Since the murder of George Floyd, protests have erupted not only across all 50 states in America but also in London, Kenya, East Jerusalem, New Zealand, and many other countries around the world. However, the protests are not only about George Floyd and police brutality, they are also about the everyday injustices Black Americans face: they are about systemic racism.
The subject of systemic racism is where many people fail to understand or take the initiative to understand. To many, African-Americans simply don’t work hard enough and are making excuses. Many conservatives delegitimize the subject of systemic racism on the grounds of accountability, but their counterarguments reflect a lack of understanding of the system. Now more than ever, it is important to address the counterarguments against systemic racism in order to promote systemic change.
Although the counterarguments towards systemic racism raise interesting questions, they come from a place of ignorance. Here are four points in response to the most popular arguments raised against systemic racism.
1. The police system uses racist policing and practices.
Systemic racism is defined as the "rules, practices, and customs rooted in law." Oftentimes, many people state that a "few bad apples don’t reflect the entire [policing] system." This is a defensive response to the growing backlash towards the police department. It is important to note that systemic racism is not about the individual. In fact, the argument that some cops are good highlights a lack of understanding of what systemic racism is. Systemic racism is about the racist policies and practices in place, not the individual. Policing is problematic based on what offenses they police for, where they police, and how they police.
The first problem with policing is the mass incarceration of Black and brown individuals due to minor offenses such as non-violent acts and drug offenses. Despite using drugs at the same rate as their white counterparts, Black Americans are 2.7 times more likely to be arrested in comparison to white Americans.
In America, white equates to innocence, and officers, holding prejudices, are more likely to arrest a Black American who looks suspicious simply based on their skin color, according to a 2018 study. The high rate of arrests of black individuals highlights the next problem of policing: where they police.
Police officers are often deployed to communities with primarily Black and brown individuals. Black Americans are targeted for arrest, and thus, disproportionately affected. In a way, the targeting of Black and brown Americans presumes guilt. In regards to the mannerisms of policing, policemen noticeably use more force when interacting with Black individuals.
According to a 2014 study, police men viewed Black boys as adults as early as age 13, which subsequently means they viewed Black boys as less innocent in comparison to their white counterparts. Additionally, according to a 2018 study, police officers were noticeably more aggressive with Black individuals.
2. “Black on Black” crime is a distraction from police brutality.
Many raise the question of 'Black-on-Black' crime to suggest that Black Americans deserve heavy policing. The term 'Black-on-Black' crime is not only a distraction from police brutality, but it is discriminatory. According to the 2018 FBI crime report, 88.9% of Black homicides were committed by Black people and 80.8% of white homicides were committed by white people. Thus, people are more likely to be killed by someone of the same race regardless of whether they are Black or white. Despite these similar statistics, few people address white homicides as ‘white-on-white’ crime. The terminology ‘Black-on-Black’ crime vilifies Black people and suggests that they deserve to be policed more than their white counterparts when they, in fact, do not.
Instead, African-Americans deserve more counseling, and their communities deserve more resources. In America, only Montana, Vermont, and New Hampshire meet the counselor to school ratio. The current U.S. systems and local governments direct resources towards policing. Currently, “14 million students are in schools with police but no counselor, nurse, psychologist, or social worker.” In other words, schools are prepared to punish students before offering them supportive resources.
3. Working hard is not enough to be successful for Black Americans.
Following the 2008 election of Obama, many Americans naively believed that we lived in a post-racial society. Many thought that if Obama could take the highest office in America, then another Black kid raised by a single parent could too. The argument to "follow in Obama’s footsteps" and "just work hard" is founded upon the belief in the American Dream. However, comparing a Black person to another Black person to draw conclusions about the race as a whole is fundamentally misguided.
The argument that many Black Americans should follow in Obama’s footsteps fails to acknowledge how much of success is determined by quality of schooling, access to resources, privilege, and skin color.
To fully understand systemic racism, one must compare a Black person to a white person with the same credentials. When analyzing the effect of race on the job market, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that individuals with white-sounding names had a higher chance of receiving a callback compared to individuals with ethnic names. Not only does research indicate that blackness is a barrier, but that whiteness is advantageous.
In her “Mark of a Criminal Record” Paper, Harvard Professor Devah Pager found that white individuals with criminal records were more likely to receive a callback than Black individuals without records, thus highlighting the immense prejudice in the job market. Oftentimes, Black Americans are more likely to attain lower paid jobs due to the stereotypes and stigmas held against the Black community.
For many in the Black and brown communities, or those of a lower socioeconomic status, there is little knowledge regarding scholarships, or how to access these resources. According to a 2019 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, students in the highest quartile income range receive more non-federal financial aid than students in the lowest quartile income range. According to the National Association of College Admission counselors, students from private schools received more thorough counseling regarding the college process in comparison to students within urban education.
The quality of education a student receives, or the quality of college counseling, has nothing to do with a student’s ability. It has everything to do with privilege. The American Dream fails to acknowledge the disparities in the society, specifically within, but not limited to, the job market and education system.
4. White Supremacy Exists.
In a world where whiteness is represented as the highest beauty standard and linked with perception of intelligence, white supremacy exists. The term “white supremacist” is defined “as a person who believes that the white race is inherently superior to other races and that white people should have control over people of other races.”
As of 2017, the ten richest Americans are 100% white, U.S. Congress is 90% white, owners of men's professional football teams are 97% white, and teachers are 82% white. While 76.5% of the population is white as of 2019, a higher percentage of white individuals are in positions of power. This is not meant to discredit the achievements of many white individuals, nor suggest that their lives haven’t been hard. However, they must acknowledge that their skin color never puts them at a disadvantage.
Arguments against systemic racism are rooted in ignorance and fail to acknowledge the many barriers Black Americans face and its transgenerational effect. Ask yourself, would you want to be treated how a Black person is treated in America? In a courtroom, in an interview, when pulled over by the police, would you want to be Black or white?
EMILIA ONUONGA is a rising College sophomore from Middletown, Del. studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org