During this pandemic, the death of George Floyd reignited the Black Lives Matter Movement. Many of the protest are calling for reforms that at its core, stems from systemic racism.
Systemic racism is something that runs deep into our country’s history. It is discrimination that is promoted through the policies in our government and create societal disadvantages to a group or minority. The history of systemic racism stems from slavery and segregation in the United States. Even though these institutions no longer exist, we see it manifest in the various ways in our society. We see the inequalities caused by it in education, housing, employment, wealth, and representation within our government.
Often, the victims of systemic racism are those in the Black and Latino communities. Compared to their white counterparts, they face more discrepancies in regards to education, employment, wealth, and housing. They are also underrepresented in our government.
Given the climate that we live in today with large scale protests against police brutality, which stems from racism, it is of utmost importance to address this issue. This heavily impacts students’ present and future since the established institution that promises to help them achieve a better life is against them. We see this issue regarding the education system, where high poverty schools receive less state funding, causing minorities and low-income students to attend and complete college at a lower rate than their white counterparts.
Education plays a big role in continuing systemic racism. Most Blacks and Latinos are low income and live in neighborhoods where schools are underfunded. According to a report from the U.S Department of Education, 45 percent of high-poverty schools receive less state and local funding than the average funding for other schools within the same district, resulting in a low attendance and completion rate for college. With the lack of sufficient funding for schools in high-poverty areas, students are more likely to get suspended, expelled, and drop out at higher rates.
The lack of access to quality education and funding are just part of the problem. Another part of the problem is the treatment of black students compared to their white peers. Starting from a young age, black students are largely discriminated against and face different treatment compared to their white counterparts. In a study from the American Psychological Association, black youth as young as 10 years old are more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty, and face police violence compared to their white counterparts.
From her personal experience, Tiffanie Arias, who lives in Queens, states, “I know a lot of the kids that I went to elementary school with just went to their zone school. Like my zone school [middle school] is like 2 blocks away from me but like it’s bad. People got stabbed there, there’s literally always cops parked outside, ready for something to go down, and it’s just like in a way, that’s kinda like failing them [kids], you know.” Without the help of family friends and her mother’s encouragement, she would not be able to get a better education in a school in order to advance in life.
The mindset and view that Black youth are disobedient and are criminals harms how they view themselves. It creates the view that they themselves are the problem and without the proper treatment and correction of behavior, it sets them up for a bad future. Due to this, the education system pushes Black students towards the criminal justice system, resulting in the start of the continuing cycle of the school-to-prison pipeline.
KH, another person that was interviewed, believes that, as a Black student, they were one of the lucky ones who got to experience high school that wasn’t in their neighborhood. “Most black children in particular don’t get to leave their neighborhood when going to school,” says KH. When asked about their school experience, KH said that in their elementary and middle school, they felt normal. “It was a school that had people of color and they taught us to love and appreciate.” Only when they got to high school is when they felt that the education system fell apart. KH said, “In EVERY single one of my classes, it would be predominately white. After the majority, there would be Asian, Latinos, and then me. The only black child in class.” To them, it felt like the education system likes to keep people of color in their lane.
For those like KH, who was fortunate to experience high school outside of their neighborhood, they often feel alienated when entering a space where there aren’t others like them. From their experience in elementary and middle school, we see that the schools can truly help young Black and Latino students feel normal and part of the community. However, this has to happen with all schools with a diverse staff. All schools should treat all their students, whether they are white or people of color, equally and encourage belonging and love towards others of different races and ethnicities.
Racial discrimination plays a part in perpetuating systemic racism. People of color face verbal and physical discrimination in their day-to-day lives. For many Black and Latino Americans, they face racial discrimination and racial profiling in different aspects of life. To them, this is something that is considered normal when it shouldn’t be.
From her own experiences, Arias has faced discrimination due to the color of her skin. She recalls a past experience where in middle school, someone that is white would call her the n-word. At that time it didn’t register to her; she didn’t realize that it was such a bad word to say. “But regardless if I’m black or not, it’s so insensitive and offensive to say,” said Arias.
Arias also recalls several experiences in which security or the staff at the shop she was in would follow her around or keep an eye on her compared to her friends. She recalls the time when she went prom dress shopping with her friends. The staff in some of the stores followed her around and were more cautious around her. In one of the stores, one of the staff told Arias that she was only allowed to try one dress at a time, while one of her friends was able to enter the fitting room with 7 dresses.
LIke Arias, KH expresses how they felt being discriminated against. They express the numerous times of going into stores, where security would pay more attention to them and cashiers would check their bills more due to their skin color. They recall an instance that impacted them. “I was racially discriminated against by my best friend’s mom in high school. It reminded me that I was black and the views of someone’s family really affects their child,” says KH. As a result of this, they found their friend drifting away, building a wall, and separating from them.
IL, a 19-year-old student, sees the racial discrimination that Blacks and Latino Americans face. “I think racial discrimination plays a big factor in how our society and political power function,” says IL. Even though she is not part of the Black and Latino community, she personally believes that there is a lot of unjust and unfair cruelty against people of color and that racial action may be necessary in order to move forward.
The police play a major role in perpetuating systemic racism. One way is over-policing certain communities with a large Black and Hispanic population. Within large minority communities, there is a large police presence. This results in higher crime rates for minor offenses in communities of color.
During this time of protests in favor of the Black Lives Matter Movement, issues regarding the actions of the police against Black Americans and their relationship with minorities arose. The police are seen as a strong force whose aim is to protect the law, ensure the safety of citizens, and prevent crime and civil disorder. The police were generally founded to protect property and enforce law in order to protect citizens during the 1800s. However, in the South, the economics surrounding that region drove the police to act as slave patrols. From an article about the history of the police by the Times, during that time their job was to put down slave revolts and recapture runaways slaves to bring them back to their white slave owners. In the post Civil War and Reconstruction era, the police functioned as a way to enforce segregation and disenfranchise the newly freed slaves. Now due to their history and what they were founded upon, many advocate for defunding and even abolishing the police.
Many argue that defunding or abolishing the police would have negative consequences. However, those arguing for defunding police believe that the billions of dollars that the police get can be allocated to different issues that can potentially have positive results in the long term and decrease crime rates in the future.
When asked her opinion on why and how the police should be defunded as a youth living during this time, Arias believes that it is more about “allocating the money that goes to giving the police military grade weapons, protective gear, and just putting it towards these programs that honestly would save kids.” By addressing the problem at the source, with more funding towards welfare programs, our government can prevent youth from entering the prison system and promote a better lifestyle.
Likewise, KH believes that abolishing the police is a “drastic way to deal with systemic racism because we do need police,” and defunding and abolishing the police would allow crime and criminals go unpunished. Rather than defunding the police and allocating their budget elsewhere, they believe that there needs to be reforms on how police officers are screened and trained. “When police officers go through training, they spend about 110 hours on firearm skills/self defense, but only about 8 hours on conflict resolution,” says KH. Adding on to that, KH believes that police officers should spend at least 110 hours on ways to deescalate conflict without the use of firearms.
Systemic racism is an issue that runs deep in our country’s history. As the next generation to lead this country, we must be aware of the inequalities and discrimination that people of color face. The effects of it start early on in a child’s life and it continues to affect them all throughout their lives. We need to be educated on how this system is detrimental to others and seek ways to change that. As a whole, we need to recognize that this issue isn’t just black and white.