August 18, 2019 | 81° F

JAWED: Structural racism is crucial to consider

Opinions Column: If Not Our Own, Then Someone's


Racism is much more than an abstract social concept.

It comes as no surprise that minorities face structural barriers when it comes to securing quality housing, healthcare, employment and education. The historical repercussions of American history in relation to minorities, especially Black people, are embedded into the cycle of poverty that entraps these groups. 

It is documented that, "even after considering positive factors such as increased education levels, African Americans have less wealth than whites," in a report conducted by the Center for American Progress. "Less wealth translates into fewer opportunities for upward mobility and is compounded by lower income levels and fewer chances to build wealth or pass accumulated wealth down to future generations." 

The struggle to support oneself and family in today's economy is, in itself, a barrier between the lifestyle of poverty and breaking out of the circle. In addition, with the value of a college degree plummeting, defying structural racism becomes a secondary concern as one tries to stay afloat dealing with daily expenses. 

According to the Anti-Poverty Network of New Jersey (APN), the correlation between poverty and race is undeniable. 

A small technicality, it is partly the definition of racism used that undermines the impact of that very term. 

“It’s much broader than just overt prejudice against someone because of their race: 'In reality, racism operates along a wide and complicated spectrum. The spectrum includes active, explicit prejudice and varying levels of preferential treatment, but the more fundamental characteristic is access to power and opportunity," according to NJ Spotlight. "This structural racism — disparate access to opportunity that is embedded in the social structures — has deeply harmful effects." 

There are several elements that contribute to this cycle of wealth inequality. In consequence of a long history of employment discrimination, Black households have significantly less access to tax-advantaged forms of savings. 

"A well-documented history of mortgage market discrimination means that blacks are significantly less likely to be homeowners than whites, which means they have less access to the savings and tax benefits that come with owning a home," according to the report by the Center for American Progress. "Persistent labor market discrimination and segregation also force blacks into fewer and less advantageous employment opportunities than their white counterparts. Thus, African Americans have less access to stable jobs, good wages and retirement benefits at work — all key drivers by which American families gain access to savings." 

In addition, the tax incentives received by higher income families contribute significantly toward housing and retirement savings. The cycle of poverty continues as the lack of tax benefits to Black families — as they tend to be low incomes, increasingly because of the above-mentioned factors — inevitably results in a relative lack of savings for housing or retirement. 

Behold the American Dream: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. 

It is also to be noted that the Black-white wealth gap has not recovered from the Great Recession. In 2007, immediately before the Great Recession, the median wealth of Black people was approximately 14 percent that of white people. 

Although Black wealth increased at a faster rate than white wealth in 2016, Black people still owned less than 10 percent of whites’ wealth at the median.

"Poor Blacks and poor whites are not similarly situated because whites have been and continue to be treated more favorably than Black people by government institutions ... Going forward, policymakers should use a targeted universalism framework to design and advance policies that ensure equity," according to the Center for American Progress.

The impact of continuous patterns of racism, how ever implemented, is that it is just fed more into the system. As evident in the examples above, the cycle is so ingrained into essential government policies in terms of housing, immigration, voting rights, school funding and healthcare that these things are hard to ignore. The struggle of dealing with the economic repercussions of systematic racism may appear an easier option than fighting against the status quo because, frankly, it has been made to do exactly this.

The vicious cycle of economic struggle seems to always target Black people. Clearly, there is a systematic basis that refuses to allow them an equal chance to rise. 

To bridge the racial wealth gap, it is essential to realize that poverty in white households is not the same as those in Black ones.

Fortunately, the long-term solution to these issues is also government policy. APN cites five priority recommendations as systematic solutions for this issue: 

1. Make addressing structural racism an explicit public priority

2. Require racial impact statements for all state legislation and rule-making with potential disparate impacts

3. Require data collection and dissemination by race/ethnicity and socio-economic status

4. Reinstitute the Public Advocate

5. Strengthen the Division of Civil Rights

Unfortunately, the current policymakers are not big fans of addressing such issues. 

Behold the American Dream. 

Malaika Jawed is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. Her column, "If Not Our Own, Then Someone's," runs on alternate Fridays. 


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Malaika Jawed

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