To start on a bit of a personal note, I’m writing this because I’m angry. I was recently subjected to a mandatory course on “diversity and inclusion”, and my proverbial hackles have been raised. My intelligence, morality, dignity, and agency have been insulted with propagandistic nonsense. While yelling at the source of the instruction is not a real option, writing down exactly what I think and why I think it certainly is. Despite my indignation, I assure you, this piece will not rest its case on emotion.
The claim I’m making is twofold: Systemic racism does not exist in America, but the notion of its existence is very real and very dangerous.
As per our usual arrangement, I’ll begin by defining terms. As I’m sure you’re aware, the political left in America semantically overloads words and terms to muddy definitions, giving them an edge through fallacious Motte and Bailey argumentation. Black Lives Matter, for example, means much more than its literal definition. Any attack on the ideology behind it can be waved away with said literal definition, while the ideology continues to be promoted. Therefore, I am going to pin down the exact definition of the term “systemic racism” that I’m using for the sake of this article.
Systemic racism as used here is defined as any official policy, law, or mandate within America’s government or major institutions that targets members of a certain race due to their race. Any form of racism not meeting this definition is not systemic. If you disagree with this definition feel free to hash it out in the comments, but it is this definition that I will be relying on for the rest of this article, so keep that in mind.
The most obvious (and strongest argument) against the existence of systemic racism is the Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For those who are not aware, this bill made it federally illegal to discriminate based on color, race, sex, religion, or national origin; and was later expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. If one has been paying attention for the last few paragraphs, you might have noticed the similarity of a definition I mentioned earlier and exactly what this bill outlaws. Additionally, this bill doesn’t merely curtail the government's ability to discriminate based on race, but even goes so far as to outlaw the practice for private companies, infringing on the freedom of association to do so. This means that not only is it illegal for there to be any law to be racially discriminatory (systemically or otherwise), but for any company, organization, or entity of any kind to be
racist either (Source 1). The Voting Rights Act of 1965 does something similar but specifically focuses on discrimination in voting laws that don’t explicitly target race. Due to how recently slavery had ended, laws such as requiring one's grandfather to have been free in order to vote, for example, were irrevocably prohibitory to black Americans voting on every level of analysis except for the explicit. This portion of law recognizes that unavoidably discriminatory effects can stem from non-explicitly discriminatory laws, a fact that has since been widely acknowledged, and laws of such a nature are illegal under these acts (Source 2). For that matter, I would argue that no laws of that nature exist today.
I review the history here to put the absurdity of the systemic racism argument into perspective. These laws bluntly outlaw and condemn any form of systemic racism in the country. These laws were written nearly 80 years ago, and they still stand and are enforced today. (The exception being affirmative action, but that’s not what the systemic racism argument typically stakes a claim to)
These laws end the argument. Given that these laws are respected, any racism within any given institution is not systemic but definitionally aberrational. This is true because the “system”, represented by the black-and-white letter of the law, condemns it explicitly and punishes its practice.
That said, I recognize the world isn’t always as simple as the law implies it is. Although I maintain the sufficiency of my earlier point, I’ll now address some common arguments generally leveled by proponents of the systemic racism boogie-man.
The disparities argument is the most common I’ve encountered. It asserts that since disparate outcomes often correlate with race, these disparities must be due to discriminatory treatment based on race. Individual racists are liable perhaps, but more often systems are blamed. And if no actual obvious inequality in the system can be found, it is then quickly chalked up to unconscious biases or nearly untraceable and irrevocable historical impacts.
A few actual examples of these race-corollary disparities that are often cited as evidence for systemic racism include black people being convicted at higher percentages than white people for the same crime, disproportionate levels of poverty in the black community, and higher black arrest rates. While these examples seem convincing at first glance, they're hollow in actuality; they don’t actually prove anything.
Potential reasons for the disparities are nigh-infinite, but it ultimately comes down to differences in individual behaviors. I’d be happy to agree that we as a society should work at alleviating potential causes of poor behavior, such as poverty and broken family structure, but that does not exempt those engaging in poor behavior from personal responsibility. It certainly doesn’t shift the blame to white Americans today who have never discriminated against anyone. To declare racism the chief or only possible factor of these various socio-economic disparities, while ignoring other potential causes, is simply ridiculous.
Knowing this, we can explain why those previous three examples are weak arguments for systemic racism.
