A great explanation of structural racism

Not sure what to call David French.  Reality-based conservative?  Open-minded conservative?  Anyway, the sort of person whom I generally disagree with, but am happy to do so as he operates in good faith and recognizes the deep pathologies of the Republican Party.  

This post is largely written about dealing with CRT and wokeness within the conservative Christian community, but, what I really love is that this is about the best explanation of structural racism (and the difficulties of honestly facing it) as anything I’ve seen. 

Let’s apply this more concretely, to the United States of America. Enforcing the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and passing the Civil Rights Act was (and is) necessary to end overt, legal discrimination, but it was hardly sufficient to ameliorate the effects of slavery and Jim Crow. These effects are so embedded in our system that powerful people often perpetuate those structures even when they lack any racist intent at all.

To illustrate this reality, I’ll turn to perhaps the most commonly cited example (because it’s so significant) of how racism can be truly “structural” or “systemic” and thus linger for years even when the surrounding society over time loses much of its malign intent. 

Residential segregation, through redlining and other means—especially when combined with profound employment discrimination and educational disparities—resulted in the creation of large communities of dramatically disadvantaged Americans. Because of centuries of systematic, de jure (by law) oppression, they possessed fewer resources and less education than those who didn’t suffer equivalent discrimination.

While the passing of the Civil Rights Act meant that black Americans had the right to live elsewhere, they often lacked the resources to purchase homes or rent apartments in wealthier neighborhoods with better schools. Indeed, to this day, the median net worth of a black family ($17,150) is roughly one-tenth the median net worth of a white family ($171,000). That means less money for down payments, less money for security deposits, and overall fewer resources that enable social mobility.

One of the solutions to this problem is permitting more multi-family housing in wealthier communities. But that’s exactly when NIMBYism rears its head. Even if every member of a local zoning and planning commission isn’t racist, there are multiple non-racist reasons for them to resist greater population density. There’s traffic congestion. There’s school overcrowding. There’s the potential consequence to property values. There are environmental objections. There are a host of related infrastructure concerns.

These non-racist reasons to block multi-family development are a reason why even the most deep-blue, race-conscious progressive neighborhoods so often bitterly resist new development, school zoning changes, and other concrete reforms that would grant individuals in historically segregated neighborhoods greater access to the educational and economic opportunities of historically white communities. 

Time and again, there are non-racist reasons for wanting to maintain the structures racists created. Thus, you can begin to understand the cultural and political divide. A person who harbors absolutely no racial animus gets angry when they’re told they’re perpetuating systemic racism, or that racism can exist without malign intent. To be told you’re perpetuating racism when, in your heart of hearts, you know you’re making choices based on road safety, your child’s education, or the beauty of your environment can feel deeply offensive.

Conversely, a person who lives in the midst of the economic and educational deprivation originally created by racists are understandably angered when they’re told there is no racism present when powerful people repeatedly block reforms that would change the status quo. Justice fails when the same unjust outcomes are perpetuated, even though the newest generation of elites may possess different intent…

But even in the midst of all this complexity, some things are still clearly true. We still live with the legacy of the discriminatory structures our forefathers created. Our obligation to seek justice does not depend on a finding of personal fault. Christians must be open to truth from any source. And there is nothing—absolutely nothing—“conservative” about denying the reality of the consequences of centuries of intentional, racist harm. 


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to A great explanation of structural racism

  1. Laura says:

    John Oliver’s show was about this on Sunday night – good stuff

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