In the United States, there’s a political battle raging over the concept of systemic racism. One side claims that racism is the domain of individuals and isolated incidents while the other side argues racism is baked into the fabric of the country’s systems. Who’s right? One can find evidence of systemic racism by taking a close look at areas of society like education, housing, and healthcare. On the surface, a single stat may have more than one explanation. Taken all together, the data paints a clear picture: someone’s race affects things like their education, how much money they earn, where they can live, and the kind of medical care they receive. Here are five examples of systemic racism:
In many ways, access to education lays the foundation for everything else in a person’s life. A lack of good schooling limits a person’s employment opportunities and income potential, which has a ripple effect on every area of their life and even their children’s lives. Racism plays a role in who receives education and their experience within the educational system. It starts early. According to the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. Black girls in particular are much more likely to be suspended compared to white girls, but it isn’t because they’re committing worse offenses. According to a report from the National Women’s Law Center, Black girls are 5.5 times more likely than white girls to be suspended. Native American girls are 3.3 times more likely to face suspension. Schools with a higher percentage of Black students also receive less funding and less access to computers and the internet. The results of these systematic factors? Black high schoolers are less likely to receive a diploma and more likely to go into debt to pay for college.
Systemic racism’s effect on employment is well-documented. It begins with the hiring process. Black Americans with “white-sounding” names receive 50% more callbacks for their job applications. Even having a college degree doesn’t necessarily help one’s chances: Black Americans with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed. The median wealth of Black college grads is just $23,400 compared to $180,500 for white college grads. That leads to higher rates of poverty within non-white communities. According to census data from 2019, Black and Hispanic Americans were over-represented in poverty compared to their representation in the overall population. The data represented an improvement, but the COVID-19 pandemic most likely undid that progress.
Discrimination in housing has a long history. The National Housing Act of 1934 formalized redlining, which experts say accelerated the isolation and deterioration of inner-city neighborhoods where minorities lived. It became much harder for neighborhoods to bring in (and keep) families who could buy houses. Banks would also lend more often to lower-income white people while refusing to lend to middle-income and even upper-income Black Americans. This has lasting consequences to this day. Black homebuyers are more likely to be denied a real estate agent appointment, while housing lenders are more likely to recommend subprime loans even if the homebuyer qualifies for prime loans. According to real-estate brokerage firm Redfin, just 44% of Black householders own their homes as opposed to 73.7% of white householders. Compared to white neighborhoods, similar homes located in Black-majority neighborhoods are worth 23% less.
The healthcare system has abused non-white people (especially Black Americans) for decades. Racial bias led to Black vets being denied disability pensions while the infamous Tuskegee experiment cut off the life expectancy for 45-year old Black men by 1.5 years. While healthcare for non-white communities has improved, systemic racism against Black people is still prevalent. They’re 3-4 times more likely than white people to die in pregnancy; doctors are more likely to believe Black people are “tougher” than white people; and only 5% of doctors are Black. White doctors represent 56% of the field, while Asian doctors are 17% and Hispanic doctors are around 6%. These stats matter because research shows more ethnic diversity in the medical field leads to better outcomes and increased trust.
Like many examples, discrimination begins early in the justice system. Black children in the criminal justice system are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults compared to white kids. Statistically, Black Americans pay higher bails and receive harsher punishments than white people for the same crime. Outside of the courtroom, Black Americans are 20% more likely to be pulled over by police, more likely to be searched, and more likely to be victims of false criminal positives by facial recognition software. According to 2018 data, Black Americans make up 33% of the jailed population (despite making up only 12% of the general population), while Hispanic people (16% of the general population) make up 23%. This still-high number actually represents a decrease, which shows just how severe the disparity is. Many examples of systemic racism follow this path. There may be gradual improvement over the years, but as our five examples demonstrate, major inequalities persist.