimes) black people were consistently more likely to be wrongfully convicted. In addition to the above stat on drug-related offenses, the study found black people serving time for sexual assault were three and a half times more likely to be innocent than white people. Despite making up 13 percent of the US population, African Americans made up 47 percent of the exonerations studied.
Systemic racism even exists in the way drug problems are discussed politically. The “War on Drugs” was a response to the crack problem primarily affecting black communities. That’s a stark difference from “Opioid Epidemic,” which is how the prescription drug problem primarily affecting white communities is being discussed.
Check out this video on institutional racism from MTV’s Decoded in which Franchesca Ramsey talks more about the racial disparity in our laws and language.
258 percent of prisoners are black or Hispanic, despite making up one quarter of the U.S. population.
The way the justice system disproportionately affects people of color goes beyond wrongful convictions. The above statistic comes from the NAACP’s criminal justice fact sheet, which also mentions that in 2001 one in six black men had been incarcerated at some point in their lifetime. Overall, black people are incarcerated at six times the rate of white people.
Ava DuVernay’s film 13th examines the way the criminal justice system disproportionately affects black people, specifically as it relates to the 13th amendment which abolished slavery. As the trailer points out, the language in the amendment makes an exception for criminals. If you haven’t already, watch the Oscar-nominated 13th on Netflix and learn about how race and mass incarceration are deeply intertwined in the United States.
313 percent of all black men are denied the right to vote.
The disproportionate incarceration rates have an impact beyond time spent in jail. Because people convicted of felonies are not allowed to vote in many states, more than one out of every 10 black men cannot participate in one of the cornerstones of our democracy.
Check out the above video on incarceration rates and systemic racism from Race Forward. In about a minute, host Jay Smooth shows four ways the prison system more directly impacts black people. Race Forward's full video series on systemic racism is a couple years old but still very relevant to the kind of racism that pervades our society and culture today. Check it out in full here.
474 percent of black students and 80 percent of Latino students attend schools that are more than half-minority populations.
Brown versus Board did not solve the racial injustices in our education system. In fact, many school are more segregated now than they were in the the '50s and '60s. The above statistic matters because it shows in numbers the lack of integration among white students and students of color. The “resegregation” of schools has been widely discussed as of late. PBS publishes these infographics on school segregation. ProPublica examined resegregation in the south. NPR ran a series on systemic segregation that highlights how integration helps students of every race.
Racial bias is especially prevalent in the way schools discipline student of color versus white students. Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students. This especially affects female students of color, as they are “suspended at higher rates than girls of any other race or ethnicity and most boys.”
The above video on institution racism in schools from the National Education Association touches on a broader issue at hand: the segregation of our schools is widely a result of the segregation of our cities.
5In 2013, the unemployment rate for black college grads was almost twice as high as the rate for grads overall.
In a 2014 study on employment rates among recent graduates, 12.4 percent of black college graduates were unemployed. That is significantly more than the 5.6 percent of overall college graduates who were unemployed. As the study states, the recent recession impacted all college graduates. However, it was disproportionately difficult on black college graduates.
One factor that may contribute to disproportionate unemployment is the way our culture still discriminates against names that don’t sound white. Studies have shown that a job applicant with a name that “sounds black” is less likely to get called in for an interview than a job applicant with a white-sounding name.
6Asian American homebuyers are shown 20 percent fewer homes than white homebuyers.
Systemic racism/segregation/exclusionary covenants in housing has done deep, lasting damage. Not "just one of those things." #debates— Jared Bernstein (@econjared) September 27, 2016
In a 2012 report by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, racial bias in the housing market was evidenced by the rate at which homebuyers were shown available housing. The report found that renters and homebuyers of color were shown and told about less homes white homebuyers. Attitudes about living in more segregated areas likely play into this disparity in rates. In a 2008 study on racial attitudes, only 25 percent of white respondents would be willing to live in a neighborhood where half of their neighbors were black.
The practice of redlining still exists, which involves denying funding or services based on the racial demographics of an area. Just this month, AT&T was accused of discriminating against low-income neighborhoods.
7White families hold 90 percent of the national wealth. Black and Latino families combined hold less than five percent.
Inequality in schools and the job market as well as other racial biases compound to create a great disparity in the distribution of wealth. A 2013 survey from the Federal Reserve showed that the top 10 percent of white families own pretty much everything. This works out to mean the median net worth of white families is $134,000. That’s almost ten times higher than $14,000 for Hispanic families and $11,000 for black families.
These disparities are overwhelming when you see them compiled in a list. Even more so when you experience them every day. But like with any other problem, the first step is acknowledging there is something wrong. Once we do that, we can start fixing these systems so they truly help all people.