Why Calling the U.S. Systemically Racist is Harmful to Black Progress

Although my focus on this website is mostly on fiscal and economic issues, I discuss other basic national issues as well.  Lately, I have been giving much attention to the Russian invasion of Ukraine because the defense of democracy and freedom around the world is so fundamental to our own national security.

Another very serious socio/economic problem in the U.S. is the relatively slow progress of African/Americans in achieving social and economic equality with white Americans.  The legal scholar, Peter Schuck, has a valuable article on this subject in the latest issue of the National Affairs.  According to Mr. Schuck:

  • The claim of progressive advocacy groups that the U.S. is systemically racist distracts from, and undermines, a more compelling priority: the repair of so many broken black communities in low-income areas. The language of systemic racism does not equip younger black Americans with the tools to pursue the many genuinely equal opportunities that now exist.

  • Almost three generations after the civil rights movement of the 1960s, decades of affirmative action, and trillions of anti-poverty dollars later, many Americans of all races remain painfully aware of continuing racial injustice and embedded inequality.
  • But there are four basic reasons to doubt that the racism in America today is truly systemic.
  • First, the rates of racist beliefs among individual Americans have declined over time. Public polling about white-black intermarriage, residential proximity, and other interactions show dramatic increases in tolerant attitudes among whites since the 1960s.
  • Second, the cohort of the U.S. population that has been most likely to hold racist views is slowly but inexorably dying out.
  • Third, anti-racist protests and highly publicized punishments of racist incidents have made racism much more newsworthy than it was in decades past.
  • Fourth, impressive upward mobility of other non-white groups is occurring all the time. Furthermore, black immigrants’ economic mobility is much greater than that of blacks born in the U.S.

To say that ongoing systemic racism is the primary driver of current disparities between black and white Americans today distracts attention from what may actually be causing or worsening the problem:

  • The first social factor contributing to socioeconomic disparities between blacks and white in America is the fragility of the black family. Black men today are far less likely to get married than white men.  Economically prosperous black men are less likely than poor black men to have ever married at all.  The best predictor of low prospects for children, regardless of race, is growing up in a single parent household.
  • A second factor contributing to socioeconomic disparities is isolation. The digital divide deprives blacks of information and social connections.  Blacks tend to live in areas of low economic growth and high unemployment which limits their access to resources that contribute to upward mobility.
  • A third factor is schooling. Even though high school graduation for blacks has risen from 25% in 1965 to now around 88%, graduation statistics conceal large skill gaps that remain.  At the primary and secondary school levels, blacks are disproportionately cited for misconduct which leads to higher drop-out rates.  Unfortunately, blacks often suffer from an oppositional culture that manifests itself in less time spent on homework, high rates of truancy, and greater indiscipline.
  • A fourth factor contributing to socioeconomic disparities is Unfortunately, de-incarceration would have little impact on incarceration rates.  This is because nonviolent offenders, such as drug users, seldom go to prison today.  Also, recidivism rates are very high: two-thirds of those released from prison are arrested for a new crime within three years.
  • Finally, a fifth factor is that many people, black and otherwise, find themselves in an impoverished state because they have made poor personal choices, such as excessive gambling, the abuse of alcohol or tobacco, or illicit drugs.
  • The so-called success sequence: finishing high school, marrying after the age of 20, and doing both before having a child – reduces the risk of falling into poverty to 2%, while failure to follow this path raises it to 75%.

Conclusion.  “The challenge we confront today is to identify and overcome those obstacles to black Americans’ progress that were placed there not only by racist systems of the past and programmatic failures of the present, but also by behaviors over which they and their communities have some control today.”

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2 thoughts on “Why Calling the U.S. Systemically Racist is Harmful to Black Progress

  1. Well said! The intergenerational, epigenetic inheritance processes further solidify the entrenched social patterns you discuss. I would add that the cultural basis for a community’s social cohesion is driven by its historical heritage. The concept of complex adaptive systems for saving a community’s drowning ship seems to apply. Every community needs a strategy to apply multiple diverse strategies, principally connected with early childhood education beginning at age six months, home health for every poverty-afflicted infant, and family leave benefits. Our Omaha is severely afflicted by the remnants of lead poisoning, mortgage red-lining, and massive unemployment after our meatpacking industry moved out of town. Fortunately, our public schools have first-rate leadership, our philanthropists are focused on righting the ship to achieve better housing, and our city has had a steady hand in the mayor’s office. Oh yes, and amazon is investing in another data center on the northwest edge of Omaha – jobs, jobs, and jobs.

    • Early childhood education will surely help prepare kids from low-income families succeed in school. Also, more and better- paying jobs will help a lot. Omaha is in quite good shape to help blacks achieve better success.

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