The term obscures rather than elucidates the mechanisms by which inequalities persist.
“There are persistent racial disparities in society; those disparities have a cause; therefore, there is systemic racism.”
Even this much is questionable. Simply digging down one layer deeper into ethnic groups makes these sorts of comparisons silly in my opinion. Is there something in American society that privileges Nigerians over Burmese? Lebanese over French? Why then the massive difference in outcomes?
Bravo. In other words, describing “what” and “why” is fine, but analyzing “how” is how you change things.
Finally. Tried and true philosophical tools relating to causal explanations applied to contemporary race theory. Amazing the results that leap forth when we go rational rather than political. Well done, though I think this really just skims the surface. Would love to see Achinstein's analysis of explanations used in this context even more rigorously.
Agree with the sentiment generally, but are we now conceding that mere disparate impact - even when adequately explained - can fairly be characterized as “racism”? Doesn’t there have to be evidence that a system is discriminating on the basis of race specifically, rather than some other factor (e.g. wealth) for it to be “racism” - systemic or otherwise? If so, I don’t think his Ferguson example is a good one, as it focuses on wealth and not race.
Is America (the United States) systematically racist? There are a number of ways of looking at this, but they all yield the same answer. No.
1. The US and Canada have very different racial histories. However, the black/white income gap is remarkably similar. See “Black Canadians and Black Americans: Racial income inequality in comparative perspective” (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233008532_Black_Canadians_and_Black_Americans_Racial_income_inequality_in_comparative_perspective).
2. One clue is to look at societies where ‘racism’ (the white kind) hasn’t existed for a very long time. The Haitian Revolution was 217 years ago. If ‘white racism’ was really such a powerful force, then Haiti should be highly successful. That does not seem to be the case.
3. In World War II, Japanese-Americans were interned in various camps and typically lost everything. Yet, by the middle 1960s, they were more successful than whites in America. Back then, racism towards Japanese-Americans wasn’t hypothetical or limited to the internment camps. See “ALIEN LAND LAWS IN CALIFORNIA (1913 & 1920)” (https://immigrationhistory.org/item/alien-land-laws-in-california-1913-1920/).
It should be noted that the Japanese-Americans in question were hardly elite. They were brought to America as farm laborers. However, even after the Word War II camps, they were highly successful. See “"Success Story, Japanese-American Style” (New York Times (1923-Current File); Jan 9, 1966)
4. It turns out that all of the most successful ethnic groups in America are non-white. Some are wildly more successful than white. Some statistics. Median Household income for Indian Americans ($107,390), Jews ($97,500), Taiwanese ($85,566), all Asians ($74,245) is greater than Whites ($59,698). As can you see, non-white ethnic groups are at the top and Jews earn (far) more than non-Jewish whites.
These numbers are real, but have two major problems. First, Asian households tend to be larger than non-Asian households. Using personal income provides a better measure than household income. Asian personal income is also higher than non-Asian personal income. However, the positive gap is not as large as the household income gap. The second problem is the nature of the 1965 Immigration Act. The 1965 Act favored (rightfully so) highly educated immigrants over less educated immigrants. The cliché Indian-American immigrant to the US is a doctor. Of course, that is a cliché. However, it is a cliché because it has some element of truth to it.
5. It turns out the school funding is not equal across the United Sates. New York state spends the most (over $24K per-student, per-year) and Utah spends the least (around $7K per-student, per-year). However, the results almost exactly the opposite of what ‘white racism’ theory predicts. Utah has higher test scores that New York state. Of course, ‘white racism’ theory would predict the Utah would spend more than New York state. That isn’t even remotely true.
6. Police fatalities are not equally distributed by race. In 2019, just 17 Asians were killed by the police. For whites the number was 406, and blacks 259. ‘White racism’ can not possibly explain the amazingly low number of Asians shot by police. For a typical factoid, in one year, two Japanese-Americans were arrested for murder. Not 200, or 200,000. Just two.
7. The Asian incarceration rate is 74.5% lower than the white incarceration rate and 95% below the black incarceration rate. ‘White racism’ can not possibly explain these astounding differences.
8. It turns out that schools discipline rates are tracked by race. See Figure 15.3 of “Indicator 15: Retention, Suspension, and Expulsion” (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/raceindicators/indicator_rda.asp). ‘White racism’ can not possibly explain these astounding differences.
9. That statistics for SAT scores, college enrollment/completion, arrests, etc. are all readily available by race. You can even find COVID-19 vaccination statistics by race. Invariably, you will find racial disparities and invariably Asians will be on top. So much for the mythology of ‘white racism’.
Mr. Lutz is a victim of the very tautology that he mocks. He begins with a premise that is false, then uses it as the basis for "proving" it false.
He asserts: "In the bad old days, the theory goes, racism was personal, a matter of individual racial animus. Personal racism was easy to identify and, thus, easy to stamp out, or at least to drive underground."
Where does he get the notion that those of us who use the term systemic racism see it as something new and different from what existed in this country from its earliest days? So he thinks that we think that the institution of slavery was "personal" and not systemic? That Jim Crow was somehow pre-systemic? Just because the term "systemic racism" has caught on as an accurate descriptor of how racism - despite our noble efforts to counteract or compensate for race-based inequities - continues to pervade our institutions and practices, does not mean that the past was not also infused with institutional racism.
