Systemic racism exists in many forms and permeates nearly every facet of American society. Formally defined as societal policies and practices that result in the unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race, systemic racism disproportionately impacts communities of color, particularly Black Americans.
According to a 2020 Gallup poll, fewer than half of Americans rate race relations between white and Black Americans as “good.” Although there have been increased efforts to promote racial equity across sectors and systems, the U.S. has a lot of work to do to eliminate racism.
Below are five examples of how systemic racism has impacted the U.S :
- Students of color are more likely to attend schools that lack proper resources and are outdated. Predominantly non-white school districts receive around $23 billion less in funding annually compared to their white counterparts, according to a 2019 EdBuild report.
- According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Black, Hispanic and American Indian students commonly face higher rates of disciplinary consequences, including suspension and expulsion compared to white students. A subsequent Princeton University study suggests that both conscious and unconscious racial bias contributes to these disparities in discipline rates across racial groups.
These examples and other instances of systemic racism have led some students of color to drop out of school entirely, further perpetuating low graduation rates. In addition, Black students are more likely to take on student loan debt while attending college, which creates additional barriers for those trying to complete a postsecondary degree.
2. Employment and Wealth
The racial wealth gap is one of the most prevalent examples of systemic racism in the U.S. In 2019, the average white family had $184,000 in wealth compared to $38,000 for Hispanic families and $23,000 for Black families. Furthermore, data from the Survey of Consumer Finances found that the wealth gap between Black and white families has hardly changed in the last twenty years.
The racial wealth gap is a direct consequence of the discrimination that Black Americans and other marginalized populations have faced throughout U.S. history, which is still an issue today. The estimated loss of Black wealth as a result of past oppressive acts is estimated at $14 trillion dollars, according to the American Bar Association. Although strides have been made throughout history, these past exploitive acts have constrained economic opportunities for Black Americans.
Today, racial gaps in economic security are exacerbated by unequal employment opportunities. Black and Hispanic people are severely underrepresented across high-paying jobs, representing only 35% and 26% of the professional and managerial workforce. In addition, people of color are severely underrepresented at the top of the corporate hierarchy, and represent only 10.7% of CEOs among Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies.
In 2021, only 46% of Black people in the U.S. were homeowners, while 76% of white Americans owned their home. Additionally, homes in predominantly Black neighborhoods are often valued at $48,000 less than homes in predominantly white neighborhoods.
The disparities in homeownership rates between Black and white families is a byproduct of systemic racism within the U.S. housing system. An example of this is is gentrification, known as the changes that occur when wealthier people move into urban, low-income neighborhoods, displacing the area’s current inhabitants. Gentrification leads to rising real estate prices, and causes long-time residents, who are usually people of color, to get priced out of their own homes.
Systemic racism is a critical component of social determinants of health, or the circumstances in which people grow up, live, work and age that impact a wide range of health risks and outcomes. Racism impacts both people’s mental and physical well-being, making it harder to be healthy.
In addition, Black Americans face significant social and structural barriers when trying to access quality healthcare. Examples of these barriers include lack of access to healthcare coverage and affordable and safe housing, as well as high food insecurity and poverty rates.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people of color experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, asthma and heart disease. In fact, the life expectancy of Black Americans is four years lower in comparison to white Americans.
5. Criminal Justice System
The criminal justice system is rooted in racism and discrimination. Although Black people make up 13% of the U.S. population, they represent 22% of fatal police shootings, 47% of wrongful convictions and 35% of individuals executed by the death penalty.
Black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white Americans, and these disparities in treatment by the criminal justice system are noticeable as early as grade school. Almost 2 million students attend schools with law enforcement officers yet no guidance counselors, who are often integral figures in supporting students’ mental health. Black students in particular are more likely to attend middle and high schools with higher concentrations of police officers than mental health professionals.
These circumstances can lead Black students to be harshly disciplined by law enforcement at a young age, which contributes to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a concept illustrating how children are punished by the education system and led straight into the criminal justice system.
In 2020, protests erupted across the country to denounce the continued police violence against people of color after the tragic murder of Minnesota resident George Floyd. These protests led to important discussions on criminal justice reform, and in 2021, members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced and passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act to address racial profiling and use of deadly force. However, this bill is still awaiting passage in the U.S. Senate.
Robert F. Smith and His Work on Systemic Racism
Robert F. Smith is a philanthropist is a passionate proponent for equality and works on several initiatives to help end systemic racism for Black Americans. Through Fund II Foundation, a grantmaking organization of which Smith is the founding director and President, Smith has made frequent donations to organizations and places that work to combat systemic racism. Below are four examples of Smith’s work to promote racial equality:
- Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation: In 2016, Fund II Foundation contributed $27 million to support the organization’s African American Health Equity Initiative, which works to reduce healthcare disparities in breast cancer care among Black women.
- Prostate Cancer Foundation: In 2020, Smith and Prostate Cancer Foundation announced a joint effort to develop a genetics-based test that detects early-stage prostate cancer in Black men, who are at higher risk of developing the disease.
- Student Freedom Initiative: Student Freedom Initiative is a nonprofit organization that provides alternatives to private student loans and Parent PLUS loans for students attending Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The organization launched in 2020 with a $50 million donation from Fund II Foundation that Smith matched with his personal funds.
- Southern Communities Initiative: Launched in 2021, Southern Communities Initiative (SCI) provides funding for programs in disinvested communities across the Southern U.S. to accelerate racial equity within the region.