Note: This page contains a collection of well over 100 statistics that describe systemic disadvantages some face in our society that others do not. While the data presented focus on the experiences of Black and Latinx people in relation to white people, similar data could be presented for other groups, who share many of the same experiences in varying degrees. What follows is a discussion of the concept of white privilege, what we mean when we use it, and how the data presented can help us better understand it. To skip the discussion and jump straight to the data, click here.
TL;DR: White privilege & systemic racism are loaded terms in our social discourse. Here, I discuss the pitfalls in discussing these ideas, in an attempt to clear up misconceptions and clarify the ideas of systemic privilege and disadvantage from an equality-of-opportunity perspective. (Discussion of the equity-based view of privilege and disadvantage will have to wait for another time, but you won’t find it here.)
White Privilege is a loaded term in our society. To some, it carries connotations of blame and fault, as though having it is the same as endorsing it or having created it. To others, it seems dismissive of their hardships, as though their life has been easy, or of their accomplishments, as though they haven’t worked for or don’t deserve what they have. When we feel as though someone is suggesting something along these lines, our instinctive reaction is to object and defend—none of what we think it means feels right or good, and we react: NO…
This can be compounded by the way that the concept of white privilege intersects with white responsibility. We’re virtually never talking about what privilege is just for the hell of it—rather, we’re defining it for the purpose of discussing what ought to be done about it. And more often than not, we’re discussing the responsibility of those who have it to do something about it, or something with it… typically both (i.e., to use our privilege to help dismantle privilege).
But responsibility is a nuanced concept, partly because it intertwines the ideas of duty and culpability. Especially in a society so focused on fault and blame, the two can easily be confused. When you say it’s my responsibility, are you saying I’m to blame for it, or that it’s up to me to do something about it? Discussing it in terms of broad groups (which is necessary, because this isn’t about you, personally) even further confuses the issue: When those responsible for creating our systems of privilege (past), those who currently benefit from them whether they realize or intend it (present), those who actively maintain it (present continuous), and those who are called upon to dismantle it (future) are all interchangeably generalized as “white people”—which, admittedly, we are—it is extremely easy to lose the thread of what is being said about me, right now.
The tone with which these discussions often play out, on all sides, tends to encourage us to assume the least generous possible interpretation. We feel attacked—and that’s not something humans respond to particularly well. We interpret discussions of privilege as assigning blame and fault to us for creating something we don’t recall even being consulted about, and from our internal knowledge of our own values, intentions, and limited actions, it seems abundantly obvious that this must be a load of bullshit.
We’re talking past each other.
I’d like to offer a different take—and perhaps clarify a few of the places where we spend a lot of time misunderstanding each other.
Here is my thesis:
When we talk about privilege, we are referring to the idea that not everybody’s experience of life in this society is the same.
I think that statement is one that is fairly easy to agree with, yet also deceptively easy to lose sight of. We are human, and everything we know about our existence is defined by our experience of it. To make sense of an incredibly complex world and vast amounts of information, our brains look for patterns and make assumptions. One of those assumptions is that our experience of the world is consistent and normal.
And yet, I think just about anyone reading this, if you’ll pause for half a moment and think about it actively, can agree with this claim—that different people experience life in our society differently. In fact, once we take a second look at it, it’s almost silly how obvious it becomes. Common sense kicks in, and immediately the idea that everyone’s experience is the same as mine seems hilariously silly. But it was also an easy, natural, and human assumption to make, right up until the moment I questioned it. It’s how our brains work, and that can be as much a strength as a weakness; in this case, it’s an assumption we need to question and correct.
Talking about privilege, then, is about consciously challenging that assumption and becoming more actively aware that different people experience life in the same society differently.
With me so far? Then you can probably also agree that sometimes, those differences are just different, neither positive nor negative—but other times, those differences can affect our experience positively or negatively. This is particularly easy to recognize when looking at other times or other societies.
When the experience of entire groups of people is consistently negative compared to others (or compared to the “norm”), we call this disadvantage systemic. When this disadvantage occurs along racial lines, we call this systemic racism.
I will leave the question of how that arises, who is responsible, and what should and can be done about it to different discussions, led by people more qualified than me.
