Is America “Systemically Racist”?

The word ‘racism’ is like ketchup. It can be put on practically anything – and demanding evidence makes you a ‘racist.’

Thomas Sowell

Critical Race Theory (CRT) acolytes assert, with little to no evidence, that American society in the early 21st century is no better than the Jim Crow South in terms of its treatment of blacks and that, in many cases, it is worse. One leading advocate for the latter is President Biden, who described Georgia’s voting laws as “Jim Crow on steroids.”

Let’s be clear at the outset: blacks in America, historically, have suffered state-sponsored discrimination in the United States. Slavery was a legal practice endorsed by the state governments and enforced through the draconian slave codes. Segregation was enforced as law by state and local governments even after the Confederacy was destroyed. We can safely say that America, in its past, did impose real systemic racism. But we have come a long way since then, and the evidence is all around us if we only choose to look.

Informally, we can see that many blacks achieve prominence in professional sports, STEM, Hollywood movies, T.V. shows, and academia. Ironically, the critical theorists’ own success in capturing mainstream culture is sufficient testimony to the fact that Americans largely oppose traditional racism against blacks. Further, America elected a black president to the White House for not one but two terms. In the most recent election, it elected its first black vice president, and Pew Research shows that Congress is more racially and ethnically diverse than it has ever been.

Jason L. Riley, a columnist at the Wall Street Journal, provides some quantitative data supporting the idea that discrimination against blacks in the United States is largely dead. Contrary to the pervasive claim by BLM that police brutality against blacks is a “systemic” issue, Riley notes that police killings of blacks fell by 60 to 80% from the late 1960s to the early 2000s and have remained low since.

“According to a Washington Post database,” Riley writes, “police shot and killed 999 people in 2019, including 424 whites and 252 blacks. Twelve of the black victims were unarmed, versus 26 of the white victims. In a country where annual arrests number more than 10 million, if those black death totals constitute an ‘epidemic’ of police use of lethal force against blacks, then the word has lost all meaning.” Furthermore, Riley notes, approval for black-white intermarriages rose from 4% in 1958 to 45% in 1995, to 84% in 2013. In 2017, fewer than 10% of whites in a major survey believed that intermarriage is a “bad thing,” while the actual share of interracial marriages rose from just 3% in 1967 to 17% in 2015. 

The black population indeed ranks high in poverty, fatherlessness, and other negative statistics, but we cannot assume that historical discrimination is the primary cause. The mere existence of a statistical difference between two or more groups does not automatically imply that discrimination is the cause for the difference. The fact is that life for blacks was getting better every year in the first half of the 20th century, only to stagnate and even decline in the latter part of the century. Economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have argued that there is ample evidence to suggest that this latter decline in the black population is due to perverse incentives associated with the establishment of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” welfare state legislation.

Sowell points out that in 1940, only 19% of black children were born out of wedlock. By 1975 that number had risen to 49%, and by 2000 it was a staggering 68%. Also, in 1940, 13% of black families had incomes above the poverty line. By 1960, that number had risen to 53%, and by the end of the 1960’s it had peaked at 70%, where it has remained largely stagnant. In 1960, 20% of black children lived in single-parent homes, and just thirty years later, that number had tripled. How can it be, asks Sowell, that racism and discrimination were worse the further back you go in history, and yet black poverty is higher today relative to other groups than it was in the 1960s? The reason is that legislation was passed that incentivized blacks to become dependent on the government.

American blacks have been the special target of an intellectual establishment that prioritizes collective demographics over individuals. These intellectuals have sought to use the historical crimes committed against blacks in America’s past in an attempt to hamstring America’s future. After all, if you can convince a man that the world hates him for his race and that only the government can save him, you have earned a lifelong (and terrified) voter.

As evidence for this nefarious campaign, consider that the critical theorists neglect to mention the experience of Asian Americans. Consider that just as blacks have lower credit scores than whites, make less money than whites and get denied mortgages more often than whites, the same can be said about whites in relation to Asians. In just under a century, Japanese male income was higher in the United States than white male income despite decades of discrimination against Japanese and their internment by the U.S. government during World War 2. And yet, we never hear about “Asian privilege,” precisely because it does not serve to drive the wedge of racial tensions.

Furthermore, with the adoption of CRT in American schools and the passage of laws propping up blacks, one can argue that America is becoming “systemically racist” — against white Americans. To rectify the mistakes of the past and avoid making the same mistakes in the future, it is crucial that we think in principle and reject racism in all of its forms, including CRT and all of its derivatives.

Share your thoughts