Higher conviction rates for the same crime may be due to differing criminal histories, differing behavior in court, or simply not being able to afford a good lawyer. Higher arrest rates could very easily be due simply to committing more crimes (shocker), perhaps resulting from a higher poverty rate or a familial cycle of crime. Pulling on that thread, higher poverty rates are a similar story: more likely due to individual choices, cycles and cultures of poverty, and familial issues. Notice, none of these potential reasons involve some shadowy covert power base or secret unspoken laws keeping black Americans dow
Now, I know what you may be thinking; all these potential causes I’m mentioning only exist as a result of historic injustices, making racism the culprit after all. While it is certainly true history has impacts in the present, I would argue both that this history does not qualify as systemic racism at all, and that historical impact is vastly overblown. The first point is easily argued; historically racist laws that no longer exist simply don’t meet the definition of systemic racism being used here. The second point is supported by a few bits of data. If historical oppression really put racial groups irrevocably behind socio-economically, the success of America’s Asian population would be next to impossible. Admittedly, Asian-Americans were never slaves the same way African-Americans were, but they were discriminated against nevertheless. The Chinese were barred from immigrating for 10 years by the Chinese Exclusion Act of
1882, merely for beginning to find some economic success during the Gold Rush. Chinese Americans were also barred from testimony without corroborating white witnesses (Source 5). During WWII, Japanese-Americans were shipped en masse into internment camps due to paranoia in regards to Japanese imperial spies (Source 6). Even now, Asian-Americans are discriminated against in college admissions, needing even higher grades than other racial groups to earn the same enrollment slot (Source 7). Suffice to say, Asian-Americans are subject to the impacts of historical discrimination. Despite all of this mistreatment, historically and even in the present, Asian-Americans still have the highest average levels of education and household income, even beating out whites, who have been the supposed benefactors of the system as long as it has existed (Source 8) (Source 9). This throws a rather large wrench into the theory that historical discrimination is destiny.
To be frank, if America is systemically racist, it is truly very terrible at it. America has had two black Supreme court justices, a two-term black president, a partially black Vice President, and dozens of black congresspeople. The NFL and NBA both have a majority of black athletes, despite blacks making up a minority of the population. A host of American black celebrities are treated as modern-day gods that millions of Americans of all colors respect, applaud and listen to. These actors tend to be edited out of movie posters in countries like China, while here in America we have altered the Academy Awards selection process to ensure diversity. (Source 10)
In the modern era, Black Americans have very high voter turnout rates, second only to whites, and not second by much (Source 11). America fought her bloodiest war, most of the blood coming from White Americans, to end slavery. She amended her Constitution twice and passed the two aforementioned Acts to prevent such behavior from resurging. While America did often fall short of her aims, that is a failure of practice, not of principle, which is what the argument for systemic racism is explicitly attacking. America has been struggling forward to overcome those shortcomings ever since, and as a result is one of the most
racially tolerant nations on according to a Swedish study, outranking most of Western Europe. (Source 12)
In America, Nigerian immigrants outperform the national average by a sizable margin in terms of income and education, an odd occurrence for a system allegedly designed to keep Black people down. One could argue this phenomenon is due to immigrants being untouched by historical injustice in America, but this counter has a few problems. First being, again, that it still doesn’t actually argue for systemic racism, only that history has consequences. Secondly, even accepting the premise that all historical impacts qualify as examples of systemic racism (which I don’t), it still doesn’t explain the success of Asian-Americans as discussed earlier. If race was the factor that determined success or ruin in today's world, these facts should not exist. But they do.
Given the lack of any law or policy that discriminates based on race and the myriad of potential factors that could lead to race-correlating disparities, evidence for the existence of systemic racism is extremely scanty, if it exists at all. Conclusive proof for the idea is certainly out of the question.
However, if you’re interested in the myriad of reasons why these disparities exist, I recommend reading Thomas Sowell and Shelby Steele, both of whom will provide much better answers to that question than I ever could or dare attempt. Suffice to say, culture may be the culprit.
No, you read the title, I am much more interested in a different question: why you should care.
First and foremost: systemic racism is not a fringe belief, it is a household term universally recognized by Americans. This is not because the majority of Americans understand exactly what it means and think that it’s true, but because they unquestioningly accept it due to the sheer volume of the messaging. The
concept has taken root in the very halls of power it condemns as racist; government, corporations, academia, media, education, even Hollywood. It hasn’t quite dominated our justice system or military yet, thank God, but that doesn’t seem to be far off. This message is bombarding American citizens at full blast from nearly every conceivable cultural direction, so of course, people buy it. The big issue is the facts we discussed earlier: it’s not true.
Leave aside the inherent danger that often comes with mass delusion, the idea itself is dangerous as well: it promotes social extremism.
