Guest Commentary: To End Systemic Racism, Ensure Systemic Equality

Header for ACLU Racial Equity Campaign

By ReNika Moore and Rakim Brooks

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad,” four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back” to the “corrupt” countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors. But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn’t take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country’s origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation’s founding.

Our history has shown us that it’s not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country’s voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws. These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower. We couldn’t agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family. The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person’s neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband’s potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only” internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all. To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation (Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point. Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country’s legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

ReNika Moore is the Director of the ACLU Racial Justice Project.  Rakim Brooks is the Senior Campaign Strategist and Systemic Equality Campaign Manager for the ACLU.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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42 Comments

  1. Chris Griffith

    This article is not about systemic racism it’s all about look at me I’m a victim it’s all about getting money out of the system . To me systemic racism is removing the picture of the black woman from the Aunt Jemima syrup bottle or the picture of Uncle Ben from Uncle Ben’s rice without even knowing the backstory to those individuals or even caring for that matter to me that was simply racism at his best.

     

    1. Richard_McCann

      Well spoken from the Alfred E. Neuman Party! Let’s focus on product labels and how disturbing it is to have old favorites changed! Because there sure as hell no other problems of note in the world, except those caused by trying to solve problems!

  2. Alan Miller

    That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people,

    disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people

    There are other examples in the article.  Although Latinx is mentioned in the 6th of 7 sub-topics, this article is very ‘black’ and ‘white’.  The topics and solutions – “not so much” (–Borat).

    1. Ron Oertel

      I’d suggest looking at the data regarding the skin color of those in prison, to determine how much more racist the system is for each group.

      My guess is that the U.S. system is approximately 50% less-racist for those of Latinx descent, compared to those with darker skin color.

      I also suspect that the system is slightly more racist against whites, than it is for Asians.  This may buck the trend, regarding systemic racism based upon darker hues of skin color.

      So, maybe the system is actually most racist against those at either end of the color spectrum. Just a theory.

      In any case, it seems like an easy problem to solve. Just release prisoners until the system reflects the skin color of the population at large. (Or, arrest more of those in “short supply”.) Why all the articles, when the solution is so easily determined and achieved?

      Tongue-in-cheek comment.

       

    2. Ron Oertel

      It goes without saying that we’d also have to do this with gender.  My guess is that the system is extremely sexist, regarding that. Probably the biggest discrepancy of all, compared to the general population.

      It is also “ageist”, in that there aren’t very many 80-year-olds being arrested.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Here’s some “systemic racism” that’s finally been receiving attention (from mainstream media), which doesn’t seem to involve “white” people (as either the victims, OR perpetrators).

    As a result, it doesn’t seem to be receiving a lot of attention from those with an agenda that doesn’t always match reality. (Can you guess what I’m referring to, with that comment?)

    Spike in attacks on Asian Americans in Bay Area sparks fear, demands for justice (sfgate.com)

    1. Richard_McCann

      Ron O

      You must be a short timer around these parts because targeted attacks on Asians in Davis have received a fair amount of coverage in the news over the years.

      1. Ron Oertel

        For the most part, I don’t think that’s what’s occurring in the Bay Area (regarding the skin color of the perpetrators).

        But, I realize that’s a taboo subject.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Regarding the skin color of the perpetrators, or whether or not that’s a “taboo” subject?

          Regarding the former, anyone who’s been watching Bay Area news can make that determination.  Usually via a video, if not from other sources.

          The reason I bring it up is BECAUSE it’s a taboo subject, by those with particular political leanings. The only allowable (and frankly “encouraged”) topic is “white” racism, for those folks. It would be laughable, if it wasn’t so harmful.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Dirty Secret of Black-on-Asian violence is out>/blockquote>
           

          But so far the response has been disappointing, particularly from the San Francisco Police Department. It seems intent on downplaying the role of race and its impact in the community.

          The squeamishness city officials are experiencing about confronting those numbers doesn’t reflect well on anyone.

          https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/nevius/article/Dirty-secret-of-black-on-Asian-violence-is-out-3265760.php

        3. Keith Olsen

          Regarding the skin color of the perpetrators, or whether or not that’s a “taboo” subject?

          I’ve watched several videos of these attacks and let’s just say they aren’t being attacked by the Proud Boys.

  4. Chris Griffith

    Student Debt
    Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower. We couldn’t agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.
    The question upon graduating high school is no longer what are you going to do with your life? but where are you going to college. Many people succeed in life without going to college. Many other people fail miserably after going to college.

    We have too many colleges, making too much money off of too many students. College should be an option for those who are ready for advanced education, not expensive adult day care.

    We need more options for preparing people for life/work and less useless college graduates.

