SAMMARCO: Systemic racism is real. What can we do about it?

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Thursday, June 18, 2020


Current discussions about how to dismantle “systemic racism” follow two very different tracks, using two very different definitions. 

When describing America as systemically racist, many assert that America’s system of government is intentionally designed to discriminate against non-white Americans, and so the entire American system of government must be rebuilt. This definition of systemic racism is verifiably false. There is not a single local, state, or federal law today that is designed to oppress minorities. Our Constitution contains the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to ensure equal liberty and equal protection under the law for all Americans. Federal and state hate crime laws punish crime motivated by racism more severely than crimes committed without hate as a motivating factor. 

Modern-day revisionists, such as many contributors to The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, suggest that the prison and policing complex is intentionally racist, creating a seemingly justified slave system in 2020. This is a preposterous proposition searching to confirm nonsensical narratives. Study after study debunks the notion that police are systemically racist. The same is true of the pernicious myth that judges sentence blacks to longer prison terms simply because of their skin color. 

A nation with laws and systems designed to ensure equal justice under the law cannot be described as a fundamentally racist nation in the 21st century. Conservatives should not engage in debate or discussion based on this false premise. The true issue with race in America centers on something quite different. 

Others, when diagnosing American as systemically racist, use the definition of systemic racism coined by civil rights iron Stokely Carmichael who wrote

“When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city – Birmingham, Alabama – five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism. When a black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which most people will condemn. But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks, and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”   

In many ways, Carmichael’s definition of systemic racism fits. No logical person can deny that 250 years of chattel slavery and 400 years of de jure discrimination continues to dramatically impact the condition of many African Americans. Segregation and redlining forced blacks to live in dilapidated, underserved neighborhoods. Race-based discrimination blocked African-Americans from good-paying jobs and institutions of higher education for centuries. 

There exists a multitude of reasons why the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a black family today. It’s obvious to most people that 400 years of subjugation is one of those reasons. For centuries, blacks were not afforded the unalienable rights that whites were afforded. It’s also worthwhile to recall that we are less than 60 years removed from the end of the Jim Crow South and a little over 40 years removed from the integration and busing debates. Individual racists still cut some blacks off from opportunities. In this sense, “systemic racism” is a reality. 

Conservatives and progressives alike can agree with this definition without compromising their principles whatsoever. The question that must be answered, however, is what can we do to solve systemic racism?

Unfortunately, systemic racism viewed through the Carmichael lens cannot be “solved” without denying the basic human rights of others. It is for those reasons conservatives should openly oppose reparations and other retributive policies that seek to help blacks at the expense of their white “oppressors”. In contrast, conservatives can offer liberty-based solutions to help ameliorate the effects of systemic racism without creating a new injustice in the present.  

For instance, Milton Friedman often said that the most anti-black law on the books in America is the minimum wage law.  Dismantling teacher’s unions in impoverished school districts, increasing funding to charter schools, and fundamentally changing our approach to welfare are steps governments can take to work against a history of racism. 

Discrimination helped to create these disparities in wealth, income, education, and opportunity, but it cannot explain the persistence of these disparities. More than anything else, empirical evidence indicates the culprit is cultural. As noted by economist Thomas Sowell, “Nearly a hundred years of the supposed ‘legacy of slavery’ found most black children [78%] being raised in two-parent families in 1960. But thirty years after the liberal welfare state found the great majority of black children being raised by a single parent [66%].” Solving the deep cultural issues that continue to hamper opportunity, not ghost hunting for nonexistent government-sponsored racism, is truly the pathway forward for the black community. 

With this in mind, a serious conservative outreach effort to the black community is long overdue. Republicans often point out that many majority-minority cities have been run by progressive politicians who spread progressive policy and morality, and then proceed to do close to nothing to improve the situation. Instead of gassing protesters in Washington DC for a photo-op, President Trump could deliver an address from poverty-stricken, majority-minority neighborhoods in Detroit or Chicago. 

The recent wave of riots across America’s urban centers, though entirely immoral, has opened our eyes to the disparities African-Americans experience due to decades of ill-treatment. Though we cannot get rid of the ugly scar, conservatives can make substantial efforts to suture the African-American community’s gaping wound: systemic racism. Not addressing this issue will only allow the deep-seated mistrust of and animosity toward American institutions to fester. 

Nick Sammarco studies economics and Spanish at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Nick Sammarco

Suffolk University

Nick Sammarco studies economics and Spanish at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts.

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