Systemic Racism: Myths of Racial Inequality

The general public is not equipped to address concerns involving racial injustices and socioeconomic policies. Available research has shown that much of the myths that surround systemic-racism have been unjustifiably propagated by conservative think-tanks. These political groups work to minimize the historic and ongoing systemic issues of race and inequality in keeping with their conservative base. They’ll refer to the narrative of the ‘Black on Black crime rate’ or how violent crime impacting communities of color goes under-reported. And, they’ll openly criticize the economic hardship of POC as a fault in self-character. We will look at these problems as being symptomatic of deeper issues rooted in systemic racism and uneducated voters. The United States perpetuates a social-philosophy of a meritocracy – which values the virtues of self-reliance, personal gain, and independence. However, these ideas preserve the false-narrative that perpetuates the harsh sentiments of POC as being irresponsible and uncivilized. Using unbiased data from several academic sources, we can hopefully dispel some of these myths here. We will also cite historical facts of racist legislation that created these generational poverty traps.

Reporting Bias & Correlation of Events

The axe forgets, but the tree remembers.”

African Proverb

1. The United States is a Republic, and as such, public opinion is important in matters of state, legislation, and election. The ignorance of voters is the singular quality that perpetuates racial inequality and inequities in our country. It was the political philosopher John Stuart Mill, who taught that people have a duty to educate themselves on who they elect as representatives of the state. Because our choices will undoubtedly affect the lives of others. What contributes most to voter ignorance is centered around problems with public opinion, reporting bias, and political framing. We’ll discuss a few examples here.

i. Conservatives have popularized the myth that Black victimization goes mostly ignored by the media and progressive advocates, an assumption which has never been proven. According to an NCBI study published in 2010, there is no consistent data to show any racial bias in reporting crimes. This could possibly mean that there needs to be more research done, but from the available data we have, its results are inconclusive (Bjornstrom, E. E., Kaufman, R. L., Peterson, R. D., & Slater, M. D., 2010).

ii. It’s hard to make any progress with race and inequality when the ignorance of the privileged demographic is self-imposed. According to a 2019 Gallop poll, race & inequality is still a bipartisan chasm between racial demographics. The Gallop poll reported that 67% of White people believe Black people have equal job opportunities, compare that to Black people at 30%. Additionally, when surveyed 15% of White people viewed race relations in the United States as a problem, which is significantly less than the 45% of Black people who reported the same (M. Younis; Gallop poll, 2019).

iii. Black Unemployment Rate? Politicians love to frame issues as either positive or negative. Take for instance President Trumps State of the Union address, and how he clamors over the Black & Latino low-unemployment rate of 2018. The false dichotomy here is framed as having a high or lower unemployment rate can accurately determine economic growth and recovery. In truth, having a low unemployment rate does not solve the poverty rate. Because simply referring to an increase in jobs does not guarantee that its populace is not considered working-poor (A. Stevens;, 2018). It’s also not uncommon for the working-poor to report having 2–3 jobs whilst still struggle with financial stability. In 2019, an analysis by the Brookings Institute found that 53 million American workers ages 18 to 64, (44% of laborers), earn barely a living wage (4). (M. Ross, N. Bateman; Brookings Institute, 2019).

There should be a separate conversation about workers earning a living wage and taxing corporations who outsource jobs. Economics is an incredibly complex subject that requires careful analysis. The way some politicians frame issues like these are sometimes meant to present a false narrative to increase consumer spending; Keynesian stimulus policies are like this. There pushed more by politicians because rather than the government spending its money to recover a failing economy they instead try to rally its consumers; but I digress.

iv. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) Black people commit more violent crimes at a higher rate than White offenders. — (Objection) There are conflicting data reports on the specific causes of criminal behavior. The study of criminal behavior requires a complex metric; more than what a simple report can provide. It requires an in-depth analysis looking at comparative data and the competing sociological schools of thought. In 2011, an article entitled Sociological Theories of Crime and Delinquency was published by D. Zembroski. It gives a detailed summarization of some of the most popular sociological schools of thought on criminal behavior. Some of the competing theories can range from Edwin Sutherland’s differential association, on how criminal behavior is learned through abject-association, to Richard K. Merton’s strain theory, on how structural & economic disadvantages may pressure citizens to commit a crime, etc. (D. Zembroski; Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 2011). These viewpoints, while eclectic, help explain criminal behavior through the use of several different metrics. When considering what affects criminal behavior we must factor in comparative data, such as nurturance of family. Consider the fact that 67% of Black adolescence live in single-parent homes compared to 23% of the general population (A. E. Casey Foundation, 2011; U.S. Census Bureau, 2009). Using comparative analysis, studies show us that the generational breakdown of Black youths, and single-parent homes, plays a major role in influencing negative behavioral tendencies (Parent, J., Jones, D. J., Forehand, R., Cuellar, J., & Shoulberg, E. K. 2013).

