The Myth of Institutional Racism

Image via SPLC

Progressives often blame difference of outcome on “institutional racism.” However, it’s always up to the individual.

Examining the driving factors behind wealth disparities between racial groups in America reveals a truth much more complex than the left would suggest.

First off, it is important to clearly define what people mean when they say “institutional racism” or “systemic racism.” Institutional racism is best defined as racism perpetrated by government entities. However, since most people, including people on the left, acknowledge that there is no law or government entity explicitly discriminating minorities in modern America, the definition of “institutional” or “systemic” racism has shifted over time. When the left cries out about “institutional racism”, they are referring to people of power and influence who have an unconscious bias against minority groups, elongating the pathway to success for all minorities. This argument essentially shifts the focus away from personal choice and responsibility by spreading the idea that non-whites have a limited control over their lives and that the “system” is cheating them. It also accuses people of being racist without evidence, by calling people out on unconscious bias, which is an unprovable and unidentifiable concept.

It is undoubtedly true that the United States has a history of institutional oppression against minority groups and that this history has an effect on how some individuals are situated today. Some people are born in low-income households, while others may be born in wealthy families. This does not change the fact that everyone plays by the same rules in America today; any abled individual can rise up in society with hard work and responsible decision-making. One must understand that inequality in today’s society does not mean injustice; it may be easy to simply attribute such disparities to systemic racism in the modern world, but the evidence unveils a far more complicated reality.

Although there is a major inequality of wealth between the average white and black families, those who say that institutional racism is the problem behind this discrepancy may want to examine the effects of making responsible decisions. According to the Brookings Institute, in order for someone to avoid permanent poverty in the United States, there are three simple rules to follow: graduate high school, get any full-time job, and don’t have kids out of wedlock. Regardless of race, only 2% of people who follow these three rules are in poverty, while 75% have joined the middle class. Although it is definitely true that black children are more likely to be born into poorer families, the study shows that the path to the middle class is relatively wide today. Graduating high school is a very reasonable goal and is almost entirely up to the individual, and it is still very reasonable to argue that any person is capable of finding ANY full-time job, barring any disabilities or mental illnesses (I personally do believe that a social safety net should exist for those who physically cannot produce).

Even if a well-paying full-time job seems difficult to attain, it is still very possible to avoid permanent poverty. The biggest indicator of poverty is neither the quality of one’s job nor one’s educational attainment; the biggest indicator is single motherhood (or, to a lesser extent, single fatherhood). This is true not only because of the direct effects of single motherhood itself (such as a much lower average income), but because of the countless effects that stem from single motherhood. According to the U.S Census Bureau, married couples in the United States earned an average household income of around $107,000 in 2015, whereas single mothers had an average household income of around $47,000. Single fathers had an average income of around $67,000 (Table F-10, “All Races,” Historical Income Tables).  It is simply common sense that not having two spouses will most likely lead to a lower household income, which can present more financial hardships for the family. According to the Business Insider, the family’s income levels can have a significant effect on the children’s “ likelihood of going to college,” and, for female children, “becoming a teenage mom.” When parent-income levels increase, “college attendance rates rise and teen birth rates fall.” This shows that single parenthood not only leads to a much lower average income, but also hurts the children’s likelihood to become more educated and increases their likelihood to have children out of wedlock (perpetuating the family’s struggle to find financial stability).

It is, therefore, unsurprising that the poverty rate is significantly higher for single-parent households than two-parent households. Interestingly, single-parenthood is extraordinarily high in the black community, as 64% of all black families live in single-parent households, compared to 40% of Hispanics, 30% of whites, and 17% of Asians. Even more surprising is how the poverty rate for two-parent black households is only 7.5%, which is under the American average of 10.6%. Furthermore, two-parent black households have a significantly lower poverty rate than white single-mother households, which sits at 25.4%. What happened to white privilege?

Some may argue that the single motherhood rate is very high for the black community because of systemic racism. For example, they may argue that the incarceration of black folks causes such a spike in single-motherhood rate.

Let’s assume that this is true; cops all across America are biased against blacks, and as a result, many of them arrest blacks for no reason. There is still no evidence suggesting that more discrimination causes high single-motherhood rates. This rate has nearly tripled for the black community since 1960, when 22% of black children lived in single parent homes. Is America more racist now than it was in 1960, when Jim Crow was in effect? Has America become increasingly discriminatory against the black community over the past 5 decades? It would be asinine to suggest such a thing, and this fact invalidates the idea that discrimination causes an increase in single motherhood.

Even President Barack Obama has argued that single motherhood is a serious problem within the black community and that fathers need to take more responsibility, as he stated that absent fathers are people who are “acting like boys instead of men.” He declared that “responsibility does not end at conception,” and pointed out how “children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.” The National Criminal Justice Reference Service supports this claim by saying that children from single-parent families are “more likely to have behavioral problems because they tend to lack economic security and adequate time with parents.”

These facts show that an individual’s likelihood of poverty can be determined not by skin color or some other immutable trait, but by personal responsibility and decisions. The vast difference between two-parent black families and single-parent black families is proof of that. If everyone were to simply not have sex before marriage or have responsible sex by using birth control (which is affordable, with condoms usually costing less than $5 each), most the problems associated with single-motherhood would be solved. The point of this argument is that for the most part, there is no one to blame for single motherhood than the two adults engaging in consensual sex out of wedlock. Most Americans have an awful lot of control over their lives. At the end of the day, everyone has the choice to do what will be beneficial for them in the long run.

Josh Park is an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California studying political science and journalism

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