For the purpose of this discussion, all we are saying is that (a) different people experience life in our society differently, (b) sometimes that difference presents a disadvantage, and (c) sometimes that disadvantage happens along racial lines.
What does this have to do with privilege? Privilege is the flip side of that coin—it’s how we describe the difference from the perspective of those who lack that disadvantage. When we speak of the experience of people who experience disadvantages along racial lines, we’re talking about systemic racism. When we speak of the exact same situation from the opposite perspective, that being the experience of people who lack the racial disadvantages in question, we’re talking about racial privilege.
To summarize: Privilege refers to the idea that different people experience life in our society differently. When the variation in those experiences presents consistent disadvantages for certain groups of people compared to the “norm,” we call this disadvantage systemic. When these disadvantages occur along racial lines, we call this systemic racism. And when we speak of racial privilege, we are referring to the experience of not having to deal with those disadvantages.
In other words, systemic racism describes the obstacles certain racially-identified groups of people consistently experience in our society. Racial privilege does not mean that you didn’t work for or deserve what you have; it simply describes the experience of not having those particular obstacles. (It doesn’t mean you didn’t have others.) The purpose of discussing systemic racism and racial privilege is generally not to take away or invalidate what you have. Rather, it is simply to work toward removing those obstacles that some have and others don’t—that is, to work toward truer equality of opportunity.
Hopefully, if you have felt attacked, accused, or invalidated by discussions of privilege in the past, this presents it in a different light. If it seems reasonable to you, or even just possible, that some people’s experience of life in our society might be quite different than yours or mine, and some of those differences might present obstacles that no one should have to deal with, then I hope you will continue to approach the following section with that same open mind, as an opportunity to discover and learn just a little bit about the experiences of some that might be surprising to you, if you find they don’t mirror your own or reflect what you had assumed was “normal.”
What follows is, as far as I know, the largest and most complete collection of facts, statistics, and data anywhere on the internet, that demonstrate and exemplify systemic racism and white privilege (meaning simply, obstacles common for people of color that are not common for white people). I have done my best to collect the most recent and highest quality data, though at some point no doubt a refresh of the data will be necessary. And then, math being hard and me being a nerd (and former math teacher), wherever I have felt it necessary or helpful, and as concisely as possible, I have attempted to explain how to make sense of the math and grasp the significance of these statistics.
The data are organized into 11 categories: Police, the War on Drugs, Prison & Mass Incarceration, Criminal Justice/Courts, Education, Employment, Wealth, Workplace, Voting, Media, and Housing.
I cannot stress enough that this is only the tip of the iceberg. As extensive as this collection of data may be, it is by no means exhaustive. What you see below only begins to scratch the surface of the daily reality for many people of color.
I hope you’ll read with an open mind.
- Young black boys/men, ages 15-19, are 21 times more likely to be to be shot and killed by the police than young white boys/men.
- Black people are less than 13% of the U.S. population, and yet they are 31% of all fatal police shooting victims, and 39% of those killed by police even though they weren’t attacking. See chart:
- FBI Supplemental Homicide Report; see here for analysis
An important note: The above chart deals only with people being arrested by the police. Crime rates among demographic groups isn’t at play here, because 100% of all groups are people being arrested by police. In other words, police shoot and kill black people they are arresting far more often than they shoot and kill white people they are arresting.
Also worth noting is that this data is limited in two key ways. First, many police departments across the country do not report it, as it is not required. Second, the categories reported to the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Report are self-selected by police officers and departments. There is no way to confirm or quantify the effect of these limitations on the data, and I will leave you to make your own interpretation, but in terms of evaluating bias in data collection, it is more likely that data based entirely on police officers’ non-compulsory self-reporting is biased in favor of police than against them.
Despite this, police officers involved in unwarranted fatal shootings—incidents that result in the death of people who are unarmed, not resisting, etc.—rarely face significant consequences. This issue is not strictly racial. Astonishingly few police officers lose their job, let alone face criminal charges, for unwarranted use of force regardless of the race of the victim. While it is extremely rare for a grand jury not to indict in all other circumstances, the one context in which a grand jury is highly unlikely—suspiciously unlikely—to indict is when the defendant is a police officer.