While I, too, decry much of the language used by the left as ill-conceived and counter-productive, "systemic racism," though it may stick in the craw for some, is one of the sadly rare terms that captures quite accurately how racial discrimination insinuates itself into our society. If it sticks in your craw, then maybe you need to broaden your craw.
This essay is interesting and useful, but it needs another “[sic]” after “cut and dry”. The phrase is “cut and dried”.
The alleged existence of 'systemic racism' is just a key tenet of the religion of the left ('woke'). The facts don't support it, but so what? You just have to believe. It is a matter of faith.
I actually think the municipal funding example is one of MANY mechanisms that in total can be included under the umbrella of systemic racism. If you look at the history of cash bail, the way Jim Crow somewhat survived even after the 60s Civil Rights movements with rise of the industrialized prison complex, that road a wave of a racialized drug war where sentences for people of color were WAY higher for things like crack cocaine vs old regular cocaine (e.g. a relative of mine got probation for having way above the cocaine limit in the 1980s... you can bet that didn't happen to many black convicts in my Southern home state), you do start to find myriad of ways that create a lattice of oppression in their sum total. So yes, I'm all for outlining the specific policies, but you also sometimes have to back to up and see the forest for the trees.
Perhaps Prof. Lutz has some positive ideas about overcoming racism problems here in the US, rather than pontificate from his safe seat overseas?
Many people use the phrase "systemic racism" in an arm-waving way, to avoid saying "I'm sure it's racist, I just can't explain how"--and arguments like that don't have much legitimacy. But that doesn't mean systemic racism doesn't exist or isn't important. Here's an example: the suburban development was a great boon for those who could buy a house. It gave homeowners some real wealth--the home is most middle-class Americans' largest investment--and many other benefits: more room than they had in the cities they generally moved from, better health, better schools for their children. The combination of wealth, health and education available in postwar developments gave the first homeowners' children (the baby boom generation) a good start in life. Many got college degrees and went on to enjoy well-paid white-collar careers, often in suburban houses of their own. The mass migration from the cities to the suburbs was a major element in the rise in U.S. living standards in the latter half of the twentieth century.
But it wasn't open to everyone. The vast majority of suburban developments, in the North as well as the South, were explicitly whites-only. The Levittowns refused to sell homes to Black families and successfully defended the practice against lawsuits by the NAACP. And because Levitt won those lawsuits, every other suburban developer could do it as well--legally until the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and in practice for long after that. Not that individual bigotry wasn't deeply involved: the developers did this because many white homebuyers wanted to live in segregated neighborhoods. But the effect was that the vast increase in family wealth afforded by the ability to buy a suburban home and grow up in a suburban environment was in large part closed to Black people. This is a major element in the huge disparity in wealth between white and Black families today, in their different geographic distributions, and in their differences in education. It's a legacy that will continue for generations.
That's systemic racism.
The essay is refreshing, and it's high time that someone take some air out of this inflated rhetoric.
As far as the author's contention that the focus on "systemic racism" comes from teleological thinking, I find that an intriguing theory. Here's an alternative theory for your consideration:
Progressives are notoriously unwilling to concede the achievement of progress (the reasons for 𝘵𝘩𝘢𝘵 are themselves subjects of interesting speculation). The obvious progress on race, especially in reduced public manifestations of racial animus, then requires explanation.
The first attempt was "implicit bias" -- i.e. the racism was there even though we couldn't see it. That collapsed under the weight of problems with the techniques of measuring it and interpreting the results.
"Systemic racism" is the next foray. The racism is there even without racists.
'Systemic racism' is just a key tenet of the 'woke' religious faith. We have been here before. In Nazi Germany, the wreckers were supposedly wicked Jews. In Stalin's Russia, there we endless Trotskyite conspiracies (and Jewish conspiracies as well). In China during Mao's Cultural Revolution, supposedly 'capitalist roaders' were everywhere and sabotaging everything.
It was/is all BS. The 'woke' religion is just the latest form of insanity to invent a villian class (the supposedly omnipotent, much dreaded 'white male'). Yeonmi Park (an escapee from North Korea) has a good comment on this. Quote 'even North Korea was not this nuts' after attending an Ivy League school. When American universities have fallen below North Korea they have fallen very far indeed.
This article seems to me to overstate the problem. It already gives one clear example (in Ferguson) of a system that has racist effects. There are many such systems: eg think of how the criminal justice system works. It seems to me useful to flag that it is important to look for such systems, though I agree with the author that it is only when you get into the specifics that action is likely to be effective.
Distinguishing between means ("how") and intent does not eliminate the importance of intent. Redlining was the means by which African-Americans were denied access to credit and housing, but redlining did not come into being without the intent to cause that effect. Jim Crow was the means of segregating the races and denying equality of opportunity based on race, but the legal mechanism of Jim Crow did not come into being without the intent to cause those effects. "Systemic racism" should not be interpreted to imply that the original racist intent necessarily continues, but certainly reflects the persistent effects of the original mechanisms of imposed racial disadvantage as well as the potential motivation behind failing or refusing to dismantle those effects.