What is structural racism? What is systemic racism and oppression? Here are some concrete examples. (My current understanding is that the use of the term Black instead of African American, is now considered more inclusive and therefore more appropriate.)
- For centuries White communities didn’t allow Black people to buy property and historically more recently would only let Blacks rent. That prevented Black people from being able to build wealth and pass it on to their children. Gentrification and urban renewal projects still today often push out Black people who do own their own homes. Sometimes people are promised that they can return to renovated areas, but when it comes time for them to move back in, banks deny them loans—as happened during urban renewal in downtown Gainesville, Georgia.
- When White people in Tulsa burnt down, bombed, destroyed Black Wall Street—the wealthiest and most influential Black community in the country—AND killed about 300 Black citizens. This action was a direct attack on Black peoples’ accumulation of wealth, power, and influence.
- Efforts to prevent Black people from voting—from lynching Black people trying to vote and Jim Crow laws—to Georgia’s recent fiasco–this June 2020 primary with 4-6 hour lines to vote, defective voting machines, inadequate numbers of voting machines and machines delivered last minute, inadequately trained poll workers and lack of poll workers, failure to mail out absentee ballots, failure to provide Democratic paper ballots at polling places, failure to even provide an ETA of when Democratic ballots would arrive last minute at voting places after machines had failed. These problems were concentrated in largely Black voting areas.
- Communities where Blacks and people of color, (such as Latinx and Native Americans,) live are much more frequently polluted because corporations look for communities without political power to locate their factories, junkyards, air-water-soil pollution, noise pollution, dumping of toxic waste including radioactive nuclear waste, etc. These kinds of pollution over time cause increased rates of cancers, lung disease, respiratory diseases, miscarriages, stillbirths, nongenetically predisposed bipolar mental illnesses, nongenetic schizophrenia, lupus, thyroid, and many other diseases. This is called environmental racism. These environmentally devastated communities are called “sacrifice zones” by environmental groups like the Sierra Club. These sacrifice zones are needed by corporations to locate factories that pollute air, water, and soil (even often injecting pollution into the ground underneath the factories). Corporations depend on racism and poverty to segregate people based on race and money—which creates communities without political power that they can exploit to locate factories that Whites don’t want, create dumping zones, and exploit natural resources through mining, fracking, etc. It’s true that low income Whites also live in many of these areas—but the percentage of Blacks and People of Color (POC) living in these areas is much higher–and they suffer negative health effects, diseases, and death.
- Flint, Michigan’s failure to provide clean water to mostly Black residents.
- Lower numbers of bank loans to Blacks, women, and People of Color.
- Fewer small business loans during COVID to Blacks, women and People of Color.
- More Blacks and People of Color dying of COVID due to a combination of the things on this list including living in air polluted areas, having to ride public transportation which creates more exposure, being an essential worker which creates greater risks of exposure, lower incomes, less access to medical care, lower quality of medical care, etc.
- In the face of higher death rates from COVID for Blacks and People of Color nationwide, many states have failed–neglected–to address these statistics and the contributing conditions. New York provides one model of ways to reduce death rates in communities of color. New York did the following: published the zip codes where high COVID rates were occurring so people would be informed and could take better precautions, collaborated with churches and local organizations to provide more education about COVID and prevention, brought in extra free PPE, dramatically increased testing sites in these areas, created dramatic daily cleaning schedules for subways, created a media campaign about wearing masks, and other measures.
- Lower wages, including nonliving minimum wages.
- Lower access to health care.
- Fewer grocery and other stores located in Black communities.
- Discrimination when it comes to hiring.
- Discrimination when it comes to White and mainstream media conceptions of “beauty”—this is changing.
- Products like makeup geared toward White skin colors—this is changing.
- Camera and video lighting that does not properly light darker skin tones—camera angles that are farther away from Black people.
- Under-representation of Blacks and People of Color in movies and TV–or exclusion, negative portrayals, or background roles.
- Racial profiling of Blacks and People of Color—meaning that Blacks are more often stopped for minor infractions or even for no reason at all.
- Police brutality and murder—as we have been seeing for centuries.
