Race relations have noticeably deteriorated since the Trayvon Martin murder case verdict. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows that only 52% of Americans believe that things are going well between white and black people in America. It is going to be hard to get those numbers to rise unless white Americans come to the hard realization that racism still exists in America.
White people are still largely the beneficiaries of racism, whether they know it or not. As The Nation’s Mychal Denzel Smith explains, “Not every white person is a racist, but the genius of racism is that you don’t have to participate to enjoy the spoils. If you’re white, you can be completely oblivious, passively accepting the status quo, and reap the rewards.”
The racism of today is not the same kind that prevents one from drinking water from the store fountain but it exists nonetheless. While black people can work, vote, and eat where they choose they are still faced with fighting everyday biases that white people do not have to confront.
The most blatant example of racism today is the criminal justice system, including the school-to-prison cycle. This dynamic begins with the disproportionate enforcement of zero tolerance laws and the sentencing practices that result in harsher penalties given to black people than their white counterparts.
The cycle can begin as early as elementary school where black students receive harsher punitive measures (suspension, expulsion, corporal punishment) and less mild discipline than their non-minority peers. They are then sent back to the negative environments, including broken homes, foster care, and prison and juvenile detention camps that reinforce and teach negative behavior.
Once introduced to the “system” they become statistics that feed into a racist cycle of crime and despair.
Philip N. Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, has created a brilliant well-sourced conceptual diagram that captures that cycle and explains the impact of racism and crime on the family unit.
Cohen’s diagram shows how racial bias creates the mindset that encourages unfair profiling and treatment of African-Americans in society. The news is fed the biased statistics of the school to prison pipeline, and then promotes images of young African-Americans as being overly violent and irresponsible. Thus when law enforcement and others encounter these young men they are predisposed and conditioned to treat them harsher than white people in the same situation.
The pernicious cycle can only be broken if we acknowledge that the system is inherently racist.
By Frank Hagler