The important take away here is that the claim that “Black people commit more crime” is only a partial explanation. It does not explain other key environmental and behavioral factors that may influence that data. This is a fallacy referred to as the third cause fallacy. It’s a type of correlation fallacy in which the correlation between two variables is confused with its causality without considering other determining factors. Let’s use another statistical phenomenon. According to the World Health Organization South Korea ranks the 10th highest in the world in terms of suicide rates (2016). It would make a silly argument to say, “Well it’s because they’re East Asian!”. We have to look at other determining factors that explain this event. Research has found that in 90% of S. Korean suicides, stress and anxiety, were contributing factors. S. Korea has generated a lot of wealth and economical development but it is also heavily technocratic. The value of education, job opportunity, and good grades are weighed above mental health and wellness. These high expectations often lead to depression and substance abuse. Consider the fact that this small country is also the leading consumer of hard liquor in the world, according to Euromonitor International. (A. Singh; The Scourge of South Korea: Stress and Suicide in Korean Society, 2017). These are all valid explanations that help determine what’s really causing this deadly phenomenon in S. Korea. But notice how a racist claim was not a causal explanation in this example nor any other. Racist claims are nothing more than hate-fueled rhetoric that contain no explanatory power.

v. But we elected a Black Attorney General/President? In psychology and marketing there is a term known as the ‘moral licensing effect‘. As humans we sometimes use past good deeds to justify immoral behaviors. You may have heard someone say that they “have Gay or Black friends”, while committed to homophobic and racist positions. In an article on automated racist behaviors, published in Psychology Today, helps describe this phenomenon by showing how unconscious thought can drive us towards racist behavior and justification (B. Brogaard, D.E. Gatzia; The Many Faces of Racism, 2020).

Systemic Racism & Breakdown of Families

2. The fact that we see POC in poorer neighborhoods is by no accident of fate. In the United States historical legislation existed for decades that helped create this socio-economic racial divide. Ever since the publication of the Moniyhan report of 1965, there has been increased discussion surrounding the negative consequences of the breakdown of marriage rates of Black families. And racial legislation has been pushed for decades giving resources towards that agenda, with strict regulations that keep POC & their families separated.

i. The Man-in-the-House rules in the 1960s, would not permit welfare recipients from obtaining benefits if there was a man in the house. These laws separated generations of Black families by forcing the father to move out of the house. While officially no longer implemented, similar rules that resemble Man-in-the-House exist in counties like Los Angeles. The Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACOLA), has strict rules for Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) tenants, against having any unauthorized guests. The HACOLA strictly enforces these regulations through constant monitoring by police and social workers. These HCV families have reported disassociating themselves from friends and relatives for fear of eviction (R. Kurwa; Housing Policy Debate, 2020).

ii. In 1946, Racial Restrictive Covenant Laws made racial mixing among certain communities (Whites) illegal. A 1946 report by the Civil Civic Community defined Racial Restrictive Covenants as: “agreements entered into by a group of property owners, sub-division developers, or real estate operators in a given neighborhood, binding them not to sell, lease, rent or otherwise convoy their property to specified groups because of race, creed or color for a definite period unless all agree to the transaction.” (3). (C. Silva; University of Washington/The Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, 2009).

iii. The National Housing Act (NHA) was part of FDR New Deal that allowed the Federal Housing Commissioners to create restrictions on home loans based on location and racial prejudice. This created a ‘color-coded’ map of areas that were denied home loans. The practice was known as redlining. The Black communities were all colored in red if you were curious (T. Gross;, 2017).

