At a time in history when crime continues to decline, same-sex marriage is legal, and innovation is powering advances in technology and bioengineering – one issue fails to progress: racial justice.
The unemployment rate for African-Americans continues to be more than twice that of whites. Public schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1950s and young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white equivalents.
Widespread media coverage and outcry at the murders inside the African-American church in Charleston, and protests sparked by the killings of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, transform the statistics into real faces.
Yet outside the political sphere, there is a continued lack of recognition and acknowledgement in the U.S. that institutionalized racism and white privilege are pervasive.
Derald Wing Sue – professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, internationally acknowledged expert on multiculturalism and diversity, and author of Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence – said he asks his students:
“How many of you socialize with people who are racially, culturally different than yourself? How many of you go into communities of color to celebrate the community events, to attend Asian Baptist churches, the black churches, how many of you do that? How many of you live in an integrated neighborhood?”
The reality here is that residential racial segregation is condoning a system of institutionalized racism where specific demographics are bearing the inevitable, negative consequences of policies set by those in power. Ultimately, race – a social construct – becomes a crucial factor in the outcome of violence whether that violence be physical, economic, political, or legal.
In the Architecture of Segregation Paul Jargowsky describes the rapid re-concentration of poverty since 2000. The concentrated poverty is racial in nature and the result of measured policy choice. Exclusionary zoning has developed with the movement and investment toward suburban neighborhoods. The wealthier suburbs reject affordable housing, keeping poor and low-income individuals in the city or fading suburbs.
Ruth Peterson, retired professor of Sociology at Ohio State University and former director of the Criminal Justice Research Center, and Lauren Krivo, professor of Sociology and affiliated professor in Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, introduce the concept of racial-spatial divide in their work Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-Spatial Divide. In an extensive study accumulating crime and related data for 9,593 neighborhoods in 91 cities in the year 2000, the authors verify a connection between race, place, and crime, and prove that residential segregation is the principle reason why social worlds of people are so opposing. In short, the disadvantaged are isolated from the advantaged, and it runs across racial lines.
What the Architecture of Segregation Report and racial-spatial divide illustrate are two neighborhood studies showcasing structural housing policies – which stem from racial segregation – making particular groups more susceptible to cases of violence. Exclusionary zoning and private discrimination create the concentration of urban poverty, which inevitably means education disadvantages, labor disadvantages, increased welfare dependency, social disorder, and a loss of commercial business.
And it is an argument made again and again as young men like Michael Brown are killed on the streets, igniting a demand for change, but progress is still invisible and emotions raw a year later.
In a powerful reflection on race, John Metta, an African American who spoke to an all white audience at the Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in White Salmon, Wash. said: “… People are dying not because individuals are racist, but because individuals are helping support a racist system by wanting to protect their own non-racist self beliefs.”
In the realm of racial justice, personal choice significantly reflects public policy and vice versa. Evident, are not only structural housing policies gone wrong, but also an inability to call them out.
If we commit an active effort in putting ourselves in unfamiliar situations, events, and discussions where authentic relationships and conversations can be cultivated, we can convert an increased understanding of institutionalized racism into righting the wrong and making restitution. We like to consider ourselves nondiscriminatory, multicultural, bias-free, and nonracist – yet this has yet to be transcended to a point where we are open to living side by side with each other.
It is time to demand that our political dogmas reflect the inclusive, nondiscriminatory attributes we claim to have. But first, we must represent those qualities outright.
Andrea Rocha is senior at the University of Washington and an intern at the Alliance for a Just Society.