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The Myth of Institutional Racism

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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.

22 thoughts on “The Myth of Institutional Racism

  1. I found this article by searching Google for “institutional racism”. But, I find that the article is full of opinions that are poorly based in fact. For instance, while graduating high school does seem to be a reasonable goal, I argue that it is not entirely up to the individual. Citing a well documented poorer quality educational opportunities in communities of color that have lower graduation rates. That is an example of institutional racism.

    1. From living in my town I have discovered based on my own research that this statement is decidedly false. The two high schools in the city have significantly more funding than our high school in the suburb, yet they have much lower test scores. The city pumps as much money as they can into these schools, but the same problems persist. The schools themselves are much nicer than our district’s school, but the kids there are ruined by the culture of single motherhood mentioned in this video. It does not matter if the school is high or low quality, the problem is the same regardless.

      1. Join the discussion…I can understand your ignorance. Take a look back in history to discover why these single mother households exist. People who are not Black are so quick to speak to the Black experience that it is ridiculous. Take a look at this country wide and then come and talk to me about it. I’ll give an example of institutional racism. Social systems existed during the expansion to the west during slavery and afterwards. These programs were set up to help the progress of Whites. Social programs today, like food stamps, are mostly used by Whites. However Blacks are stereotyped as welfare recipients. Public housing, projects, were created by Whites to segregate and oppress Blacks (white supremacy). Housing programs were created under the New Deal to provide housing to White middle class and lower middle class families. Other housing projects were created (in the now existing ghettos for Blacks) to further segregate Blacks from Whites. Whites have received tons of social help, but it has been viewed positively and seldom spoken of to keep the idea of Whites being above Blacks. Help to Blacks is consistently spoken of to further stereotype them as needy and unproductive. Desegregation was not necessarily a good thing. Blacks, at a point in history, were more self sufficient and took pride in being so. Look up Redlining and research Black Wall Street. There are other examples of the latter and most know about White flight due to racial ignorance and White privilege.

        1. What does this have to do with today. Everything you mentioned occurred decades ago. A black person can live anywhere now if they work hard enough. We need to get off our butts and stop blaming the white for everything.

        2. No actually your statement is very much incorrect . While Africans make up a much lower percentage of the population 13-14% a much higher percentage of them use food stamps in totality, when compared to whites when making up 65 ish percent of the population. It seems you can’t differentiate between personal bias / racial disparities With the common day use of systematic racism for everything. If a black child does poorly on her SAT she fails because of a score and not her race. Even if she does poorly because of poor rearing/home conditions , they are a legacy of past discrimination or segregation. Effects like this are from racism in the past , they are not racism now systematic or otherwise. Failure to acknowledge this distinction has unjustly stigmatized white people and are the source of endless conflict.

        3. When reading comments such as these I wonder if the individual is simply more comfortable in remaining with her entrenched, pre-existing opinion or if she is open to seeing things in a different way. The author of the article provides data for his claims. You are welcome to research every claim that he makes and then to also research every claim that you make. I have already researched every one of your assertions and the numbers do not side in your favor. More dollars are spent in social programs for blacks per capita than for any other group (by a large margin). Although an arguement can be made that more affluent families can afford to send their kids to better private schools, the data shows that within public schools there is not that much disparate spending on the various race groups. This particular issue can be confusing because there are very poor areas in which the school district simply has less tax funding for their schools, and wealthier areas in which the funding is higher due to an increased tax base. I don’t think that anyone can argue that differences such as these exist. However, there’s also a lot of evidence to suggest that even when considering the same school in the same area there are inequalities that cannot be explained away by arguments of “systemic racism”. Also, it is remarkably unproductive to cite social policies that literally disappeared decades ago as a justification for the status quo in 2020. Blacks have made remarkable progress over 50 years, from a totally marginalized group to one that can claim a president (elected by a landslide), cabinet secretaries and many mayors and politicians around the country. There are entire industries that are dominated by blacks and many of those individuals have made sizable fortunes in those industries. We have gone from a time where the “N” word was in common parlance, to a time when it is unthinkable. So saying that we are somehow or another stuck in the past is both false and dangerous. Imagine the message given to young black children that they are condemned to a poor future because the cards are stacked against them. This is a false and insidious message which is unspeakably cruel to a young person. The message should be: your people have had a hard time, opportunities have dramatically improved and the world is now your oyster. Simply seize the opportunity with both hands because every aspect of our society wants you to succeed. That should be the narrative going forward rather than self-defeating race theories that help no one at all.

  2. Was willing to read this article to understand the “other side”, but all your numbers are off so I will not be finishing it.

    1. I just think the facts were not consistent with your ideology – so we should either change the facts or debunk your ideology

  3. Some people find it easier to believe they have no choice at all, and put the responsibility for their success on other people. Black people like Dr. Ben Carson came from a very poor background. His mother couldn’t read when he was growing up. But she made sure he and his brother did. She was a single mother because their father left the family. However, her boys became a doctor and an engineer. She instilled in them a deep faith in God also.. The pathway to success is hard, but it does require a certain amount of personal responsibility, no matter your race. Victims will always stay victims, unless they make better choices with what they have to work with.

  4. This article is pretty disingenuous from it’s ideas of institutional racism to the author’s understanding of white privileged. If you want one example of institutional racism, and I’m sure you don’t, my state has private for-profit prisons. These prisons have to be filled with short term, non-violent offenders. So, where do the police go to find these people? Not the white community which can afford high end lawyers and get good deals from the DA’s that often don’t involve prison time. Instead, the police focus their time on poorer communities, you can guess who occupies these places, and the DA’s consistently request maximum sentences. Now, I’m sure you will say this is all just coincidence. Maybe it is but I have to question how it is that the government, police and private entrepreneurs are profiting consistently off the misery of the same portion of the community every time.

