Written by Maria Rivera, Julie Pouvait and Kamissa Ba.
The American Dream sounds like a fraud once you dive into the topic of systemic racism in the United States. The term “systemic racism,” first known as “institutional racism,” was coined in 1967, but it has always existed. Nevertheless, many of us are still unfamiliar with the concept. The recent protests that happened after George Floyd’s murder brought this issue into light. However, it has been difficult for many people to acknowledge systemic racism as a real problem. American institutions maintain a structural racism which creates racial inequalities between minorities and the dominant and privileged population. This structural racism can be seen in the unequal access to social institutions such as healthcare, justice and homeownership. Systemic racism is a form of discrimination much more complicated and difficult to notice, particularly if you are not directly affected. That is why it is crucial to educate and bring awareness to this subject, in order to tear this system down.
Wealth and Health Gaps
The great income gap between White and African American families is an example of the continued systemic racism in the United States. According to the 2019 U.S. Census, African Americans makeup 13.4% of the population and 76.3% are White Americans1. The 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances shows a great disparity between their incomes. White American families averaged a median net worth of $188,200, compared to African American families, who averaged $24,1002. These high gaps are also seen with other ethnicities. For example, the average net worth of Hispanic families was $36,1003. This gap in income reflects the lack of employment opportunities for minority groups. Additionally, this reflects the racial inequality in employment. This has been the case through history, a clear indicator of white supremacy.
Unequal access to healthcare is another issue that falls into the wealth gap. Research on Covid-19 deaths, by APM Research Lab, shows that African Americans have the highest death tolls, followed by Native Americans and Hispanics. For example, the data shows that there were 123.7 per 100,000 of African Americans who died from Covid; whereas, White Americans had 75.7 deaths per 100,0004. When looking at these numbers, it makes you question the reasons behind them. How much access to quality healthcare do minorities have and how much are they deprived of it due to their race? How many of them can even afford good quality healthcare? Why do the numbers always point to the same affected racial groups? These numbers reflect the impact of systemic racism on health.
The criminal justice system is one of the institutions where racism is the most conspicuous. A blatant example is the police brutality that Black people are facing in the country. The recent death of George Floyd has added one name on the devastatingly long list of Black people who were murdered by the police. A study made in 2019 shows that Black men are 2.5 times more likely than White men to be killed by the police5. It goes in hand with the ongoing issue of racial profiling performed by police forces. Stop-and-frisk data shows that 90 percent of the people stopped were either Black or Hispanic and only 3 percent of these interventions actually produce any evidence of a crime6.
Racial prejudice is also apparent within the enforcement of justice. In general, black people face longer sentences than white people for the same offenses. Regarding the death penalty, there is a significant bias according to the race of the victim. If the victim is black, the killer rarely gets the death penalty. However, a black man who kills a white woman is the type of murder most likely to bring a death sentence. Finally, while in jail, black prisoners, especially black women, have higher risks to be held in solitary confinement7. All these numbers prove that the justice system remains overwhelmingly biased. A significant progress could emerge through the reform of this system established during the Jim Crow era8.
Finally, systemic racism affects homeownership. More than 50 years after the Fair Housing Act was passed (1968), it is still difficult for a black person to buy a house in the United States. Owning a house grants certain advantages and privileges. However, Black people have limited access to homeownership. Even though the Fair Housing Act forbids refusal for selling or renting because of race, sex, color, disability or national origins, black people still face discrimination when acquiring a house. A 2019 Newsday report showed that Black and Hispanic people are discriminated against by real estate agents in the Long Island, New York area, who ask colored people financial qualifications different from those of white people. Furthermore, individuals may or may not have access to some neighborhoods if they are colored. Some districts are excluded from the options given to African Americans when looking to buy a house9.
Chris Herbert, managing director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass confessed to The Washington Post “systemic racism leads to lower rates of education and lower incomes among blacks, which in turn leads to lower credit scores and a lack of savings”10. Because of years of discrimination and unlawful policies, a black person still has less chances to purchase a home than a white person because of their financial background. In addition, most white people can count on their savings to buy a house. On the contrary, African Americans are less likely to have savings; thus, buying a house is harder. The University of Utah and Indiana University found “that black families pay 13 percent more in property taxes than a white family in a similar home”11. Black families struggle to pay their loans, because most of them have been the target of subprime lenders. Additionally, with the 2007 subprime crisis, black households have had to face foreclosures more than white households12. Therefore, it is not surprising that, according to the U.S Census Bureau, Black Americans have the lowest rate of homeownership than any other communities. In the second quarter of 2019, 40.6% of black people owned a house compared to 73.7% for White people13. Even though the rate had increased during the second quarter of 2020, some fear that the gap between black and white homeownership will keep growing because of unemployment and the financial impact of the pandemic.
