Black Lives Matter – A History of Systemic Racism and What We Can Do Now

Hello, lovely readers. This post is my long-awaited (and just plain long) take on the current nationwide campaign against racism. The discord in the US over racially-based prejudices is rampant, and considered a hot-button topic for discussion in the present day. I would be remiss if I didn’t reference it in some form, and as a blog intended to be inclusive, NOT writing about it would be neglecting my own message. 

I want to start off today’s discussion by saying that as a white woman, I have not personally experienced or dealt with the causes, realities, or repercussions of racism. My views do not stem from personal experience; rather from educating myself on history and witnessing the present-day circumstances. As someone who has struggled to appreciate my own voice, I find it imperative to hear, support, and amplify the voices of those with different stories than mine. If we are never able to hear divergent perspectives, we will never be able to understand a realm beyond our own.

Today, we will be going over the role of racism in historical and current societies, exploring the impacts, and discussing what can be done in the present day to combat both individual and societal prejudices. When did racist ideals first gain popularity? How are they perpetuated? Is racism truly systemic? And if it is, what can be done? 

One of the most prominent early debates over the role of race came at the height of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. With the growing commercial prowess of Europe — and the increasing desire for global expansion — racial prejudices found their way into the mix. 

The question of whether blacks were even human at all became prevalent. The diverging Catholic and Protestant churches initially came to different answers. David Rogers and Moira Bowman of the Western States Center report “…in this time period, Europeans were exposed more frequently to Africans and the indigenous people of North and South America, and the church vacillated between opinions…the Catholic Church was the first to admit Blacks and Indians had souls, which meant in many Catholic colonies it was against the law to kill a slave without reason. The Protestant-Calvinist Church…was much slower in recognizing the humanity of Africans and Indians.” 

A deficit that first came to light in Europe due to religion, Christianity became a justification for racism and slavery over decades. The belief that blacks were soulless and had no standing in to the church as people became widespread as early as the 1400s. 

This was reflected centuries later in the United States; in 1857, Reverend Frederick Ross published the pro-slavery text, Slavery As Ordained of God. He writes that the causes and results of slavery are “in absolute harmony with the word of God” (Ross 36). He goes further to claim “God sanctioned slavery then, and sanctions it now,” referencing Biblical passages discussing servitude (60). This text quickly became one of the most hailed pro-slavery texts in the 19th century…and was further cited during the Civil Rights movement as a justification for white superiority in the Christian church. 

Eventually, as thousands of people of color began converting to Christianity, the religious defense for racial hierarchies slowly lost credibility. So, racism found its new vindication in science. Social Darwinism, the idea that specific categories of humans are inherently better than others, found a home in the minds of slave owners, southern officials, and pro-slavery advocates. British historian and anthropologist W. Winwood Reade published a book titled Savage Africa in 1864, writing of the believed innate superiority of Europeans. He deemed Africa and its people existed solely for the purpose of being conquered by Europe, stating “England and France will rule Africa. Africans will dig the ditches and water the deserts. It will be hard work and the Africans will probably become extinct…it illustrates the beneficent law of nature, that the weak must be devoured by the strong” (Reade). 

His principles were far from radical at the time. Paramount philosophers highlighted slavery and racial genocides as being the result of natural selection. The rationale of the murder and enslavement of thousands of African people was that it was simply supposed to happen according to science. 

What does all this tell us now? It shows us that racism has long been defended, dismissed, and even considered deserved. Though many of the convictions previously outlined don’t hold much weight in the current day, they serve as the epicenter for a number of societal standards and ideals we know to be ongoing. 

Many of the counterpoints brought up when discussing current-day racial prejudices echo statements like these, as well as dozens of others: 

Racism is an individual viewpoint, not a societal one. 

Not all cops are racist. 

People of color can be racist against white people too. 

All lives matter. 

Not all white people are racist. 

And even more generalized phrases like these: 

Racism doesn’t exist anymore. 

People of color have everything white people have. 

Black privilege exists too. 

While some of these phrases aren’t necessarily “wrong” in the truest sense of the word, many people who make such statements lack the empirical knowledge surrounding their implications. 