Obama, the first black president, said during his presidency that racism was in America's DNA (Source 3). Even if not trackable, or articulated, or material, it still existed. Racism was not a belief in the inferiority and superiority of certain races: it was an invisible, undetectable, all-encompassing force that pushed racial disparities into existence. This is both a massive departure from the commonly understood definition of racism (belief in racial inferiority or superiority) and is a presentation of the issue in a manner that renders it nigh unsolvable without complete systemic upheaval- but more on that later. Curiously, optimism in regards to Obama’s effect on race relations took a substantial nose dive from their previous record heights after his presidency, presumably due to this exact rhetoric (Source 4). Ironic.
Systemic racism as implemented today politically suggests that every institution in America is so inherently infused with racism that it is part of her essence. Given the recent history that we have reviewed, the ideology behind systemic racism implies that no individual modification, no tweak, no singular policy change can actually alleviate the issue. Not even new constitutional amendments (Source 13). How could it? Racism is in our zeitgeist, our spirit, our DNA. It’s not in law, or in institutions, it’s not really definable at all. It’s everywhere and nowhere. All-encompassing, but impossible to find. A ghost in the machine. (This argument flies in the face of our earlier definition, but in this portion we are focused on the practical dangers the nebulous ideology and its implications pose, not its existence or non-existence. Therefore it is not necessary in this section to pin it down and define it, instead, I'll treat it here as it’s treated in the world writ large.)
The only solution for the racist ghost is an exorcism: complete cultural upheaval of every single institution that is older than five minutes. The only way is to start over, this time the enlightened few leading the way to an “anti-racist” utopia. (Told you we’d get back to it)
The only non-upheaval solution I’ve heard proposed to this particular problem is some sort of modern-day reparations. Reparations in a certain sense already exist and have since the sixties in the form of affirmative action and welfare systems designed to help out impoverished minorities, but direct checks are what’s being proposed currently. Unfortunately, this still wouldn’t alleviate America’s alleged spiritual sickness that’s apparently the root cause, it's morality is murky at best, its effectiveness is purely theoretical and most likely null (given the results of LBJ’s policies), and it would be so hilariously impractical to implement “fairly”, or at all, that it’s frankly not worth investigating further. I’d imagine it would actually violate the Civil Rights Act as well. More irony.
Now to be clear, not every person who claims to be a proponent for the existence of systemic racism believes this. As discussed, most don’t fully grasp the concept and its implications, it’s been semantically overloaded to the point of ideological slipperiness. The point is that the term still means what it means, and is used by cultural figures as it’s used, acting as a trojan horse for this social extremism. My concerns are not merely theoretical, examples have already come to pass.
The riots over the summer of 2020 are the most obvious incidents to point to. And while it’s true that the number of people actually rioting was small, the number of people willing to defend the acts was not. Sure, most were willing to condemn the violence (and only occasionally the property damage), but nearly all would hastily qualify that they “understand their anger ”, or are “sympathetic to their suffering”. These comments seem innocent enough, so innocent that most left-wing politicians would make statements in the same vein ad nauseam in order to appear empathetic. The issue is that if one grants validity to the premise of systemic racism, one must do the same for the resulting violence.
If no individual policy, law, Amendment, or Act can banish systemic racism, there's no reason not to tear the racist systems down. No reason not to burn, loot, vandalize, threaten, or even assault. One simply cannot grant the premise of the argument (systemic racism exists) and reject its logical conclusion (societal upheaval, by any means necessary). To do so is an exercise in doublethink, an exercise the entire left side of the political aisle is engaged in. (Either that or they’re lying about their beliefs in regards to systemic racism or to violence).
This is dangerous. It promotes social extremism of an extremely destructive and counterproductive variety. The ideology led to the country-wide violent riots last year, and their subsequent excusal by mainstream institutions. It even led to changes in law enforcement policy that have since proved disastrous for the well-being of the citizens unfortunate enough to be affected (Source 14). The myth of systemic racism leads to real, actual discrimination today in the form of affirmative action; by both keeping down higher-performing racial groups (like Asians), and pulling up members of underperforming racial groups (such as black Americans), regardless of their actual qualifications, often to their own detriment. It fosters division and resentment between racial groups, as well as racial guilt and victim mindsets. Simply look around at the political landscape surrounding race and see the damage that has been wrought.
In social settings minorities can claim inherent moral superiority over members of other races based on the color of their skin and the claims of oppression that come with it. This exact scenario was a scene shown to me by the diversity course. It instructed me, as a white person, to defer to the superior moral sense and knowledge of any minority member I happened to disagree with on a political or social issue. That seems pretty damn close to the textbook definition of racism: and it’s being mainstreamed by nearly every institution in America.
Systemic racism is just another conspiracy theory that’s easy to buy into, easy to get zealous about, but impossible to prove; and that has its consequences. It is false, it is dangerous, and it is evil. It’s merely another myth.