The Bootstrapping Myth Explained

3. The idea of bootstrapping or rag to riches narrative is still a prevalent ideology in the United States. It’s a concept that originated in the 19th century. It could be more associated with the Declaration of Independence, decrying that “all men are created equal”. While bootstrapping may be held up as an idealism it is not practical in terms of affecting economics nor public policy. It also ignores the social barriers that stagnate social mobility which create poverty traps — a generational life-cycle that struggles to escape poverty due to underlying social factors. If you have a ‘rag to riches story‘ then please understand that you are considered an outlier. Most of the data will show how your story is still statistically ‘unlikely‘. We like to uphold equality of opportunity, but then ignore equality of outcome, equality of condition, and equality of results.

i. Studies have shown that the cycle of poverty is based on factors beyond a person’s control. Black and colored communities are some of the worst affected by poverty traps. In a video posted by the Brookings Institute, explains the dynamics of social mobility in terms of racial demographics. The data shows that 16% of White people born in the fifth lowest income scale make it to the top fifth of income earners, while 23% remain. For Black people only 3% born in the fifth lowest income scale make it to the top fifth of earners, while 50% remain (R. Reeves; Brookings Institute, 2014).

ii. It is no secret that richer school districts outperform schools in lower-income neighborhoods. This is primarily because local public schools are funded by property tax. This practice of using property tax to fund public schools historically goes way back to the Puritans and the Massachusetts School Law of 1647. In recent times this practice has been tied to low income school districts and under-performance. According to a report by the Learning Policy Institute there have been lawsuits in 40 states that claim less equity is given to low-income districts. Consider the national average of district schools serving the most concentration of students of color that spend 1,800 less per student than districts with fewer students of color. Keep in mind this is the national average, in-state the numbers are even more disproportionate. Districts like Cook County, Illinois will spend roughly 10,000 more per student than its neighboring Chicago school districts. Data has shown that more funding in schools is directly tied to better performance in students (J. Raikes, L. D. Hammond; Learning Policy Institute, 2019). We wont address the negative effect that racial segregation had on Black children before the Brown vs Board of Education ruling of 1954, because there’s not enough data. Although, looking at recent data from 100 of Americas largest cities Black and children of color are still segregated by low-income districts (J. Boshma, R. Brownstein; The Atlantic, 2016). Here the ‘poverty trap‘ is revealed, because the lower-income the school districts are; the lower the likely expected outcome is for student success.

iii. Dependency on welfare programs are not the fault of the poor nor colored communities. These social welfare programs are notorious for failing to graduate its recipients. Offering short term help but long term dependency. According to Vanessa B. Calder, a research analyst at the CATO Institute, explains how the current welfare system suffers from financial losses and poor oversight. Calder found that programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit sends roughly 21 to 26 of its payments in error. This is reported annually on the IRS fraud data section found on its webpage. The federal welfare program is also duplicative which increases the amount of unnecessary administrative costs. Consider the fact that federal welfare programs include 342 economic development programs and 125 programs serving at risk youth etc. Calder also points to behavioral incentives that are pushed on welfare recipients in order to gain more benefits. If we want welfare reform to improve Congress would need to prioritize a change in its redistribution policies. It is sad that people often blame welfare dependency on its recipients when in practice it is meant to cause dependency (V.B. Calder; CATO Institute, 2018).

We think of the United States as a land of equal opportunity but social mobility has been stagnant for its lower-income class. In this country, you are more ‘likely’ to get ahead by accident of birth than merit alone. In a country that ranks 26th in education, we cannot ignore the inequities that exist for most students who are not ‘born of the purple’. This is why it is wrong to internalize the lasting problems within poor and colored communities as necessarily a fault in character. We should instead work to fix the current policies that perpetuate poverty-traps and hinder social mobility. The conversation should start with improving our broken welfare system by reevaluating our federal budget process. The poor oversight of its administrative roles should be streamlined to reduce lost revenue and unnecessary administrative costs. The ratification of our welfare system should also include a safety-net that other European countries have successfully implemented. Which should provide supplemental security income (SSI), universal healthcare, and universal basic income. The generational failings of colored communities can be traced back to the structural inequality that historically created these disadvantaged groups. We unfairly expect POC to overcome the hurdles and life-circumstances that were created for them. If that is our attitude then we only work to preserve that injustice.

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