      1. The very 13th amendment states that slavery is illegal except for a punishment for a crime . Think about it.

  5. I have considerable sympathy for Mr. Park’s view, although I respectfully submit that his argument fails to consider several important factors.

    While single parenthood among African-Americans is rampant and profoundly harmful to the interests of black communities–and to the rest of society, as well, via the costs of crime, incarceration, addiction and social welfare programs–this trend cannot be divorced from its historical context. For centuries, African-Americans were denied the freedom to form healthy families. Slaves were forced to breed with other slaves to produce stronger, healthier workers; children were separated from their families; black women were constantly under threat of rape from white slaveholders, and grinding poverty was the slave’s lot.

    Additionally, slaves working on a given plantation were typically of diverse ethnic and national groups from various regions of Africa, rarely sharing the same language or culture, which inevitably impeded communication, understanding and the development of friendship and love–to say nothing of the psychological trauma of beatings and the routine humiliations of everyday plantation life.

    Even after the end of slavery, black men were almost entirely unable to amass the financial resources that would allow for the formation of stable families–and of course it was the case that de facto slavery was the fate of many of the newly “freed” slaves.
    These circumstances all mitigated against the development of healthy families, and also made it harder for a culture or tradition of family formation to develop within African-American society. Such a history does psychological and cultural harm that lingers; it takes a great deal of time for a people to recover from centuries of abuse and exploitation that stunted and steadfastly frustrated the natural human instinct towards family formation. Of course, an individual African-American today is indeed free to make more or less responsible choices regarding procreation and marriage. But people are inevitably influenced in powerful ways by their culture. It’s not that people are mindless byproducts of their culture; but neither is it reasonable to say that anyone is entirely independent of his or her culture, and thus, when considering the rates of illegitimacy and single parenthood among African-Americans, any objective and fair analysis has to consider the weight of history as it influences contemporary trends.

    Similarly, it’s vital to note that African-Americans were for centuries denied equal opportunity in various realms that have an obvious bearing on the accumulation of wealth, both individually and inter-generationally: education, employment, housing, banking and finance, etc. Redlining, in particular, refused African-Americans access to the most common means by which individuals and families gain wealth: home ownership. If, well into the 1970s, African-Americans were denied parity in schooling, the marketplace and other such important regards, it is unrealistic in the extreme to assume that they would erase and reverse the effect of centuries of discrimination in fifty years–especially when the barriers to family formation described above compound the challenge posed by the purposeful and explicit denial of African-American economic ambition.

    None of this is to deny people agency or free will, let alone to excuse irresponsible and self-destructive behaviors. My aim here is only to suggest that Mr.Park’s depiction of opportunity in America is overly optimistic. There is a very interesting essay in National Affairs this quarter that takes a Burkean view of the basis of prosperity, arguing it ultimately resides in the manners or character of a people. I agree. But I think that when considering questions of inequality and economic opportunity, we have to consider historical and cultural contexts and factor their powerful influence into both our judgments and any policy initiatives raising from those judgments.

    1. Thomas Riddle’s response is very thoughtful and I am certain that it has merit. However, slavery ended 160 years ago and there has to be some type of time limit on its psychological after effects. There have been other catastrophes in recent history such as the holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and many, many others and the descendants ultimately get on with their lives. Furthermore, there are black communities in other parts of the world that are not thriving and they have had different historical experiences than African Americans. In Africa itself, which ostensibly came under colonial rule but not enslavement, there are also very high rates of single motherhood and many of the other issues that we see here. So whereas I agree that there may be a link between slavery and current conditions, it certainly can not be the entire story.

      1. Alanh, Thank you for a measured, gracious and thought-provoking response. I agree with your closing point: slavery can’t be the entire story. I don’t want to say that it is. As I remarked, people are not mindless byproducts of their culture and it’s not my aim to deny people’s agency or to downplay their free will. Rather, I think that many people have not really given much thought to what slavery actually involved and jto ust how horrible it was. We have photographs, news reports and even film footage of the Holocaust, as well as testimony from its survivors, a fair number of whom are still living. The same can’t be said of slavery and those who endured it, at least not to my knowledge. In any case, current debates about race and related matters often seem to lack a certain nuance or sense of historical context. Urging a complication of our sometimes sanitized ideas about these matters is my only intention. I’m sure you have that more sophisticated perspective, but our public discourse at present doesn’t seem to allow much room for nuance or sophistication! Thank you again for your thoughtful and instructive response.

    2. Then how do you explain the explosion of single motherhood in the black community since the institution of LBJ’s welfare programs? How do you explain the continued decrease in the single motherhood rates in the black communities up to that point?

    3. Back in the 17th century it was mosly Irish being deported into slavery in the colonies. First the men, for petty offences, without regards to thei dependents, which were deported later. While an African slave was worth the considerable amount of 50 Guineas, an Irish slave cost only 5. Financially struggling slave holders would rape their female Irish slaves, both for pleasure and the proift of selling the children thus produced. They soon caught on to the fact that breeding Irish female slaves with African male slaves produced darker “mulatto” children that fetched a higher price on the market while depressing prices of “fresh” imports and the profits of the slave trade. So much, that the practice was soon banned by law. The portrayal of slavery being a unique black experience is thus historically incorrect.

      Equally left out of the picture is the method of procurement on the other side of the Atlantic. White life expectancy in the African bush was about three years; certain African tribes were more than willing to sell off members of rival tribes to Arabian slave traders who ran the African ports of call on the triangular trade route (Slaves from Africa traded against agricultural produce in America, traded against glass jewelery in Europe to pay for the next round of slaves).

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