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Thursday, March 24, 2022

Systemic Racism

 At National Affairs, Peter Schuck identifies four reasons to question the notion of systemic racism:

The best that the skeptic of this account can do is identify good reasons to doubt that racism in America today is truly systemic. As it turns out, there are four such reasons, the first of which is that rates of racist beliefs among individual Americans have declined over time. Public polling about white-black intermarriage, residential proximity, and other interactions shows dramatic increases in tolerant attitudes among whites since the 1960s. Although white-supremacist hate groups often loudly avow their racist beliefs, they remain a tiny, isolated fraction of the population, and are almost universally reviled by the political left and center as well as many on the right eager to distance themselves from fringe elements.

Of course, people harboring bigoted views often hide them in public, especially in social environments where racism is highly stigmatized. Answers in a survey are not proof that people do not hold racist views, although they do show that people are at least ashamed to admit them. That said, rates of behaviors related to or motivated by racism have fallen as well. In 2020, the FBI found that although the largest category of hate crimes (61.8%) were based on race/ethnicity/ancestry bias, the number of these incidents was under 6,000 nationwide. In a population of over 330 million, this surely does not qualify as systemic.

Second, the cohort of the U.S. population that has been most likely to hold racist views is slowly but inexorably dying out, to be gradually replaced by generations who tend to be far more accepting of racial differences. Though this theory is subject to some dispute, it is undeniable that members of younger generations seem to harbor less overtly racist beliefs than those of older generations. As these young Americans assume leadership roles in our nation's core institutions, their views will affect those institutions' structures, policies, and actions, as well as the people they influence. That virtually every major American institution in recent years has explicitly committed to combatting systemic racism suggests that we are already witnessing this trend taking shape.

A third reason to doubt the systemic-racism thesis is that anti-racist protests and highly publicized punishments of racist incidents have made racism much more newsworthy than it was in decades past. As a result, public discussion of the subject occurs much more often in our communities and traditional media today than it once did — and the tenor of this discourse is almost invariably opposed to racism. To the extent that systemic racism is inherently implicit or invisible, there is less room for it to hide now than there was in the past.

Even if one were to ignore these facts and insist that systemic racism remains widespread in today's America, there are good reasons to doubt that it represents the primary driver of continuing black disadvantage. For starters, the impressive upward mobility of other non-white groups — including immigrants of color — continues to confound the systemic-racism thesis. The most economically successful of these groups are Asians, particularly Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans — many of whom began life in America without American blacks' English-language advantage. In a recent study, researchers led by Raj Chetty — a leading analyst of economic mobility among different racial and ethnic groups — found that Hispanic and Asian Americans are closing much of the income gap with white Americans, while the upward mobility of lower-class black Americans has not kept pace.

Perhaps most discrediting of the ongoing systemic-racism account is the fact that black immigrants' economic mobility is much greater than that of blacks born in the United States. The median household income of the rapidly growing cohort of black immigrants is about 30% higher than that of American-born blacks. If systemic racism were the primary driver of blacks' disadvantages in America, we would expect it to hold back this population as well. Yet it seems not to have done so. Causal factors other than systemic racism, then, must be contributing significantly to black disadvantage in areas where it persists.