What is systemic racism? Here's what it means and how you can help dismantle it
Civil rights activists and advocates are calling for an end to systemic racism, a reference to the existing systems that create and maintain racial differences for colored people in almost all areas of life.
In the past two weeks after George Floyd's death, thousands have taken to the streets to call for an end to police brutality and racism. At the same time, the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, affecting African Americans in communities across the country.
"This is not an incident," said NAACP President Derrick Johnson. "This is about the systemic and pervasive nature of racism in this nation that needs to be addressed."
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Here's what you need to know about systemic racism:
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What is systemic racism?
Johnson defined systemic racism, also known as structural racism or institutional racism, as "systems and structures with procedures or processes that disadvantage African Americans".
Glenn Harris, President of Race Forward and editor of Colorlines, defined it as "the complex interplay of culture, politics and institutions that records the results in our lives".
"Systemic racism calls the process of white supremacy," said Harris.
Harris said systemic racism creates differences in many "indicators of success", including wealth, criminal justice, employment, housing, healthcare, politics, and education. He said that although the concept dates back to the work of the scholar and civil rights pioneer W.E.B. Du Bois, the concept was first named during the civil rights movement in the 1960s and further refined in the 1980s.
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How does systemic racism affect colored people?
Structural racism prevents or makes it difficult for colored people to participate in society and the economy. While structural racism manifests itself in seemingly separate institutions, Harris emphasized that factors such as housing insecurity, race differences, education and policing are closely related.
Harris used the example of living and explained that today a disproportionately large number of colored people are homeless or partly have no housing security due to the inheritance of redlining. According to a report by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, which was presented to the congress in January, blacks make up almost half of the homeless, although they only make up 13% of the population.
Redlining refers to the system that banks and the real estate industry used in the 20th century to determine which neighborhoods to lend to buy houses and neighborhoods where colored people lived - outlined in red ink - , was seen as the risk that should be invested in.
"Redlining basically meant that it was basically impossible for blacks and browns to get loans," Harris said. "It was an active way to enforce segregation."
This practice prevented black families from accumulating and sustaining wealth in the same way that white families could, leading to an increase in the racial wealth gap and to housing uncertainty that still exists today, Harris said. A typical white family's net worth ($ 171,000) is nearly ten times higher than that of a black family ($ 17,150), according to the Federal Reserve's 2016 consumer finance survey.
Redlining was banned in 1968, but the areas owned by the Federal Home Owners' Loan Corp. classified as "dangerous" from 1935 to 1939 are still much more likely than other areas where low-income minority residents live. This emerges from a 2018 study found by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
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Harris said that the areas that were redefined did not have the tax base to support robust public schools, health systems, or transportation, leading to public safety problems and thus an over-police force.
"The system is structurally designed to provide a continuous result of the divestment and therefore disproportionate results," said Harris. "And in the worst case, these most hideous consequences of an over-police, which ultimately lead to the loss of life."
Harris noted that this is only an example and this type of analysis could also be applied to issues of voting rights, employment and health inequalities.
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How can systemic racism be tackled?
Both Johnson and Harris say that there has been insufficient progress in the fight against systemic racism.
Johnson outlined three steps people can take to fight systemic racism. We need to "acknowledge that racism actually exists", engage in organizations that fight it, and finally choose leaders and policy makers who do not reinforce or support structurally racist policies.
"Racism is not a partisan issue and we have to stop making it a partisan issue," said Johnson. "It's a question of morality."
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Harris said that individuals who do personal work to understand systemic racism are "necessary but not sufficient". He urged those who want to make changes to join the protesters on the street and to ask the institutions to make fundamental changes in their own lives.
"We have to go beyond reform," he said. "Make it clear that the current system is not working."
Follow N'dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: Systemic Racism: What Does It Mean and How Can You Help It Degrade?
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