    Just one person’s opinion.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I decided to click on the link in the article, regarding student debt.

      Turns out that Asians had much less debt than whites, which (I assume) *should* lead me to believe that the system is racist against whites.

      It might be interesting (for the race “counters”) to see which group(s) received the most financial aid.

      1. Ron Oertel

        Asians AND Hispanics had less debt than whites and blacks.

        So again, this (I assume) should lead me to believe that the system is only racist against those at either end of the color spectrum.

        And sexism only showed up for whites and blacks, regarding those numbers.

        Or at least, that’s how I assume I *should* view this, according to some.

          1. David Greenwald

            Not really. Your post is simply a misunderstanding racial dynamics in the US.

            “The widespread assumption is that Asian Americans came to the United States very disadvantaged, and they wound up advantaged through extraordinary investments in their children’s education,” says Brown University economist Nathaniel Hilger.

            But that’s not what really happened, he says. His research found that society of over time ” simply became less racist toward Asians.” Same thing with Jews.

            https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/11/19/the-real-secret-to-asian-american-success-was-not-education/

        1. Ron Oertel

          Only one of those even has an officially-sanctioned “category”.

          Although that category is sometimes further subdivided.

          I’m going to put forth a theory, regarding the reason for less Asian and Hispanic student debt: Those kids stay at home longer, on average. Generally tighter-knit/supportive families, than other groups. A cultural difference.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Or, Ron, could it be that particularly for Hispanics/Latinx/(other term du jour), not so much college debt because society, economic status, K-12 education experience, etc. discourages them from even aspiring to attend college?  Can’t get much bogged down in college student debt if you’re not a college student…

          I was lucky… I earned a merit scholarship, it was the 70’s, and was an only child… between my parents and I working part time, it was a real stretch for us to have me go to UCD… but, was able not to incur debt… by early 2000’s, between changes in costs, etc., we had to take out a student loan and a parental loan to get our daughter thru college… both were paid off in ~ 5 years… maybe $20,000…

          Yet I well remember a ‘game’ that used to be legal to play, where a law student, coming from a well-off family, could (and would) take out student loans, then, as a ‘final exam’, file the legal papers to file bankruptcy, and “skate”…

          The proposal to just wipe out up to $50,000 debt, @ taxpayer expense, sniffs big time… unless of course, it is made retroactive, and we can get the amount we paid for our loans reimbursed, with interest… then, might smell good…

        3. Ron Oertel

          Bill:  That would depend upon what the graph that’s referenced in the article represents (median student debt, by skin color).

          Note that Asians had the lowest debt, but I understand that they are generally “over-represented” in universities.

          So no, I don’t think your theory holds up.

        4. Ron Oertel

          David:  Access to that Washington Post article is not publicly available without a subscription.

          But to suggest that the reason for Asian success (is due to lessening of “white” racism) is an insult to Asians.

          The worldview of some on here is seriously screwed-up. Just more b.s. trying to twist reality (back into white racism), no doubt.

          1. David Greenwald

            You can access Washington Post articles – up to six a month or so.

            You fundamentally misunderstand the point on the racism. The reason for the Asian success is not the lessening of white racism. The lessening of white racism lowered a critical barrier that allowed the group to be able to succeed. To paraphrase Al Sharpton – we took our boot off their necks and the (now paraphrasing Maya Angelou) caged birds were able to fly.

        5. Ron Oertel

          The lessening of white racism lowered a critical barrier that allowed the group to be able to succeed. To paraphrase Al Sharpton – we took our boot off their necks and the (now paraphrasing Maya Angelou) caged birds were able to fly.

          Scientific evidence/data for that claim?

          The thought has occurred to me that there’s a significant number of people basing their beliefs on nothing but hot air.

        6. Ron Oertel

          I cannot access it. It could be that I’ve already used up my 6 free articles.

          Quote something from it that you believe provides evidence/data regarding that claim, and how it uniquely applies to Asians.

        7. Ron Oertel

          I see that you’ve now referred me to an 85 page document.  Are you stating that this document provides evidence/data backing up the claim that Asian success is due to lessening of white racism against that group in particular?

          If so, can you direct me to the page in this document which shows that? Does it establish cause/effect (or even a correlation)?

          Sounds like you’re familiar with the data, so I would think that you would be able to direct me to that quite easily.

          Perhaps you could even quote the data.

        8. Ron Oertel

          If you live in a  higher social class, you end up being less in debt for higher education.  If you live in a lower social class, you usually end up more in debt for higher education.

          As a percentage, there are more Latinos and Blacks who live at lower socio-economic levels than whites, and as a percentage more whites who live at lower socio-economic levels than Asian-Americans.

          And yet, whites have higher student debt than Hispanics, according to that referenced article.

          The saying, “It’s expensive to be poor” applies here.

          That claim is not supported by the data.

           

      2. Hiram Jackson

        Ron Oertel: “Turns out that Asians had much less debt than whites, which (I assume) *should* lead me to believe that the system is racist against whites.”

        Unfortunately, this discussion is getting a little too distracted by race rather than social class.  If you live in a  higher social class, you end up being less in debt for higher education.  If you live in a lower social class, you usually end up more in debt for higher education.

        As a percentage, there are more Latinos and Blacks who live at lower socio-economic levels than whites, and as a percentage more whites who live at lower socio-economic levels than Asian-Americans.

        The saying, “It’s expensive to be poor” applies here.

        1. Chris Griffith

          I’m  blue collar white trash and I know my place in the food chain I love it when people throw around terms like social economic levels. Just because you think someone’s rich doesn’t really mean they are. it simply could mean they have a better credit line than you have 😊

          When you see a rich person walking down the road you should stop and ask him or her how they became rich and learn from it

          As far as student debt goes I kind of compare it to going down to the car lot and buying a new truck I see a lot of new trucks I want to buy but I know better I don’t want to put myself in debt 🤓 I know a lot of our youth going to college have underdeveloped brains but we’re going to have to show him the ropes a little bit here.

          This is just my opinion

           

        2. Ron Oertel

          I’m  blue collar white trash and I know my place in the food chain

          Which is quite often higher than some in the college-educated, non-white trash category.

          I was just watching a news report on YouTube, regarding a shortage of skilled labor in blue-collar trades (e.g., plumbers, electricians).  And, how much money they can make (quite a bit, apparently).

          Not to mention business owners in those fields.

          You know – people who actually do something of value.

        3. Chris Griffith

          Ron

          Yes there’s damn good money at being a turd hurder right now and it has very simple rules you just have to remember s*** runs downhill heck all we have to do is tell the apprentices to simply look at Washington DC to figure that one out🤓

        4. Chris Griffith

          Getting back on the subject of socio-economics.

          I understand Uncle Biden was going to sign another executive order requiring urinals to be put in all women’s bathrooms 😁

          This is going to be a huge boom for the plumbing industry and for the economy in general.

           

           

        5. Hiram Jackson

          Chris Griffith: “Just because you think someone’s rich doesn’t really mean they are. it simply could mean they have a better credit line than you have “

          I take your point.  Donald Trump has demonstrated this.

        6. Hiram Jackson

          Ron Oertel: “I was just watching a news report on YouTube, regarding a shortage of skilled labor in blue-collar trades (e.g., plumbers, electricians).  And, how much money they can make (quite a bit, apparently).”

          Many of those trades are learned in community colleges and trade schools (for example, cosmetology, auto mechanic, welding, HVAC technician, dental hygienist), and student loans are sometimes taken out in order to pay for that.

        7. Ron Oertel

          There are those program (generally a lot cheaper than “regular” universities).  Usually available more-locally, as well.

          But the program I was watching showed a paid, multi-year apprenticeship, paid by an owner of a plumbing business.

          I believe that most trades require an apprenticeship period.

          The thing I’ve never understood is why society “looks down” on trades like that (which actually do require brainpower). In any case, these are the people who have good jobs waiting for them, and generally don’t incur massive student loan debt.

          There are lots of different types of jobs in the “blue-collar” field (much more than you’ve listed), of which the general public does not seem to be aware of.

    2. Bill Marshall

      Chris, you make me think of a “point”… mine, not yours… but not necessarily inconsistent with your post…

      Perhaps if the loan forgiveness was limited to folk doing public service post-graduation, taking less in compensation while applying their knowledge/skills to directly help those struggling, I’d definitely consider loan forgiveness as a part of reasonable compensation for their efforts…  we have done that before as a society…

      But forgiving a student loan of $50,000 for an Art History major who ends up ‘flipping burgers’, or for someone who lands a job @, or far above, $125,000 a year right out of college (like some student-athletes), not so much… we and our kids have ‘paid their own way’ for the most part…

      The main beneficiaries of a “blanket loan forgiveness” will likely be white… with many coming from upper middle-class families… if it could be focused on those who come from economically disadvantaged families (regardless of ethnicity)… where the loan was from necessity, rather than convenience in keeping their other assets ‘in play’… then, am all ears…

       

  5. Bill Marshall

    … all we have to do is tell the apprentices to simply look at Washington DC to figure that one out

    Like Marjorie Taylor Greene?  An apprentice to the guy currently on trial for inciting a riot?  Who apparently supported the storming of the Capitol, and she appears to be only regretting that Pelosi wasn’t killed, and Mike Pence not hanged?  That type of ‘apprentice’?

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