Thursday, August 12, 2021

Systemic Racism

By the First United Methodist Church Anti-Racism Task Force, Des Moines, IA; reprinted with permission, first published in the May 2021 issue of The LIGHT, the First UMC newsletter

One of the most difficult things we face as we try to confront and end racism, as individuals and as a community of faith is the fact that it’s so deeply embedded in our systems that we often don’t recognize it. Because it's built into the very foundation of American society, systemic racism occurs in some of our most fundamental structures. 

That includes where you live, what kind of education you're able to receive, how your family has (or hasn't) acquired wealth, what quality of healthcare you can easily access, how likely it is for you to face violent and deadly policing, your access to voting, and more.

 One example has to do with housing. A CBS news report in February stated that from 1930 – 1960 there was a remarkable record of exclusion guaranteeing that mortgages were only granted to white people. By 1950 98% of all federal loans had been given to whites. Areas where Blacks lived were marked, and no loans were given there. The Federal Government, with its racist policies, known as “redlining” had a big role in enforcing discrimination. This was the beginning of the racial wealth gap, which was compounded over generations.

 In Iowa the results of redlining are just now being recognized, as the legislature is considering a bill designed to help residents in areas that were redlined address the consequences of those policies. It would waive some property taxes in those neighborhoods so that homeowners would be better able to make improvements needed due to deterioration over the years. “Housing advocates say the legislation …is the first in Iowa, and possibly in the nation, to directly link historically racist policies with their enduring effects, including Black wealth and homeownership gaps.” (DM Register, March 23, 2021)

 Indeed, the results of redlining went even further. According to Glenn Harris, President of Race Forward, areas that were redlined didn’t then have the tax base to support quality public schools, health care systems or transportation, leading to issues of public safety and often over- policing.

In a similar way, Blacks and other minorities such as Eastern Europeans, Jews, Asians and Italians have found it more difficult to start small businesses. According to a 2017 study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, banks were twice as likely to provide business loans to white applicants as to Blacks or other entrepreneurs of color, making it much more difficult for them tostart businesses or get them off the ground. 

Here in Des Moines we know that the construction of I-235 in the downtown area displaced a whole community of thriving Black businesses and homes, and it was very difficult for them to relocate and begin again. 

Another example of a policy that contributed to growing the wealth gap is Social Security. Hailed in 1935 as a safety net, it largely left out Black citizens, since it excluded domestic and agricultural workers, and others in menial, low-wage, “off-the-books” jobs without payroll information.

Inequities built in so long ago continue to have an impact today. Take a look at health care, for example. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 deaths among Black people in the U.S. is not merely a happenstance. Instead, this racial disparity is the result of a host of structural conditions that (ultimately) had their roots in slavery, as Dr. Sabrina

Strings, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, argued in the NewYork Times. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has also backed up asimilar claim, noting that social determinants of health for Black Americans are contributing to thedisparity seen in the pandemic.

 These are just a few examples. Systemic racism impacts nearly every aspect of our lives, and it’s critical that we begin to see it, name it and erase it.

Sources: The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, Wikipedia, the Des Moines Register

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