If all you listened to was right-wing pundits, you could be forgiven for thinking that the civil rights movement was hundreds of years ago, instead of less than fifty. You could easily assume that racial inequality doesn’t exist, and that people are poor simply because they’re lazy. You would believe that America is a land where no one ever notices your skin color, where everyone is treated according to how they behave rather than by the amount of melanin in their skin, or the texture of their hair, or the size of their nose or lips. You would be confident that, if someone happened to experience a negative interaction with authority, it was their own fault (unless that person happened to come from affluence, in which case it was police harassment and persecution and that person was owed an apology from those nasty police officers).
In other words, you’d be a blinkered mess with zero connection with reality as experienced by the minorities of the nation. News flash: Just because we elected a black president, just because there was a single black GOP candidate who had 15 minutes of fame, just because restaurants and schools are integrated (try though some conservatives might to reverse this), we are NOT post-racial. The law enforcement disaster surrounding the Ferguson demonstrations proves this, if nothing else. If you still cling to the idea that we live in a post-racial society, and that people who talk about racial inequality are just exaggerating or blowing things out of proportion, think about the following issues.
1. Black children are more likely to be suspended from school than white children for engaging in identical behavior. Some of the harsh discipline resulted from zero-tolerance policies implemented in the aftermath of the Columbine school shooting, a crime committed by white youths, but black and Latino students seem to bear the brunt of the punishments. Increased police presence in schools and over-reaction to minor misbehavior is funneling more kids out of classrooms and into situations where they are more likely to run into trouble with the law.
2. Schools with a high minority population are more likely to have teachers with little to no experience, as well as people in teaching positions with no teaching training or certification. Many are teaching “out-of-field,” which means they are forced to teach in subjects that they are not certified in or did not major in in college. Schools face budget cuts, or lack teachers in certain subjects, especially in economically-depressed areas, and the remaining teachers have to take up the slack, teaching in unfamiliar areas. Across the nation, high-poverty secondary schools have a rate of approximately 21.9 percent of classes taught by “out-of-field” teachers, while low-poverty secondary schools only have 10.9 percent of classes taught by “out-of-field” teachers.
3. Black citizens are more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sent to prison for drug crimes that are identical to the crimes of white citizens. Black and white people use marijuana at roughly the same rates, but this doesn’t translate to roughly equal arrest rates. This is a uniform phenomenon. It’s not that some states treat the races equally and others treat them really poorly. Only Hawaii has rates even close to equal, and that’s distorted by the fact that blacks make up only 1.6 percent of the population there. In the state with the second-lowest disparity, Alaska, blacks are 1.6 times more likely to be arrested. In the state with the biggest, Iowa, blacks are 8.34 times more likely to be arrested. Washington, D.C. has the second biggest; in the District, blacks are 8.05 times more likely to be arrested. This is important, because marijuana possession charges make up nearly half of total drug arrests.
4. Black citizens were hugely discriminated against during the recent sub-prime loan mess. The problem in the 1960s was that black people couldn’t get loans from the banks; the problem in the present is that they can get them too easily, with no experience to judge what is and isn’t a good deal. Subprime abuse devastated African-American communities, erasing generations of wealth creation and progress. Furthermore, the contempt of the lenders for their black victims has been proven. Loan officers at Wells Fargo, the leading originator of home loans to ethnic minorities, referred to black customers as “mud people” and their offerings as “ghetto loans.”
5. When two applicants with similar qualifications are up for the same job, the white man with a criminal record is more likely to be hired than a black man with NO criminal record. Black men whose job applications stated that they had spent time in prison were only about one-third as likely as white men with similar applications to get a positive response. For every 10 white men without convictions who got a job offer or callback, more than 7 white men with prison records also did, the study found. But the difference expanded greatly for black applicants. For every 10 black men without criminal convictions, only about 3 with records got offers or callbacks.
6. Racial inequality exists on death row. There is a HUGE inequality in death penalty recommendations and convictions between white and black citizens. A study of Georgia’s death penalty cases found that fewer than 40% of Georgia homicide cases involve white victims, but in 87% of the cases in which a death sentence is imposed, the victim is white. White-victim cases were roughly eleven times more likely than black-victim cases to result in a sentence of death. When the race of the defendant was added to the analysis, the following pattern appears: 22% of black defendants who kill white victims are sentenced to death; 8% of white defendants who kill white victims are sentenced to death; 1% of black defendants who kill black victims are sentenced to death; and 3% of white defendants who kill black victims are sentenced to death. After eliminating non-racial factors, the murderers of white victims receive a death sentence 4.3 times more frequently than murderers of black victims. The race of the victim proves to be as good a predictor of a capital sentence as the aggravating circumstances spelled out in Georgia law, such as whether the defendant was the primary actor in the murder.
7. Whites are more likely to support harsher criminal justice policies if provided with evidence that shows our criminal justice system disproportionately targets black people. This creates a vicious cycle. Blacks are unfairly policed, as detailed a couple places above, increasing their representation in incarceration. This, in turn, drives harsher laws and penalties for minorities, which increases the effect on already-targeted populations, which increases incarceration of blacks, round and round goes the wheel of racial inequality.
This isn’t a case of “black people behaving badly.” This is a case of “black people acting just as badly as white people, but being punished more harshly than the white people… when the white people are punished at all.” We’ve made progress in this country, but we’re not done, not by a long shot. Claiming that everything is equal between the races now is not only ignorant of reality, it is insulting to those who live with that reality and who are too often victims of the racial inequality that still haunts us.
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