For instance, the statement “not all cops are racist” may be true; it is doubtful that every member of such a vast group holds the principles and standards that make a person racist. However, the police force is an organization that holds roots in structured slave patrols and the enforcing of fugitive slave laws, later ensuring the execution of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. Dr. Connie Hassett-Walker, assistant professor at Norwich University, writes that “policing in southern slave-holding states had roots in slave patrols…police corruption and violence – particularly against vulnerable people – were commonplace during the early 1900s…these factors – controlling disorder, lack of adequate police training, lack of nonwhite officers and slave patrol origins – are among the forerunners of modern-day police brutality against African Americans.” In essence, the police force as a whole originated with the overwhelming intention of enforcing racist policies and disenfranchising African-Americans and immigrants. 

So while the phrase “not all cops are racist” may be technically true, all cops ARE a part of an institution that was created on racist grounds, with racist intents and methodologies. The prevalence of those tenets in the modern-day police force are disputed, but one thing is certain; the organization was birthed in racism. 

This brings us to one of the biggest questions at the heart of the opposition between  Black Lives Matter activists and its opponents: Is racism systemic? We know governments, laws, and societies to be, at best, heavily prejudiced in the past, but is that the case in present-day USA? 

The answer is not a simple yes or no. In some areas, systemic oppression is more pervasive than ever. In others, things are more ambiguous. 

One of the more blatant modern examples of systemic racism lies in a common pattern in real-estate: redlining. Redlining originated in the US in 1933, when the federal government initiated a method of segregating American housing to halt the housing shortage. African-Americans were denied mortgages and housing in areas designated as “white neighborhoods,” and pushed to live in housing projects in cities. The Federal Housing Administration went further in 1934 to produce wealthy suburbs and subdivisions with the explicit prohibition of selling to African-Americans. This process wasn’t deemed unlawful until 1968, at which point generations worth of damage had been done. 

But how are you at a disadvantage based simply on your location? The answer rests in one of the determining factors of future poverty: education. Public schools are funded almost exclusively by property taxes. The wealthier the neighborhood, the more resources allotted to the school. The neighborhoods with the highest poverty rate are, therefore, going to have schools that are worse off than the schools located in wealthy neighborhoods. And the neighborhoods with the highest poverty rate are occupied almost exclusively by people of color. 

Can you picture the cycle already? If not, here’s the rundown: People of color were forced into living in poor areas, which led to adolescents receiving a comparatively worse education than their wealthier counterparts, resulting in a scarcity of employment opportunities, which, more often than not, perpetuated a dangerous cycle of poverty. Their children lived in the same impoverished neighborhoods with poor public schools, experienced equally high job competition, struggled to find employment, and went on to raise children in equally difficult circumstances.

One of the best ways to combat poverty is to get a good education, but a good education is extremely hard to get in poverty. It’s a vicious cycle. 

This is not to say the picture looks like this for every person of color. But, this is much more LIKELY to happen to a person of color than a white person. For instance, let’s look at California. Known to be one of the more progressive states in the US, California wields a poverty rate of around 9% for its white inhabitants. Conversely, the poverty rate for African-Americans in California is 20%, with a rate of 17% for Hispanics and 10% for those of asian descent. In the state with the lowest cumulative poverty rate, New Hampshire, its white inhabitants account for 95% of the state’s total population. Once again, poverty is not a struggle that is unique to people of color, nor is it faced by every POC in the US. But, as the statistics have shown, it disproportionately affects people of color. Moreover, poverty amongst African-Americans is greatest in areas that faced the highest implementation of redlining. Redlining, though hardly outlined in our history books, is one of the most obtrusive obstacles impacting people of color in the present day. 

Another broad area facing immense racial disparity is medicine. As of 2015, the average life expectancy for white Americans was 78.9 years. For African-Americans in the same year, the life expectancy was 75.5. You might question if that constitutes a racial bias, or if it’s merely the result of other, non-racial factors. If a single answer is to be given, it’s both. But, as with most things, there are a variety of elements to consider. 

As early as 2005, studies have been conducted that prove that not only is poverty a cause of a shorter lifespan, but minorities as a whole don’t receive the same quality of care as their white counterparts. The National Academy of Medicine published one of those studies, reporting “racial and ethnic minorities receive lower-quality health care than white people—even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are comparable.” They delve further into this conclusion by explaining minorities are less likely to receive the same level of cardiac care, to receive transplants and necessary treatments for organ failure, and are at a disadvantage when being treated for AIDS, cancer, and a variety of additional complications. “Some people in the United States were more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes simply because of their race or ethnicity, not just because they lack access to health care” (NAM). 