- Hate groups, white supremacy groups, Neo-Nazis, white militia groups, and other groups that terrorize Blacks in their communities, or on social media, or by being antagonists at legitimate citizen protests by Black people, or by direct violence or threats, and in many other ways. Despite the fact that these groups commit violent acts, terroristic threats, and even killings—they are still not officially designated as terrorist organizations—even though the FBI has been tracking them for decades.
- Violence toward Black people by White terrorist groups that are prosecuted as hate crimes instead of as terrorist crimes.
- States like Georgia that still don’t have a hate crime law.
- The U.S. signed the International Treaty Against Racism, but the U.S. excluded key points by refusing to sign onto the most important aspects of this treaty which involve banning hate speech and hate groups. The U.S. used freedom of speech as an excuse for failing to endorse these sections of the treaty—despite the fact that the U.S. HAS designated racist actions and speech in workplaces and other spaces as illegal.
- Black people receive more severe sentences for much less serious crimes compared to White people.
- Black people make up a much higher percentage of the prison system than White people.
- The U.S. education system is funded based on the county’s tax base instead of funds being divided evenly throughout the entire country. This means that in areas with more poverty, children do not receive the same amount of funding for their education that children living in more wealthy areas do–and these discrepancies are wide.
- Policing was originally created to prevent runaway slaves from getting away. Historically in the south, despite the fact that many police officers have sincere motives to serve the public, police forces have also historically had a contingent of men who were members of the KKK and/or who endorsed and enforced white supremacy. The excessive police brutality we are finally facing today has at least some of its roots in that history. Police immunity laws excessively protect police involved in brutality or murder. Police unions have often blocked needed reforms. Police too often cover for each other.
- Interlocking forces of racism, sexism, and classism.
- Media depictions of Black people is often negative. This is changing–however–even in the midst of these protests, I am reading mainstream media reports that fail to identify violent men in the protests as White—they are described as men—not “the suspect is a White male” (which is much more impersonal and less respectful)—even though mainstream media has for decades used language like “the suspect is a Black male.” —And this is the more mainstream or progressive media that is attempting to report accurately on the news. There is a whole group of media that calls itself news that is actually propaganda that is basically slandering people, including protestors, by lying, exaggerating violence, and making up fake stories (they are antifa) to try to discredit them for political purposes and purposes of creating a fake reality that is racist, sexist, favors the wealthy, and doesn’t care about human life.
- White culture has put pressure on Black people to make their hairstyles conform to White culture expectations and norms, for example in job interviews, schools, etc.
- Many White people refuse to acknowledge that Black lives have not mattered—and want to insist that “All Lives Matter” instead of admitting that the only reason that anyone would say something “matters,” is typically to explain why something should matter because it hasn’t mattered to anyone. Black people are saying Black Lives Matter—because they haven’t mattered to Whites or White culture, or White institutions—historically or currently.
- Lynching is STILL not against the law. Lynchings are still happening and typically police forces quickly call them suicides and fail to investigate properly. Recently a number of Black men have been found hanging from trees in several U.S. states–and again–the police quickly called them suicides and in some cases backtracked to investigate after public outcry. The seeming sudden increase in these hangings in the middle of a massive anti-racism/anti-police brutality nationwide movement is deeply disturbing. The anti-lynching movement in the U.S. was led by Ida B. Wells, a Black writer, suffragette, and a founding member of the NAACP.
- The for-profit prison industry has made racial profiling and excessive sentences for Blacks and People of Color even worse because the profit motive too often interferes with fair and appropriate justice–and too often, trivial instances are unnecessarily escalated into major incidents and even police brutality to the point of death.
- The fact that Black people historically needed to create a Green Book that mapped out safer travel routes for Blacks so they would not get lynched or attached by Whites—describes one way that White culture created a culture of fear for Blacks. This culture of fear regarding safe travel, safe agency, and safety just living while being Black still exists today in many ways—as one Black dad described on social media recently how he never takes a walk in his neighborhood without his dog and his daughter by his side–so that White people in his neighborhood see him as a dog-loving father instead of as a dangerous Black man walking around the neighborhood. Black people who are birders or nature photographers have written recently about how they bring a white colleague/friend with them or prominently display their photo equipment so that they are not seen as suspicious or dangerous. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging in the afternoon less than 2 miles from his home. Normal activities are experienced as risky for many Black people.
