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3.4: Systemic Racism

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    • Mario Alberto Viveros Espinoza-Kulick & Teresa Hodges
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    The New Jim Crow (2010) chronicles the great systemic issue of incarceration that disproportionately affects communities of color, especially Black people. Michelle Alexander names statistic after statistic that demonstrates how white youth, for example, are criminalized way less and less harshly compared to Black youth (pp. 95-99). Cocaine is criminalized less than crack, as there are harsher penalties for being caught with crack. Experts, including WebMD, confirm that cocaine and crack are exactly the same; the only difference besides how they appear (cocaine as powder and crack as a rock) is how they are regarded. White youth are more likely to possess cocaine, while Black youth are more likely to possess crack (p. 97). Stereotypically, there is more drug dealing in Black neighborhoods, but Alexander actually describes how affluent white neighborhoods have higher rates of drug dealing (p. 97). Again, communities of color are criminalized more, and because these neighborhoods are surveilled more, they are more likely to get punished. White youth have fewer arrest rates and less severe punishment for possessing and dealing drugs (pp. 96-97). For more about Incarceration, see Chapter 10.

    Systemic Racism and Health

    Studies across the nation show that Black women have higher mortality rates while giving birth, and Black children have higher infant mortality rates. Some of the mortality rates among women tie to the lack of quality healthcare, doctors that have a bias against them as Black women, and more. Tennis superstar Serena Williams revealed that when she gave birth to her baby, she almost died. She publicly shared that the medical staff did not listen when she told them about some of her conditions that she felt were causing complications. Studies show that from complications from childbirth, “Black patients are more than twice as likely to die than White patients (37.3 vs. 14.9 per 100,000 live births)” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cited in Burris et al. 1576–96). Further, Recent studies show that midwives are associated with improved birth outcomes, lower rates of infant death, and that Black pregnant women in the U.S. report greater satisfaction with the care they receive from midwives than from physicians" (Vedam et. al cited in Muigai, p. 86).

    Muigai writes about how, historically, Black women have turned to midwives when white doctors wouldn’t treat them.

    child's patent mary jane shoes with flowers on the top
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): "Lost and Found." (CC BY 2.0; Blondinrikard Fröberg via Flickr)

    Educational Inequity: Schooling

    One way to understand inequity and diversity is to look at disproportionality, or how representation differs greatly compared to other groups or others within a group (NASP). In the two examples below, we see disproportionate rates of graduation for Black people compared to white people.

    • "…the difference between blacks and whites in college graduation rates was greater in 2000 than in 1940…" (Katz, Stern, and Fader, 2005, p. 93)
    • “…in 2000, 15 percent of 26-to-30-year-old African American women had graduated from college, compared to about 33 percent of white women of the same age. For men 26-30, the spread was proportionately larger: college graduates were about 29 percent of white men and a very low 12 percent of black men” (Katz, Stern, and Fader, 2005, p.94)

    Sidebar: Teacher-to-student interactions

    In other studies, we see how Black children and other children of color are treated differently by teachers compared to white children. This is a type of interpersonal oppression or person-to-person. For example, Darling-Hammond (2010) says,

    … dozens of studies have found that teachers typically hold more negative attitudes about Black children’s personality traits, ability, language, behavior, and potential than they do about White children, and that most Black students have fewer favorable interactions with their teachers than White students (Footnote: Irvine, 1990). Studies have also found that children of color are more likely to be treated differently in the classroom—neither pushed academically nor praised as much as White students—and more often punished for offenses that White students commit without consequence; they are also more likely to be suspended from school than Whites who commit the same infractions. (Footnote: Fine, 1991; Nieto, 1992; Carter & Goodwin, 1994) (Darling-Hammond, 2010, p. 65).

    Further, institutionally Black and Latino students have experienced segregation at high rates, even in the 2000s. Darling-Hammond writes,

    During the 1990s, segregation increased further across both schools and classrooms…By 2000, 72% of the nation’s Black students attended predominantly minority schools, up significantly from the low point of 63% in 1980. The proportion of students of color in intensely segregated schools also increased. Nearly 40% of African American and Latino students attend schools with a minority enrollment of 90 to 100% (2010, p. 35).

