In recent times in Canada and the US police have got in big trouble because of inconvenient videos of them in action. Often in fact they show them in disgraceful action.
Nicholas Kristof one of my favorite journalists asked an interesting question in a New York Times opinion piece. He asked, ‘what would happen if there were no videos’?
He pointed out that the recent video of the Minneapolis police officer with his knee and full weight on the neck of George Floyd showed racism at its ugly worst. Kristof pointed out that,
“Racism in that video is as visceral as a lynching. Yet there is no viral video to galvanize us about other racial inequities:
There is no video to show that a black boy born today in Washington, D.C., Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or a number of other states has a shorter life expectancy than a boy born in Bangladesh or India.
There’s no video to show that black children still are often systematically shunted to second-rate schools and futures, just as they were in the Jim Crow era. About 15 percent of black or Hispanic students attend so-called apartheid schools that are less than 1 percent white.
There’s no video to show that blacks are dying from the coronavirus at more than twice the rate of whites, or that a result of the recent mass layoffs is that, as of last month, fewer than half of African-American adults now have a job.”
That’s the problem. Racism is more difficult to see when it is systemic racism. I have called this invisible racism. That does not mean it is not there. The evidence is actually overwhelming as I have been trying to show, but it is convenient for those in power and who are privileged by the current system not to notice it. As a result this form of racism is actually much more dangerous than the visceral kind inflicted by the Minneapolis police officer. It inflicts damage not only on an individual but all people of color. “Even when racism doesn’t go viral, it’s still deadly.”
Bobby Kennedy agreed. This is what he said,
“There is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly, destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night,” Robert F. Kennedy said in 1968 shortly before his assassination. “This is the violence of institutions, indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat.”
Kristof marshals some of this evidence:
“Health statistics bear that out. A black newborn in the United States is twice as likely to die in infancy as a white newborn and a black woman is two and half times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as a white woman.”
We have very similar statistics in Canada. We have been afflicted with the same disease–systemic or institutional racism.
Michelle A. Williams the dean of Harvard School of Public Health, explained it well,
“Racism is nothing short of a public health crisis, That reality is palpable not just in the scourge of police violence that disproportionately kills black Americans, but in the vestiges of slavery and segregation that have permeated the social determinants of health…Racism has robbed black Americans from benefiting from the advancements they’ve fought for, bled for and died for throughout history. That reality manifests in myriad ways — from underfunded schools to the gutting of health care and social programs, to financial redlining, to mass incarceration, to voter suppression, to police brutality and more. And it is undeniably harming health and prematurely ending black lives.”
Here is a shocking statement from the American Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, “Structural racism is more harmful to the health and well-being of children than infectious diseases, including Covid-19.”
Kristof also pointed out how Sociologists like Orlando Patterson have explained that ,
“while whites increasingly have progressive views about race in general, they often still favor public policies that disadvantage African-Americans. For example, they may oppose multi-occupancy housing in their affluent suburbs, reducing affordable housing and perpetuating segregation. Or they may support a broken local funding system for education that results in apartheid schools.”
This attitude is what Trump recently pandered to when he promised white Americans that their dreams of a suburban lifestyle was safe with him because he would ensure that Obama era regulations prohibiting federal funds from supporting discriminatory housing in the US would be eliminated. His supporters knew exactly what this meant. African-Americans would no longer be encouraged to move into “their” neighbourhoods.
That is why American public schools achieved maximum integration in 1988 and have been dropping ever since, as demonstrated by Rucker Johnson a Professor of public policy at the University of California and author of the book, Children of the Dream.
As Kristof pointed out,
“Structural racism doesn’t easily go viral, but it is deadly. A recent study of insurance records found that when blacks and whites with Covid-19 symptoms like a fever and cough sought medical help, blacks were less likely to be given a coronavirus test.
I wonder about doctors who didn’t get black patients tested — or officials who didn’t allocate tests to clinics in black neighborhoods. I’m sure many were well-meaning and had no idea that they were discriminating. But unconscious racial bias is widespread, resulting in what the scholar Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has called “racism without racists.”
There is some astonishing evidence to support this. Researchers have learned that professional baseball umps are more likely to call strikes when they are of the same race as the pitcher! Of course this benefits the whites more since there are more white pitchers. Basketball refs are more likely to call personal fouls against players of a race other than their own. Funny how that happens? Not!
Systemic racism is real and it is dangerous to society. It can be changed but we must muster the political will. As a result it may require us not to focus on violent protesters and look instead at their legitimate grievances. It can be done.