- White culture and institutions AS A WHOLE—if you take all these dynamics together—has created a culture of fear for Blacks and People of Color.
- There are Black people living today who remember seeing the bodies of “disappeared” Blacks that were thrown in to wells, lynched, chased and tracked with dogs, and many other forms of violence. The kind of historic violence that these families have seen—PLUS the violence of police brutality and murders, poverty, environmental racism—and all the other things on this list—all of this has the potential to create Post Traumatic Stress (PTSD) and trauma that isn’t just passed down intergenerationally—but actually continues from one generation to the next—because too many of these conditions have not actually CHANGED. They may have changed how they occur, but they are still occurring in different forms.
- Forms of intimidation like staring, racist jokes/slurs, racist graffiti and yard signs, Confederate flags and statues that don’t educate but rather glorify the past—all of these things contribute to the culture of fear, intimidation, and disrespect–that Blacks have been living in the midst of in the U.S. for centuries.
- The things listed in number 36 are the things that White people most often think we need to change because they are more obvious—and less substantive and don’t require us to give up much White privilege—and while they matter—they are not nearly as crucial as the kind of changes listed earlier in this list. People in general—but especially White people—think much more easily about individual change and personal relationships—rather than changes in laws, institutions, and the larger culture. Because we are not as negatively affected by structural and systemic racism, we don’t have to learn how to understand their impact as urgently as Blacks, People of Color, and White people living in poverty do. However, understanding structural and systemic oppression is crucial for all of us because it does negatively affect us all—albeit in different ways and to different degrees based on our differences like gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, age, ability, ethnicity, etc.
- Due to all these factors in this list, Blacks and People of Color actually have shorter lifespans than Whites do. This is fact. Not only does racism affect the quality of Black peoples’ lives–it affects how long people live.
- For all of the reasons on this list, climate change impacts Black people and communities of color more severely. In Hurricane Katrina Blacks were stranded on rooftops for horrifically long periods of time. Disaster responses in general go first to the wealthy and businesses—and are less responsive to Blacks and People of Color. Katrina is just one example.
- Racism (and sexism) have historically been used to mobilize White racist (and sexist) voters to support political candidates who have used code phrases like “states rights” for example to consolidate a voting block, particularly in the southern states of the U.S. These candidates, for example Nixon (and many others) have essentially run for office on a platform of racism which at times has been more subtle but at other times it has been more explicit. When White supremacists (who marched and were quite violent in Charlottesville a couple years ago—actually killing one woman,) were called “very fine people” by the current president—but Blacks and people of all colors protesting in the last month mostly peacefully were called “thugs” without any real acknowledgement of their concerns about the murder of George Floyd and many other Blacks—that is explicit racism. Responsible public officials (including at least three state governors,) made distinctions between the mostly peaceful protestors, looters, and White supremacist agitators who were violent, intimidating (carrying bats, guns, or other visible weapons,) incited violence, and some killed police. Racist politicians lumped these three very different groups of people all together and refused to acknowledge the real issues facing Blacks in our country. The fact that crooked politicians can mobilize large voting blocks by using racism to scapegoat Blacks and People of Color is evidence of systemic racism.
- White supremacist and racist/sexist voting blocks are needed in order for the corporate and wealthy elites to elect candidates who will support laws and appoint corporate-friendly people to head regulatory and other government agencies. Their racism and sexism is consistent with their elitist entitlement to wealth (although a small percentage of corporate elites are female and/or People of Color.) Most are White and male and subscribe to an ideology of White entitlement and over-riding, addictive greed. Their goal is for corporations to have fewer regulatory laws, pay less taxes, be freer to underpay employees and part-time workers with no benefits like health care, make laws that favor increasing their wealth, and be freer to exploit natural resources through activities like mining, oil, gas, fracking, coal, logging, pesticides, genetically modified foods, nuclear energy, bottling water they didn’t pay for, polluting water, polluting air with fine particulate matter that causes cancers and respiratory problems, soil pollution so they don’t have to pay for proper waste recycling, redirecting government money away from peoples’ needs (like healthcare) to pay for military equipment or other corporate projects, and so much more. These activities are harmful for all people, but much more so for Blacks and other People of Color who bear the worst consequences of these activities.
