Is there such a thing as Structural Racism?

by Mary Frances

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were catching up on some episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.  While I don’t always agree with him, he often has interesting guests and it can be helpful to hear differing points of view.  But I sat bolt upright in my seat when I heard him say to a guest, “We hear all this talk about structural racism.  I don’t even know what that is, is that even a real thing?”  I quickly pressed the pause button and proceeded to rant for more than a few minutes (apologies to my husband).  Is structural racism even a thing?  Well, I would certainly call it more than a “thing.”

There are probably several similar definitions for structural or systemic racism but this one that (hello, Bill Maher) I found quickly and easily seems to fit the bill: Structural racism refers to the totality of ways in which societies foster racial discrimination through mutually reinforcing systems of housing, education, employment, earnings, benefits, credit, media, health care, and criminal justice. These patterns and practices in turn reinforce discriminatory beliefs, values and distribution of resources, according to Dr.Zinzi Bailey, ScD, MSPH.

I’ll admit that many Americans may not have consciously understood systemic racism before George Floyd was murdered, but in the two years since then we have had a plethora of books, blogs, podcasts, movies, and television shows on the topic.  I hope that we as a society have learned more than a few things about the way the system has been rigged for people of color for generation upon generation.  If you still feel like you struggle with the concept, you aren’t alone.  People in many communities struggle to see how racism impacts their community when their community is 98% white or 95% under-privileged, yet the word systemic is quite appropriate because it described how invasive racism can be.

In the weeks that followed the murder of George Floyd, this video helped me understand how deeply the system and structures are flawed.  I encourage you to take less than 7 minutes to watch author and activist Kimberly Jones explain it in a powerful and yet off-the-cuff way (caution: strong language).  The System is Broken

A longer look at systemic racism can be found here.  The team at FaithX started exploring redlining maps and then layered over data of the societal structures: education, employment/unemployment, housing, food deserts, police-involved shootings, access to healthcare, and more.  With each and every layer we found that the racial disparities could be tied back to the redlining maps from the 1950’s and before.  

Structural racism is indeed real, Bill.  And it is something that can be addressed one person at a time, one societal structure at a time but only if we are aware, educated and informed.  Want some help exploring system racism in your community?  Contact us at [email protected]