Police also stop, search, and frisk Black and Latinx people at much higher rates than whites—even though whites consistently have higher rates of contraband possession. Often much higher. (Unless otherwise noted, all of the statistics that follow come from the same source, ensuring consistency in the data.)
- In New York City, white people comprise 44% of the population; Black and Latinx, 53%.
- Between 2005 and 2008, 80% of NYPD stops were of Black and Latinx. Only 10% of stops were of whites.
- 85% of those frisked were Black (frisked 50% of the time); only 8% were white (frisked 34% of the time).
- Under the NYPD’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” program, in every year since 2009, 87% of those stopped-and-frisked were Black or Latinx. 10% were white.
- Force was used against 24% of Black and Latinx people stopped by the NYPD, compared to only 17% of whites.
- Only 2.6% of all stops (total 1.6 million stops over 3.5 years) resulted in the discovery of contraband or a weapon. White people were more likely to be found with contraband or a weapon.
- Similar trends are seen in Department of Justice data from Los Angeles between July 2003 and June 2004.
- The stop rate for Black people was 3,400 stops per 10,000 residents higher than the stop rate for white people. The Latino stop rate was 360 stops higher than for whites.
- Black people were 127% more likely to get frisked and 76% more likely to get searched than whites; Latinx, 43% more likely to get frisked and 16% more likely to get searched. (Statistics are tricky: more likely is different than as likely. 127% more likely = 227% as likely, or more than twice as likely.)
- And yet, frisked Black people were 42% less likely to be found with a weapon than frisked whites; Latinxs, 32% less likely.
- Consensual searches of Black people were “37 percent less likely to uncover weapons, 23.7 percent less likely to uncover drugs, and 25.4 percent less likely to uncover any other type of contraband, than consensual searches of Whites.”
- Consensual searches of Latinxs were “32.8 percent less likely to uncover weapons, 34.3 percent less likely to uncover drugs, and 12.3 percent less likely to uncover any other type of contraband than consensual searches of Whites.”
- Similar statistics can be seen across the U.S.
- A study in Arizona found state highway patrol 3.5 times more likely to search a stopped Native American, and 2.5 times more likely to search a stopped African American or Latinx, than a white person. And yet, whites who were searched were more likely than all other groups to be transporting drugs, guns, or other contraband.
- A study in West Virginia showed Black drivers 1.64 times more likely, and Latinx drivers 1.48 times more likely, to be stopped than white drivers. After being stopped, non-whites were more likely to get arrested, even though police “obtained a significantly higher contraband hit rate for white drivers than minorities.”
- In Illinois, data showed the number of consent searches after traffic stops, for Black and Latinx drivers, to be “more than double that of whites”—even though “white motorists were twice as likely to have contraband.”
- Studies in Minnesota and Texas have yielded the same results, with Black and Latinx people being stopped more often, even though whites were more likely to have contraband.
- In another study, it was found that Black people are 3 times more likely to be stopped in California than whites.
- A 2007 U.S. Department of Justice report on racial profiling found that Black and Latinx people were 3 times as likely to be stopped as whites, and that Black people were twice as likely to be arrested and 4 times as likely “to experience the threat or use of force during interactions with the police” compared to white people.
Key takeaway: Crime statistics do not justify the increased likelihood that people of color will be stopped, frisked, searched, and arrested. The stop, search, and arrest rates cited above are consistently presented alongside the contraband hit rates to determine whether or not police activity reflects higher offense rates for people of color. It does not. Attempts to justify police activity by pointing to crime rates have been preemptively answered.
A note about statistical terminology: The distinction between “more likely” and “as likely” is very important.
As likely means compared to 100%. So if you’re 50% as likely to do eat pizza as I am, you’re half as likely. If I eat pizza twice a week, you’re likely to eat it once a week. If you’re 150% as likely to eat pasta as I am, you’re 1.5 times as likely. So if I eat pasta twice a week, you’re likely to eat it 3 times a week.
More likely means “just as likely plus this additional amount”—in other words, 100% + the specified amount. So if you’re 50% more likely to eat ice cream than me, that’s 100% as likely as me plus 50% more, or 1.5 times as likely. If you’re 150% more likely to eat candy than me, then you’re as likely as I am, plus 1.5 times more likely in addition. So if I eat candy twice a week, you’re likely to eat 5 times a week.