- This list is just examples. The list is not exhaustive.
- White middle-class mainstream culture tolerates these inequities–in part–by buying into cultural myths. Here are some of those false myths.
1. The only two economic models are capitalism and socialism. There are no other models, for example cooperatives and nonprofit-based societies.
2. There are not enough jobs or money to create an economy that supports every person and family truly adequately. Economic theory actually says that you can’t have full employment because it will cause inflation. This economic theory is inherently flawed–because no country should be built on the idea that some people just have to be poor.
3. Average people don’t deserve free money—for instance, a universal basic income for all people. It’s hard for people to accept the idea of bailouts for people because we feel we should earn it–but we allow massive bailouts and excessive greed of corporations.
4. People get what they earn—so if people are in poverty it’s because they didn’t work hard enough.
5. Change is too hard and it’s not fun to work for change so why try? —especially if it’s not affecting me that badly.
6. Racism was over when Blacks were able to vote.
7. Society is equal.
Some other factors:
8. Failure to research our opinions or seriously study issues. All opinions are not equal. Citizenship is a serious responsibility and that means researching and learning about issues that affect our country—including those Americans who are different from us. People regularly dismiss factual information based on years of research—and want to assert their right to their opinion based on 5 minutes of reading one article combined with their own limited life experiences and prejudices. All opinions are not equal. And opinions are not facts. People regularly dismiss facts that they don’t like as opinions. “There are still facts in this world”–to quote Gov. Cuomo.
9. Failure to research the funders of the articles we read and the funders of “news” organizations. Many of these supposed news agencies and think tanks are actually propaganda machines that are ACTUALLY funded by oil companies or billionaires. There are nonprofit sites that will tell you who funds what. Nonprofit news is often the most reliable—and less censored—IF it is funded mostly by small donations and not big corporate donors—and IF it’s not owned by a corporation or a corporate front organization.
10. Many people lack an understanding of how structures, laws, and societal systems and norms affect peoples’ lives–including our own. There is a persistent focus on individual actions rather than on institutions and societal structures. This is also largely because this is not taught in high school or college. For example, I took American history literally five times and NEVER was taught about the World Bank, the InterMonetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the G-8, the Bilderberg Group, transnational corporations—and SO VERY MANY other international organizations that profoundly affect our lives, families, and communities, through the policies they dream up and foist upon us.
11. There is a lack of awareness of racist and sexist, agist, etc. myths–and American/world history from the perspective of Native American, African American, and other people, women, and other groups.
12. There is an over-riding focus on personal and family happiness—rather than on informed citizenship and community happiness, responsibility, and well-being. Concern is sometimes extended to local communities and/or people of similar race, ethnicity, and economic status. Too often there is a lack of will to expand the circle of care and concern meaningfully to the greater good for ALL people.
13. There is an unwillingness to have our myths, rationalizations, and denial challenged. Unwillingness to listen, learn, and live in someone else’s shoes.
14. Informed citizenship is also impeded by the fact that in most families both people have to work to support a family, so people are stressed trying to stay afloat and have some quality fun time and memories with their families.
15. There is a lack of awareness and education about how the corporate structure impoverishes EVERY family and community. Instead we allow ourselves to be divided by Republican vs. Democrat–instead of realizing that the corporate structure perpetuates and breeds racism, sexism, and political division, etc. in order to divide us, make us fear the power of effective government, manipulate us into giving up real citizenship power, and exploit us and this country’s natural resources. The corruption in government comes from corporate infiltration of government positions–but effective government serves people, families, and communities–ALL people, families, and communities equally effectively. Effective government encourages love, trust, cooperation, celebration of diversity, equality, lifting up those communities and peoples that have been pushed down by investing resources and making things right, and the thriving of all people.