In conclusion, it is clear that systemic racism is a prevalent issue in the United States, holding it back as a society. It is like a disease the country has yet to cure. By bringing awareness we believe that systemic racism could be eventually stopped. We believe the role of education plays a big part: children need to be educated about the history of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, outside of only one history month. The flaws in the US educational system is one of the reasons why racism remains a raging issue in the institutions of America. Another call for change would be to give room for people of color in these very institutions. More Black, Native American, Hispanic and Asian people should be given opportunities to be employed, hold more leadership roles, and own property. In short, achieving the improvement and elevation African Americans have fought for years and finally holding up to the American dream.
1 « U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States, » United States Census Bureau, |PAGE|, accessed December 16, 2020, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219#qf-headnote-b)
2 Neil C. Bhutta et al., « Disparities in Wealth by Race and Ethnicity in the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, » Federal Reserve, September 28, 2020, |PAGE|, accessed December 16, 2020, https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/notes/feds-notes/disparities-in-wealth-by-race-and-ethnicity-in-the-2019-survey-of-consu mer-finances-20200928.htm)
4 « COVID-19 Deaths Analyzed by Race and Ethnicity, » APM Research Lab, |PAGE|, accessed December 16, 2020, https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race)
5 Edwards, Frank, Hedwig Lee, and Michael Esposito. « Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race–ethnicity, and Sex. » PNAS. August 20, 2019. Accessed December 17, 2020. https://www.pnas.org/conte nt/116/34/16793?source=post_page—–1a2ce329f8e0———————-
6 Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Dubious Math Behind Stop and Frisk.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 24 July 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/the-dubious-math-behind-stop-and-frisk/278065/.
7Balko, Radley. “Opinion | There’s Overwhelming Evidence That the Criminal Justice System Is Racist. Here’s the Proof.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 10, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/opinions/systemic-racism-police-evidence-criminal-justice-system/.
8 Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local laws that legalized racial segregation. They were enacted in the 19th century and lasted until 1968.
9 Classicalycourt, « Why the Homeownership Gap between White and Black Americans Is Larger Today than It Was over 50 Years Ago, » CNBC, August 21, 2020, |PAGE|, accessed December 16, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/21/why-the-homeownership-gap-between-white-and-black-americans-is-larger-today-than-it-was -over-50-years-ago.html)
10 Michele Lerner, « One Home, a Lifetime of Impact, » The Washington Post, July 23, 2020, |PAGE|, accessed December 16, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/23/black-homeownership-gap/?arc404=tru)
1111 Michele Lerner, « One Home, a Lifetime of Impact, » The Washington Post, July 23, 2020, |PAGE|, accessed December 16, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/23/black-homeownership-gap/?arc404=tru)
13 United States Census, « Quarterly Residential Vacancies and Homeownership, Third Quarter 2020, » news release, October 27, 2020, United States Census Bureau, accessed December 16, 2020, https://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/files/currenthvspress.pdf)
Balko, Radley. “Opinion | There’s Overwhelming Evidence That the Criminal Justice System Is Racist. Here’s the Proof.” The Washington Post. WP Company, June 10, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/opinions/systemic-racism-police-eviden ce-criminal-justice-system/.
Bhutta, Neil C., Andrew J. Chang, Lisa W. Dettling, and Joanne Undefined Hsu. « Disparities in Wealth by Race and Ethnicity in the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances. » Federal Reserve. September 28, 2020. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/notes/feds-notes/disparities-in-wealth-by-race-an d-ethnicity-in-the-2019-survey-of-consumer-finances-20200928.htm.
Classicalycourt. « Why the Homeownership Gap between White and Black Americans Is Larger Today than It Was over 50 Years Ago. » CNBC. August 21, 2020. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/21/why-the-homeownership-gap-between-white-and-blac k-americans-is-larger-today-than-it-was-over-50-years-ago.html.
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “The Dubious Math Behind Stop and Frisk.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 24 July 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/the-dubious-math-behind-stop-and-frisk/2 78065/.
« COVID-19 Deaths Analyzed by Race and Ethnicity. » APM Research Lab. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race.
Edwards, Frank, Hedwig Lee, and Michael Esposito. « Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race–ethnicity, and Sex. » PNAS. August 20, 2019. Accessed December 17, 2020. https://www.pnas.org/content/116/34/16793?source=post_page—–1a2ce329f8e0———- ————.
Lerner, Michele. « One Home, a Lifetime of Impact. » The Washington Post. July 23, 2020. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/23/black-homeownership-gap/?arc40 4=tru.
United States Census. « Quarterly Residential Vacancies and Homeownership, Third Quarter 2020. » News release, October 27, 2020. United States Census Bureau. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.census.gov/housing/hvs/files/currenthvspress.pdf.
« U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: United States. » United States Census Bureau. Accessed December 16, 2020. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/PST045219#qf-headnote-b.