“Systemic racism is naming the process of white supremacy,”
– Glenn Harris, President of Race Forward
To white folks, it may seem like we’ve moved past racism in the liberal county of Marin. But rest assured, it’s alive and kicking. Of course, there’s overt racism that shows up in interpersonal interactions. But there’s another, more potent form of racism that doesn’t get nearly the attention it deserves: systemic racism.
Also known as institutional racism, systemic racism refers to the ways in which racial discrimination is built into the laws, policies, and practices of society and institutions. It shows up as unequal treatment or outright discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, education, and political representation. Because it is embedded in the operation of these established and respected structures, it is harder to spot than racism exhibited by individuals. Therefore, it receives far less public condemnation.
What does it look like?
Structural racism tilts the playing field so that it is more challenging for people of color to participate in society and in the economy. While structural racism manifests itself in separate institutions, factors like housing insecurity, the racial wealth gap, education and policing are all intertwined.
One of the most visible forms of systemic racism is in the criminal justice system. Studies have shown that Black Americans are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, and sentenced to prison compared to white Americans. According to the American Bar Association, “African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons at 5X the rate of whites… [and] face disproportionately harsh incarceration experiences as compared with prisoners of other races.” This is not due to a higher rate of criminal behavior among Black Americans. Rather, it’s due to the ways in which the criminal justice system targets people of color and especially Black folks from their first interaction with police through pleas, conviction, incarceration, release, and beyond.
Education is another area where systemic racism is prevalent. Due to residential segregation Black and Latino students are more likely to attend grossly underfunded, overcrowded schools and lack resources, which leads to lower academic achievement. This is not a coincidence but a result of discriminatory housing policies and school funding formulas that have been in place for decades.
Systemic racism in stats:
Systemic racism here in Marin
Higher stop rates combined with the higher rate of “no action” tends to suggest that deputies are more suspicious of Black people than white people.
How you can help:
Systemic racism is what people are talking about when they refer to racial minorities as being from “historically disadvantaged communities.” Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, home ownership, employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation was founded (and even before that time).
So what can a single individual like yourself do when the injustices are woven into the fabric of our society through laws, public policies and common practices?
“Tell me your zip code, I can tell you how healthy you are.”
-Dr. Robert Bullard, professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University
A term coined in 1982, environmental racism is a form of systematic racism whereby communities of color are disproportionately burdened with health hazards through policies and practices that force them to live in proximity to sources of toxic waste or pollutants such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads and emitters of airborne particulate matter. As a result, these communities suffer greater rates of health problems. Environmental racism is generally supported by a collection of official rules, regulations, common practices, policies and decisions made by a government or corporation that deliberately targets communities of color for “locally undesirable” land uses and lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws.
In other words, because the residents of these neighborhoods often have little political or financial clout, it’s far easier for companies and governments to dump hazardous chemical waste or put a heavily polluting freeway there than in your typical white neighborhood.
What does it look like?
Environmental racism was first noticed in the late 1970s, after residents of a Black middle-class neighborhood in Houston, Texas, received the unwelcome news that their little corner of the city would be the future home of a solid-waste dump. “Why here and not somewhere else?” they wondered. So they looked into it and discovered that even though only 25% of the city’s population was Black, 14 of the 17 industrial waste sites (82%) were in Black neighborhoods.
It’s a well-established pattern that systematically harms communities of color.
There are thousands of examples in the Bay Area
How you can help
The “Right To Health,” defined as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” is written into the World Health Organization’s founding document as a basic human right. It further asserts that the “Right To Health” is for all people WITHOUT distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition. Fixing the problem of environmental racism is the moral and ethical thing to do.