So when you see “A is X% more likely than B” add 100% to it, and when you see “A is Y times more likely B” add 1 to it. That will give you a clearer idea of how A actually compares to B.
War on Drugs
Similar disparities between the practice of racial profiling and actual crime rates can be seen in the “War on Drugs”:
- Black people are less than 13% of the U.S. population, and they make up only 14% of regular drug users, yet they are 37% of those arrested for drug offenses, and 56% of those in state prisons for drug offenses.
- Black kids are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than white kids —even though white kids are more likely to abuse drugs.
- Black people aged 18-25 are less likely than whites to have used marijuana in the last 12 months:
Black people of all ages are also more likely never to have used marijuana:
- And yet, Black arrest rates for marijuana possession are astronomically higher—and the disparity is only getting worse:
- In Seattle in 2002, “African Americans constituted 16% of observed drug dealers for the five most dangerous drugs but 64% of drug dealing arrests for those drugs.”
- In the late 1990s, black and white women had similar levels of drug use during pregnancy, but black women were 10 times as likely as white women to be reported to child services for prenatal drug use.
- http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/rd_ICCPR Race and Justice Shadow Report.pdf
- Neuspiel, D.R. (1996). “Racism and Perinatal Addiction”. Ethnicity and Disease
Again, the key takeaway is that offense rates do not justify higher arrest and incarceration rates. Not even close.
Meanwhile, the War on Drugs has been a total failure. It has been completely ineffective at changing drug use or addiction in the U.S.:
- When Richard Nixon declared the “War on Drugs” in 1971, the U.S. addiction rate was approximately 1.3%. 
Today, that number is unchanged: 1.3%.
- Nor has it spiked or dipped significantly at any point in the 40+ years of the War on Drugs—it has floated with unwavering consistency in between 1.0% and 1.5% for 45 years.
- Drug use among teens has not decreased; in fact, in recent years there seems to be a moderate increase.
- What fluctuations there have been show zero correlation whatsoever to enforcement of the War on Drugs.
- Recent data show that marijuana legalization hasn’t made teens more likely to use marijuana.
The devastatingly destructive effect of the War on Drugs on communities of color, especially the black community, cannot be overstated. It is completely ineffective in its stated goal; it has not reduced drug use, nor has it reduced addiction in the United States. Meanwhile, the drug trade is stronger than ever.
Black boys are arrested 10 times more frequently than white boys, for a non-violent crime that they commit less frequently than white boys, funneling young Black men into the criminal justice system from a young age in a way that does not happen to white boys. With felonies on their records, it is incredibly difficult for black men to get work (see Employment below). As a result, they are trapped in low-paying jobs, or worse, turning to crime.
The War on Drugs is Prohibition all over again, and it has failed to reduce substance abuse, addiction, crime rates, or any other ill associated with drug use—in fact, it has caused all of these things to increase, for the exact same reasons that Prohibition caused all of these things to increase.
The U.S. has seen a surge of arrests over the past 5 decades, and an absolute explosion in the prison population.
- The U.S. prison population rose by 700% from 1970 to 2005, mostly as a result of the War on Drugs.
- The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but we house 25% of the world’s prisoners.
- There are currently more Black people locked up in prison than there were enslaved in 1850.
- 1 in every 15 Black men (and 1 in every 36 Latinx men) are currently incarcerated, while for white men the statistic is 1 in 106.
- 1 in 3 Black men can expect to go to jail at some point in their lifetimes.
- Minorities are less than 28% of the U.S. population, but they are nearly 60% of the prison population. Black people specifically are less than 13% of the U.S. population, but they are 38% of the American prison population. To the question of whether this is simply because Black men commit more crimes, refer back to War on Drugs, above, and also see Poverty, below.
- Black juvenile youth are only 16% of the U.S. population, but they are 28% of juvenile arrests, 37% of the youth in juvenile jails, and 58% of the youth sent to adult prisons.
- Black boys are 5 times as likely to go to jail as white boys; Latinx boys are 3 times as likely.
