August 21, 2020

Examples show how systemic racism is a reality in our society

By Natalie Hoefer

In an interview with The Criterion, Indiana Catholic Conference executive director Angela Espada noted that when it comes to the struggles of Blacks, she hears phrases like, “They just need to work harder” and “Slavery ended a long time ago—they just need to get over it.”

“But systems have constantly put measures in place to prevent Black progress ever since slavery was abolished,” she said.

Systemic racism occurs when racial prejudice is combined with the misuse of power by social, economic, legal, educational and other systems. (Related story: Participants learn ‘to listen, learn, ask questions’ in anti-racism workshop)

While this article focuses on examples of systemic racism against Blacks, it exists for those of other races, ethnicities, nationalities and religions as well—a fact that will be addressed in a future “Racism and Religion” article.

Below are just a few examples that point to the reality of systemic racism against Blacks in the United States.

For more in-depth information, Espada recommends The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017) by Richard Rothstein, and Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (2020) by Isabel Wilkerson.

Housing

• The Federal Housing Administration was established in 1934. In it’s inception, it “subsidize[d] the development of suburbs on a condition that they be only sold to white families and that the homes in those suburbs had deeds that prohibited resale to African-Americans.”—Richard Rothstein, Economic Policy Institute Distinguished Fellow and author of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017) in a May 17, 2017, interview with Ari Shapiro on National Public Radio

• “Redlining” (banned in 1968) is defined by the Federal Reserve as “the practice of denying a credit-worthy applicant a loan for housing in a certain neighborhood … .” The term refers to maps created by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (established in 1933) with red lines around neighborhoods considered to be at high risk for defaulting on loans. Those seeking to buy a home in redlined neighborhoods were less likely to receive a housing loan. The redlined neighborhoods were predominately African American.—Rothstein, The Color of Law, p. 64

• The effects of redlining can still be seen: “Among lower- and middle-income households, white families have four times as much wealth as Black families and three times as much as Hispanic families. … To some degree, this reflects differences in home ownership rates among families—49% for lower-income whites, versus [roughly 30%] for lower-income blacks and ... Hispanics.”—Nov. 1, 2017, Pew Research Center analysis of data from Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances

Social Security

• “The Social Security Act of 1935 [originally] excluded from coverage about half the workers in the American economy. Among the excluded groups were agricultural and domestic workers—a large percentage of whom were African-Americans.”—Social Security Administration Bulletin Vol. 70 No. 4 2010

Economy

• “In 2016, the median wealth of white households was $171,000. That’s 10 times the wealth of black households ($17,100) … and eight times that of Hispanic households ($20,600).”—Nov. 1, 2017, Pew Research Center analysis of data from Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances

World War II GI Bill

• “While the GI Bill’s language did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, … the wide disparity in the bill’s implementation ended up helping drive growing gaps in wealth, education and civil rights between white and Black Americans. …

“Veterans who did qualify could not find facilities that delivered on the bill’s promise. Black veterans in a vocational training program at a segregated high school in Indianapolis were unable to participate in activities related to plumbing, electricity and printing because adequate equipment was only available to white students.” www.history.com, “How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans,”—Sept. 30, 2019

Education

• In the United States, “Nonwhite school districts [more than 75% non-white students] get $23 billion less than white districts [more than 75% white students] despite serving the same number of students. ... Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities, … this gap reflects both the prosperity divide in our country and the fragmented nature of school district borders. …

“Poor-white school districts receive about $150 less per student than the national average … . Yet they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor-nonwhite school districts.”—Feb. 2019 paper researched and published by the former non-profit EdBuild. †

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