Systematic racism has been a topic of hot debate, thrust into the spotlight during the 2020 protest and riots following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a White police officer. This sparked international outrage over the treatment of People of Color, especially Black people, in the United States and even in other nations. While some hold that systematic racism is made up and does not happen in modern America, there is data and statistical evidence to support the personal stories of thousands of Black Americans; Systematic racism is real and prevalent in modern society.
What is Systematic Racism?
Before we get too far into this overview of the data on systematic racism, we have to first define what it is.
In a nutshell: Systematic racism is the systematic oppression of a group of people, meaning that politics, economics, justice, or any system is loaded against a certain population. It does not mean that a member in this group cannot achieve success, wealth, fame, etc; It does not mean that everyone who is not systematically oppressed has an easy life, and it does not mean that every person (or even the majority) of the more privileged group is prejudice or cruel, it simply means that the way a system was created and the way a system continues to function has made it so that one or several groups have an inherent disadvantage.
Probably the aspect of systematic racism that has received the most attention has been how the criminal and justice systems arrest and prosecute POC Americans. When George Floyd was killed, an officer knelt on his neck during an arrest until he suffocated, despite his repeated asking for help. This and other instances have brought light to the disparities between the treatment of White and Black offenders.
One example of oppression in the justice system is that Black and Latino people are more likely to be stopped, searched, and arrested for drugs than White people, despite similar offense rates. According to a Los Angeles Times study, 24% of Black people in pulled-over cars were searched, as opposed to 16% of Latinos and 5% of White people. Also, Black men have a 1 in 1000 chance of being killed by the police. While this may seem like a small number, it is 2.5 times more than White men.
Furthermore, while Black Americans comprise only 13.4% of the population, they make up 47% of those wrongfully convicted and 35% of those sentenced to the death penalty. According to Shasta Inman of the American Bar Association, “African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at five times the rate of whites. Black men face disproportionately harsh incarceration experiences as compared with prisoners of other races. Racial disparities are also noticeable with Black youth, as evidenced by the school-to-prison pipeline and higher rates of incarceration for Black juveniles.”
Poverty and Economics
Systematic Racism does not only affect criminal dealings, however. Black and Hispanics have a significantly reduced income as compared to White and Asian Americans. As reported by Valerie Wilson in the Environmental Policy Institute, “The official poverty measure understates poverty among Hispanics (the 2019 SPM rate is 18.9% vs. 15.7% by the official poverty measure), Asians (11.7% vs. 7.3%), and non-Hispanic whites (8.2% vs. 7.3%), while the measures produce relatively similar rates for African Americans (18.3% vs. 18.7%).”
According to a study by the Boston branch of NPR (WBUR,) Black Americans are more than 3x as likely as White Americans to be denied a mortgage loan, while Hispanics are 2x as likely. The Massachusetts study found that Black and Latino loan applicants were denied loans at higher rates than White applicants, even when adjusting for the borrower’s income, debt, and other factors (Enwemeka.)
While POC Americans face difficulties getting a loan to purchase a home, they also struggle to sell those homes. Studies have found that many houses may sell for less when they are owned by Black Americans. For example, one Black Texas couple was disappointed when their house was appraised for less than they thought it was worth. When they went back to have an appraisal done again, they had one of their White friends show the house, removing all family photos. It was appraised by almost half a million dollars more (Johns.) While this is one example, there have been many cases of such discrimination, and many families of color have started “whitewashing” their homes to be able to sell them for more. In other words, removing photographs, cultural art, or any other mementos that may indicate to potential buyers of the house that the house is owned by a POC family (Johns.)
And the issues faced by Black and Latin Americans do not start in adulthood. Many studies have found that prejudice starts young. Schools with 90+% students of color spend $733 less a year on each student than those with 90+% White students. Black and Hispanic students are both more likely to be expelled and more likely to be in prison, a phenomenon known as the ‘school to prison pipeline’ referred to earlier in this article. According to Education Next, “Research shows that completing more years of school reduces subsequent criminal activity, as does enrolling in a higher-quality school and graduating from high school. Yet there is little evidence on the mechanisms by which a school can have a long-run influence on criminal activity…Our findings show that early censure of school misbehavior causes increases in adult crime—that there is, in fact, a school-to-prison pipeline. Further, we find that the negative impacts from strict disciplinary environments are largest for minorities and males, suggesting that suspension policies expand pre-existing gaps in educational attainment and incarceration.”
Educational racial disparities exist in the college world as well. The race with the highest college enrollments was Asians, with 58% of them enrolled, vs. only 36% of Black college-aged people. However, due to efforts to increase diversity in college enrollment, Black Americans are actually more likely to receive scholarships. 88% of Black college students get scholarships, as opposed to 77% of White students. Black students also tend to receive higher Pell grants and loans.
While the ethics of riots and the proportion to which POC Americans are oppressed are both debatable topics, the existence of racism (beyond just that one neighbor down the road who sneaks out in a suspicious pointy white hat at night) is not a feeling, it is a fact. As Americans, no matter our individual race or ethnicity, we must work together to fight injustice to create a more equal nation for everyone.
Bacher-Hicks, Andrew, et al. “Proving the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” Education Next, 16 Dec. 2021, www.educationnext.org/proving-school-to-prison-pipeline-stricter-middle-schools-raise-risk-of-adult-arrests/.
Balko, Radley. “Opinion | There's Overwhelming Evidence That the Criminal Justice System Is Racist. Here's the Proof.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 10 June 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/opinions/systemic-racism-police-evidence-criminal-justice-system/#Policing.
Enwemeka, Zeninjor, et al. “Black and Hispanic People Are More Likely to Be Denied Mortgage Loans in Boston.” WBUR News, WBUR, 30 Mar. 2022, www.wbur.org/news/2022/03/30/home-loans-mortgages-boston-denials.
“Indicator 19: College Participation Rates.” Indicator 19: College Participation Rates, nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rea.asp#:~:text=In%202016%2C%20the%20total%20college,Alaska%20Native%20(19%20percent).
“Indicator 22: Financial Aid.” Indicator 22: Financial Aid, nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rec.asp#:~:text=Higher%20percentages%20of%20Black%20(88,and%20Asian%20(66%20percent).
Inman, Shasta N. “Racial Disparities in Criminal Justice.” Americanbar.org, American Bar Association, www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/publications/after-the-bar/public-service/racial-disparities-criminal-justice-how-lawyers-can-help/.
Johns, Joe, and Nicole Chavez. “A Black Couple Had a White Friend Show Their Home and Its Appraisal Rose by Nearly Half a Million Dollars.” CNN, Cable News Network, 10 Dec. 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/12/09/business/black-homeowners-appraisal-discrimination-lawsuit/index.html.
“K-12 Disparity Facts and Statistics.” UNCF, 20 Mar. 2020, uncf.org/pages/K-12-Disparity-Facts-and-Stats?gclid=CjwKCAjw_ISWBhBkEiwAdqxb9iy9L7xZJyJ4d-PmalsAdQGZWrnQJrcDfsQsXrp3O_VUofADHC48IxoCKsEQAvD_BwE.
Wilson, Valerie. “Racial Disparities in Income and Poverty Remain Largely Unchanged amid Strong Income Growth in 2019.” Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org/blog/racial-disparities-in-income-and-poverty-remain-largely-unchanged-amid-strong-income-growth-in-2019/?gclid=CjwKCAjw_ISWBhBkEiwAdqxb9nzyuMojz904S1tJBOM0Zps-5_AAz0lMMfDxEC5obb8U-sZqdmhMZRoCsHgQAvD_BwE.