    These examples of educational inequity demonstrate discrimination and oppression from the interpersonal to structural levels. These practices and policies within schooling perpetuate cycles of domination that have consequences on Black and brown students. In the next subsection, we discuss Affirmative Action, which is one way schools seek to bring equity.

    people picketing with signs that protest segregation
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): "Picketing the separate and unequal D.C. schools: 1947." (CC BY-NC 2.0; Washington Area Spark via Flickr)

    Affirmative Action

    Affirmative action has been a contentious measure to address equity. The Legal Information Institution at Cornell Law defines affirmative action this way:

    Affirmative action is defined as a set of procedures designed to; eliminate unlawful discrimination among applicants, remedy the results of such prior discrimination, and prevent such discrimination in the future. Applicants may be seeking admission to an educational program or looking for professional employment. In modern American jurisprudence, it typically imposes remedies against discrimination on the basis of (at the very least) race, creed, color, and national origin (Legal Information Institute).

    In the fight with Affirmative Action, court cases where schools were accused of denying admission to students in order to admit supposed “less qualified” candidates such as in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), etc. Affirmative Action famously increased student of color enrollment at the University of California campuses until it was banned when Proposition 209 passed in 1996 to forbid the consideration of race in public school admissions. "Initially, Proposition 209 drastically reduced diversity at UC’s most competitive campuses. In 1998, the first admissions year affected by the ban, the number of California Black and Latino first-year students plunged by nearly half at UCLA and UC Berkeley" (Watanabe, 2022). The enrollment of African Americans at the top three selective schools since the banning dropped 34% at UC Berkeley, 22% at UCLA, and at 30% UC San Diego (Johnson, Mosqueda, Ramon, Hunt; 2008, p. 1). This is especially significant because the enrollment of these groups were way below the population residing in the state.

    The impact of banning Affirmative Action in California public universities led to the implementation of a Comprehensive Review in 2002 at the University of California for admitting students, which serves to apply weight to other admission factors, i.e., “students experiences and personal circumstances” and not just SAT scores and GPA (Johnson, Mosqueda, Ramon, Hunt; 2008, p.1). Johnson, Mosqueda, Ramon, and Hunt also point out that the post-Proposition 209 declines are also significant because

    1. “the percentage of UC-eligible African American high school graduates rose from 2.8% to 6.2% (California Postsecondary Education Commission, 2004)” and
    2. “the number of African American applications to UC campuses has increased by 65% since 1997 (UCOP, 2007b; UCOP 2007c). (Johnson, Mosqueda, Ramon, and Hunt; 2008, 1).

    These statistics show that there was a decrease in African American students at UC campuses despite them meeting criteria. Chacon (2008) points out that:

    the implementation of Proposition 209 has done nothing to address the disadvantages faced by underrepresented minorities in California’s primary and secondary education system. Instead, Proposition 209 simply has taken away one tool, however "artificial," that could have remediated some of those inequalities (Chacon, 2008, p. 1219).

    Further, she writes that some Proposition 209 proponents advocate for “class-conscious strategies” because they claim the issue is not race (Chacon, 2008, p. 1219); others claim that considering race is “polarizing” and worsens when we do things like place high regard for race in policies like affirmative action (Chacon, 2008, p. 1220).

    Students of color have disproportionately inequitable educational experiences. For example, Solorzano and Ornelas (2004) point out that whites made up 49% of AP courses in the state’s “top 50 high school” while Latinos only comprised 16% and Blacks 5% (Johnson, Mosqueda, Ramon, and Hunt; 2008, p. 5). Such a statistic might show how Blacks and Latinos are less in AP classes and are therefore considered less competitive for admissions slots and that race, not just class, is a factor. But as the second point about how the implementation of Proposition 209 does not address equity in K-12, it therefore ignores the root of the problem. This is epitomized by the claim that considering race in policy is “polarizing” because it would likely be polarizing if one is not an advocate for educational access for all and instead hopes to maintain the status quo. It is true that affirmative action enables other criteria for admissions, but there is still the same expectation for students to perform as well as those at the same school as those who were not admitted under affirmative action. Further, affirmative action is consistent with Brown v. Board of Education in providing access to education that students of color may not have otherwise due to the lack of preparation they faced from institutional racism (such as tracking) present in their schooling. Affirmative action recognizes the inequities and potential of students of color.

    Sidebar: Abigail Fisher v. Affirmative Action

    Abigail Fisher, a white woman, fought against affirmative action in court in 2013 and 2016 for her spot at the University of Texas, Austin, citing that the reason she didn’t get admitted was because it favored students of color over her. Ultimately, Fisher lost her case. Cases like hers and others are highlighted in this 2022 PBS update, "The evolution of affirmative action cases, from Bakke to Fisher" which provides links to the cases and to where-are-they-now with some of those who brought affirmative action to court.

    This page titled 3.4: Systemic Racism is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mario Alberto Viveros Espinoza-Kulick & Teresa Hodges (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .