It was a phrase that you almost never heard until recently as evidenced by this Google trends analysis over the last ten years.
The term did not even seem to appear at all until about five years ago.
What is systemic racism? It is considered to be racism practiced on a grand scale that is ingrained into every aspect of society---individual, institutional and culturally.
It differs from racism that is individually based. It appears the argument is that when you have systemic racism it is so pervasive that everything in society is stacked against those that are subject to that form of racism. Therefore, it is impossible for any member of that race to be treated fairly.
This means that literally everything in society is racist. The police department. The justice system. The educational system. The political system. It doesn't matter if 58% of the police officers in the Atlanta police department are Black. It doesn't matter if the judge and jurors on a trial are Black. It doesn't matter if the school board members are all minorities. It doesn't matter if the President is African American. The racism is rooted in the very existence of these institutions and their foundations rather than just limited to the racial attitudes of individuals.
Why has this term suddenly become popular now? Systemic racism clearly was much more pervasive and widespread going back 100, 50, 25 or 5 years compared to today. Why are we only hearing this term now?
There is little question that more can and should be done about racism but is it fair to say that little progress has been made from where we once were?
Look at what the liberal Brookings Institution has written about on this subject in an article "Black Progress: How far we've come and how far we have to go".
That article begins this way.
Let's start with a few contrasting numbers.
60 and 2.2.
In 1940, 60 percent of employed black women worked as domestic servants; today the number is down to 2.2 percent, while 60 percent hold white- collar jobs.44 and 1.
In 1958, 44 percent of whites said they would move if a black family became their next door neighbor; today the figure is 1 percent.
18 and 86.
In 1964, the year the great Civil Rights Act was passed, only 18 percent of whites claimed to have a friend who was black; today 86 percent say they do, while 87 percent of blacks assert they have white friends.Progress is the largely suppressed story of race and race relations over the past half-century. And thus it’s news that more than 40 percent of African Americans now consider themselves members of the middle class. Forty-two percent own their own homes, a figure that rises to 75 percent if we look just at black married couples. Black two-parent families earn only 13 percent less than those who are white. Almost a third of the black population lives in suburbia.
It might surprise you to learn that those words were written in 1998. Since that time we have also elected an African American President of the United States twice. An African American led the U.S. Justice Department for eight years under President Obama. African Americans have increasingly been elected to leadership roles in many of the nation's urban areas and they also are in charge of a number of the police departments in major U.S. cities.
Considering this progress it is harder to make the argument that the American people are racists. Is this why we are now hearing more about systemic racism?
Does much more still need to be done about racial equity? Absolutely. However, when terms like "systemic racism" are thrown around it seems to ignore how much progress has been made.
In many respects I understand the frustration that more progress has not been made. That is particularly true in looking at the last two decades since the words above were written.
African American earnings are about in the same economic position they were in 20 years ago. The previous 20 years showed more substantial progress.
However, over half of African Americans today are solidly in the middle class or higher. That number was barely one-third in 1967.
Median income for a married-couple Black family is $75,000 per year. However, this still trails white couples by about 15%.
Black homeownership is 41% but that is lower than it was 15 years ago.
Business ownership among Blacks still lags other minorities in the economy. This chart is based on 2012 Census Bureau surveys so it is dated. However, information for 2018 that was recently released shows similar relationships between the three major minority groups.
What stands out to me in this graphic is the difference in Asian and Black owned businesses.
Asians were once stereotyped as uneducated and fit only for hard labor or domestic duties. Products from Asia were derided as nothing more than cheap junk. Those stereotypes no longer exist. They have literally been turned on their head. The number of Asian-owned businesses is one of many reasons for this.
The educational attainment of Asians in the United States is another reason.
Today, students in high school and college cringe when they see Asian-Americans entering their classrooms on the first day of class. American businesses have learned some hard lessons from their Asian counterparts. The old stereotype is gone and has been replaced with another one. That change did not occur because people just started to think differently one day. It changed because people were forced to change their thinking because of what they experienced and the behaviors and results they saw from greater and greater numbers of Asians they came in contact with day in and day out.
Many Asian American students today face a different kind of racism. Their numbers are limited at many elite educational institutions because too many are achieving at high levels of academic success.
There is nothing wrong with confronting racism and challenging the societal factors that might be involved. However, most of the energy of the African American community about this problem seems to be only directed outwards. I don't see enough energy also devoted to looking inward for solutions to the problem as well.
There will be no change in bias in the system until the systemic problems in the Black community are also addressed. Poverty is at the root of the problem but that is a function of too many children born out of wedlock, too many high school dropouts and too many drugs and gangbangers on the streets.
Where are the voices talking about the nearly seven out of ten African American children born out of wedlock? Where are the voices decrying the culture among black youths that seems to glorify drugs and violence? Where are the voices speaking out about the fact that only 73 percent of African Americans are graduating from high school within four years? Where are the voices about the inner city murders in Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis and other urban centers that have been going on for years? 14 were fatally shot in Chicago this weekend including a 3-year old boy.
In addition, how does seeing masses of black youths breaking windows and looting stores going to contribute to breaking down bias and racism in our society?
It is also interesting that despite the fact that we are hearing so much about systemic racism in the United States we have never seen so many people from countries that have Black-majority populations immigrating to the United States.
Why is that?
There are now 5.3 million foreign born Blacks who have immigrated and live in the United States today. That represents 12.3% of the total Black population in the United States. The comparable percentage of Whites born outside of the United States--4.2%
In 1980 there were less than 1 million Blacks who were foreign-born in the United States.
There over 2 million immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in the United States today from countries such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana and Somalia.
That is almost an 8-fold increase since 1990.
There has also been a massive influx of Black immigrants from Caribbean countries such as the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Guyana. This chart shows that growth.
You might ask why the trend line from Guyana has moderated compared to the other countries above? It would seem to be based on the fact that Guyana only has a total population of 770,000 today. Over 280,000 people from Guyana have already immigrated to the United States. Half of that total is living in New York City alone.
You might also notice in the chart of educational attainment above that Black immigrants have a higher level of educational attainment than native born Blacks.
Why do these people want to come to a country in which systemic racism is so intractable? Why would they want to live as a minority in the United States if the oppression and the lack of opportunity is so pervasive?
Black Lives Matter seems to believe that the systemic racism in the United States is such that it can only be changed by literally tearing up the foundations of our nation by the roots.
What we see in the immigration data suggests that the United States has gotten more things right than any other country in the history of the world.
Our Founders set out "to form a more perfect union" when the nation was conceived. It was not perfect then. It was not perfect in the Civil War era or a hundred years after that. It is not perfect now. However, part of the American experience has been to continue to strive and work everyday to form an even more perfect union.
The question that the American people need to answer is whether we believe that this is better achieved by tearing things down and casting blame on others or building on the positives, working cooperatively to fix the negatives and all of us spending more time looking inwards on what we can do to improve the lives of everyone.
One of the great privileges conferred to us by the Founders was the absolute right to answer that question. The American people were given the right to control their own destiny like no others before them.
The American people can literally makeover every aspect of their government in no more than four years time at the local and state levels. They can turnover the entire House of Representatives at the federal level and one-third of the U.S Senate in just two years. They can elect a new President and replace another one-third of the Senate within four years. A complete overhaul is possible in six years unless the U.S. Supreme Court and our courts do not adhere to the Constitution and try to stand in the way of the will of the people
This is the way we are supposed to seek a more perfect union. There is absolutely no excuse for mob rule, anarchy, insurrection and destruction of public and private property in order to seek change.
Seeing the events of the last month I can't help think about the story about what Benjamin Franklin said to a woman who questioned him as he was leaving the Constitutional Convention.
The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, "A republic, if you can keep it."
I have no doubt we can continue to get closer to a more perfect union if a solid majority still believes in that Constitution and what it stands for.
If not, we may find how difficult it is to keep the republic and the union that has given so much, to so many, over the last 230 years.