Racism is so deeply entrenched in our culture that few, if any, whites can honestly say that they never catch themselves thinking racist thoughts. It behooves all white Americans to continue struggling against the profound hold racism has on our attitudes.
But it is also important to understand that many institutional injustices need to be confronted.
I mentioned in a previous blog that using and selling marijuana are as common among white young people as they are among young blacks but, by and large, only the black young men end up in prison. Wildly unfair law enforcement practices need to be targeted if we are going to reduce racial injustice.
Wealth and income have a great deal to do with who ends up in prison and who does not. It is completely unacceptable that in a nation which prides itself on adhering to the rule of law, poverty automatically increases one's likelihood of ending up in prison. An adequately financed and staffed legal defense service needs to be run by various government agencies in order to reduce racial injustice.
In many cities neighborhoods inhabited primarily by persons of color have the worst public transportation. At the same time more people in those neighborhoods cannot afford to maintain reliable automobiles and are therefore dependent on efficient public transportation to go to their jobs. Planning public transportation so as to enable the people most in need of it to get to work, is an important priority in the face of racial inequalities.
In New York City rent-controlled public housing has more building code violations, such as leaking water pipes, than so-called "market value" housing. People with low incomes, many of the persons of color, are not adequately protected by the cities code inspection and enforcement department.
Many other cities have similar experiences: housing in poor neighborhoods is poorly inspected. Building codes are not enforced against landlords in those neighborhoods.
“Black children, a new study shows, are seven times more likely than other children to grow up in the worst neighborhoods in the country. If they are stuck in the poorest neighborhoods from age 1 to 17, only 76 percent will graduate by age 20, compared to 96 percent of black children in affluent neighborhoods.
Of course, you don't have to be black to suffer from bad surroundings. Among non-black youth, 87 percent graduate from high school if they grow up in the poorest neighborhoods, compared to 95 percent from affluent neighborhoods.
The longer children spend in bad neighborhoods, the worse their chances of graduating from high school, researchers found.” (http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/poor-neighborhoods-mean-fewer-high-school-grads-37)
These residential differences and the resultant educational deficits for children growing up in poor neighborhood is directly reflected in differences in the median income between White and Black families. For every dollar earned by a White family, a Black family brings home 60 cents. Lower educational levels of the children growing up in poor neighborhoods accounts in part for that difference. So does the assignment of lower paying jobs to Blacks and Hispanics.
One of the results of all these limitations placed on young black men and women is that they feel profoundly devalued. Their confidence in their own abilities is really low. Young Black persons, when given the opportunity, for instance, to attend a good college are so intimidated, they sometimes cannot function. (http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_full.php?play=550)
These observations have several important implications. While it is important for whites to keep working on enhancing their awareness of their own racist attitudes, doing so is not enough. There are a number of clear and blatant injustices that need to end. Only citizen activism will do that. Blacks and Whites holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome” will not do the job.
The second implication is tactical. It is not helpful to call various government agents – from police officers to school board members to code enforcement apartments – "racist." That just makes everybody really defensive. It is preferable to press for these different government departments to do their job properly, to enforce existing law in all communities, to provide first-class schools in all parts of the city, to enforce building codes against all landlords, not only the landlords in middle-class communities.
It is time to stop talking quite so much about racism and to make the many different changes that are so urgently needed by demanding that government do its job as mandated by law.