A further study involving 400 hospitals and treatment facilities reported that African-Americans with heart disease were less likely to get the newest technology, treatments, and operations than white patients with equally progressed conditions. Professor Khiara Bridges discusses this treatment differential in her article “Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care,” saying “black women are less likely than white women to receive radiation therapy in conjunction with a mastectomy. In fact, they are less likely to receive mastectomies. Perhaps more disturbing is that black patients are more likely to receive less desirable treatments.” 

Whether this deficit is due entirely to the racial biases and prejudices of individual physicians, there is no way to know. However, a study in which physicians were given the Implicit Association Test, or the IAT, they were shown to correlate pleasantries with white faces more frequently than with black faces. Several studies deriving from the initial IAT examination have confirmed that there is a general implicit bias preferring white people to black people amongst physicians. 

Since we’ve begun to scratch the surface of the impacts of racism, both past and present, you’re likely wondering: What can I do? 

On an individual basis, you can always learn more. When you feel uncertain about your viewpoint on current events, pull up an article. Find a video. Do what you can to make yourself aware of all sides, beliefs, and realities. The more you’re educated on, the more you can understand. 

Donating to communities and organizations working to positively impact racial divides and deficits is also a wonderful way to act. Do research on organizations and put your money and time to those you feel passionate about. If you cannot donate financially, reading blogs and watching videos from minority writers and creators is an excellent way to show support. Sharing the works you find impactful with those around you is also beneficial. Down below, I’ve shared some of my favorite bloggers with perspectives I enjoy. 

Vote for those you feel demonstrate kindness and strive for equality. The importance of voting cannot be stressed enough; take the opportunity to have your voice heard. 

Exemplify kindness in your daily life. Kindness is ground-zero for equality, justice, truth, and love. Listen. Work to understand those with perspectives that differ from yours. Everyone has a voice, but not everyone’s voice is equally heard. Amplify and empower the voices of those who might not be heard otherwise. 

Let’s continue the crusade for love and equality. 

Signing off, 

Your fellow crusader. 

Resources: Financial Support 

Black Artists Fund:  Raising funds through donations and sales to benefit both black artists as well as organizations that support black art. 

Gianna Floyd Fund: The fund for Gianna Floyd, the daughter of George Floyd. 

Embrace Race: Working to educate youth about race. 

D.R.E.A.M: Teaching youth about finances, economics, and other necessary financial knowledge for transitioning to adulthood. 

The Conscious Kid: Providing books and literary resources to initiate conversations about race for children, as well as to educate youth where education is lacking. 

Bloggers: 

Bianca Dottin: lifestyle

Loudmouth Brown Girl: writing and activism

Candice Latham: finances

Afroculinaria: cooking

LaTonya Yvette: motherhood

Works Used: 

From Jim Crow to Hegemony: http://www.overcominghateportal.org/uploads/5/4/1/5/5415260/from_jim_crow_to_hegemony.pdf

Racial Equity: https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/Western%20States%20-%20Construction%20of%20Race.pdf

History of Europe: https://www.britannica.com/topic/history-of-Europe/The-economic-background

Racial Hierarchies: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2003/sep/20/race.uk

The Racist Roots of American Policing: https://theconversation.com/the-racist-roots-of-american-policing-from-slave-patrols-to-traffic-stops-112816

A Forgotten History of How the US Government Segregated America: https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america

Poverty Rate by Race and Ethnicity: https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/poverty-rate-by-raceethnicity/?currentTimeframe=0&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/2017/015.pdf

Implicit Bias and Racial Disparities in Health Care: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/the-state-of-healthcare-in-the-united-states/racial-disparities-in-health-care/

7 thoughts on “Black Lives Matter – A History of Systemic Racism and What We Can Do Now

  1. Well researched and well verbalised. Thank You for shaking your points they are much appreciated. Time will only tell if Human Beings can live in harmony together. We have been trying to do this for thousands & thousands of years. Maybe it’s a work in progress , maybe it’s a lost cause. Who knows only ⏰ will tell🤔🤔🤔

    Like

    1. So true! I’m sure change is on the horizon. Whether it takes days, months, or decades to achieve…that’s another question altogether. All we can do is work to bring about change in our own lives, and hopefully bring the change about faster.

      Liked by 1 person

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