A landmark 2003 National Bureau of Economic Research study found that names perceived as “Black names” were significantly less likely to be considered or called back for job interviews. Nearly 20 years later, a different study performed by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Chicago found similar results. Indeed, multiple studies show that job applications with names perceived as “Black” or “ethnic-sounding” are consistently less likely to get as far in interview processes as their seemingly white counterparts. This is called name discrimination, and it’s just a small example of the broader inequalities produced by systemic racism.
Systemic racism permeates nearly every facet of society, from education to housing to healthcare and employment, and its impacts exacerbate inequalities. What exactly is systemic racism? This article provides helpful definitions and examples of systemic racism in everyday life so we can work to diminish the negative influence of bias and discrimination
Systemic Racism Definition
Systemic racism describes the way that racism, racial bias and racial discrimination are embedded into society. Derrick Johnson, the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), defines systemic racism as systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantage African Americans.
In the simplest terms, systemic racism refers to the ways that laws, policies and cultural practices create and maintain racial hierarchies in society. Systemic racism is born from institutional and societal structures that perpetuate racial discrimination and inequality.
Systemic racism exists in many parts of American society, including:
Housing: Inequities in the American housing system are a product of discriminatory housing policies against people of color, particularly Black Americans. For example, redlining, the historical practice of denying loans to qualified Black applicants for homes in specific neighborhoods, is a primary example of systemic racism in the real estate industry that plagued American society for centuries.
Though the practice was made illegal, its effects remain, resulting in racial disparities in homeownership and wealth. The effects of redlining are present in communities across the county, like Detroit, Michigan. Even more than 50 years after redlining was outlawed, Detroit remains among the most racially segregated cities in the U.S.
Healthcare: Generations of inequality in access to healthcare has resulted in a range of health disparities for Black Americans. One of the most alarming impacts of this inequity is the fact that Black Americans are at a higher risk for a variety of illnesses including heart disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and more. Furthermore, the disproportionate placement of hazardous waste disposal, incinerators and landfills in communities of color, broadly known as environmental racism, also contributes to negative health outcomes, like the disparities in asthma rates.
An example is “Cancer Alley,” Louisiana, an 85-mile stretch of oil refineries and petrochemical plants. Residents of the region are 50 times more likely to develop cancer than the average American. Its residents are also disproportionately Black. The town has been referred to as the “frontlines” of environmental racism.
- Legal system: Disparities in American legal outcomes — specifically that there are more Black Americans in prisons and face tougher sentences compared to white Americans — are longstanding. Over policing in communities of color and racial profiling during police encounters are examples of systemic racism within the legal system.
- Employment: The wage disparities between Black and white Americans — as well as the disparities in Black Americans in executive positions — are examples of systemic racism in employment. To that end, Black Americans face tougher prospects in landing a job, getting a promotion or getting a raise. Common examples of this include unequal access to job opportunities, particularly as it relates to the underrepresentation of Black people and people of color more broadly in executive positions.
What are Some Solutions to Systemic Racism?
- Disrupting implicit bias through education: The cumulative effect of unconscious biases can compound the effects of systemic racism. Disrupting this through training and educational programming, like diversity workshops and seminars, can help in the process of reducing biases and, in turn, reducing the impact of systemic racism.
- Prioritizing representation: Representation matters, and having qualified people from underserved communities in positions of power can make a difference when it comes to minimizing the effects of systemic racism. Institutions can, for instance, review and reform their job interview processes if there is evidence of discrimination.
- Decreasing disparities through public policy: Until the disparities that plague our society are addressed through meaningful public policy, the devastating effects of systemic racism will remain. By reforming discriminatory legal policies to amend unfair housing and other laws, lawmakers play a critical role in reversing systemic racism.
What Robert F. Smith Has Done to Address Systemic Racism
Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners (Vista), advocates for dismantling systemic racism in all its forms through his business and philanthropic work. Smith has, and continues to, encourage companies to set measurable goals to increase diversity in their workforces, and also mandates Vista companies set these goals as well. Additionally, as an advocate for the 2% Solution, Smith has called for large corporations to contribute 2% of their annual earnings to causes aimed at dismantling systemic racism across society, including in housing, healthcare, finance and education.
Smith also co-founded the Southern Communities Initiative, an organization that seeks to address systemic racism across six metropolitan cities in the American South. The Initiative focuses on improving economic, health, educational and digital outcomes in communities of color within the six regions. Southern Communities Initiative partners with more than 90 organizations across these cities, connecting them to necessary resources that help root out systemic racism in their regions.
Learn more about Smith’s thoughts on systemic racism by following him on LinkedIn.