- The average cost of prison in the United States is $31,307 per year for each inmate. That’s the equivalent of 3 years in-state tuition at UCLA. (Statistics taken from same year.)
- In many states, the cost of incarcerating a single inmate per year is much higher than the national average. In California, it is $47,421 per year; in states like Connecticut, Washington, and New York, it’s anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000 per year.
- The cost of federal prison ranges from $21,006 per inmate per year for minimum security, to $33,930 per inmate per year for high security.
Criminal Justice / Courts
- Once arrested, Black people are more likely to remain in prison awaiting trial than whites; in some places, they are 33% more likely to be detained while awaiting trial than whites.
- Then, people of color are routinely arraigned under stiffer, harsher charges than white offenders. While more than 90% of cases end in a plea bargain, Black and Latinx defendants are less successful at getting their sentences reduced via plea bargain.
- According to a University of Michigan study: “[B]lack defendants face significantly more severe charges than whites even after controlling for criminal behavior (arrest offense, multiple-defendant case structure, and criminal history), observed defendant characteristics (e.g., age, education), defense counsel type, district, county economic characteristics, and crime rates. Unexplained racial disparities exist across the charge-severity distribution, especially at the high end. The most striking disparities are found in the use of charges that carry non-zero statutory minimum sentences.”
- Black men are nearly twice as likely to be arraigned on charges that carry a mandatory minimum.
- A study in Georgia in the 1980s found that more than 20% of Black defendants convicted of murdering white victims received the death penalty. However, only 8% of whites convicted of killing other whites, and 1% of Black people convicted of killing other Black people, received the death penalty.
- Rehavi, M. Marit and Starr, Sonja B., Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences (May 7, 2012). U of Michigan Law & Econ, Empirical Legal Studies Center Paper No. 12-002. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1985377
Key words here: “…even after controlling for…”, “unexplained,” etc. This means that even after the data has been adjusted to account for differences in circumstances and ensure that apples are compared to apples, the outcomes for people of color are significantly harsher, in ways that nothing about the circumstances of their offenses can explain.
If you’ve watched just about any legal procedural show (Law & Order, for example) you’re familiar with the idea that almost anything you might be arrested for can be brought under different charges—say, Murder II or Murder III, or even Manslaughter, instead of Murder I. People of color are prosecuted under the higher charges at much higher rates than whites.
- Black people are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences than whites.
- Black people are 20% more likely to be sentenced to prison than whites.
- Once convicted, Black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than white offenders for the same crimes.
- That sentencing gap has widened in recent years; since judicial discretion was returned by the Supreme Court in 2005, “Prison sentences of black men were nearly 20% longer than those of white men for similar crimes in recent years.”
- ⅔ of criminals receiving life sentences are non-white; in the state of New York, it’s 83%. 
An important thing to understand is that these statistics combine with previous statistics to compound each other. Consider that Black people are stopped and searched at much higher rates, arrested at higher rates despite offending at lower rates, and then routinely brought up on stiffer charges for the same actual crime, while whites are more frequently charged more leniently. White people are then more often successful at pleading the initial charge down to lesser charges than people of color.
- Black people are frequently illegally excluded from serving on juries. “For example in Houston County, Alabama, 8 out of 10 African Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from serving on death penalty cases.”
- Only 3-5% of criminal cases go to court; most are plea-bargained. “Most plea bargains consist of promise of a longer sentence if a person exercises their constitutional right to trial. As a result, people caught up in the system, as the American Bar Association points out, plead guilty even when innocent. Why? As one young man told me recently, ‘Who wouldn’t rather do three years for a crime they didn’t commit than risk twenty-five years for a crime they didn’t do?’”
- People of color are much more likely to receive a public defender than whites.
In 2004, the US Bar Association reviewed the public defender system and came to the following conclusion:
“All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring…The fundamental right to a lawyer that America assumes applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exist in practice for countless people across the US.”
This is the American Bar Association admitting that the fundamental, constitutional right to a fair trial does not exist for many people in the U.S.
- Whites are 78% more likely to be accepted to the same university as equally qualified people of color. Emphasis on “equally qualified.”
- Once admitted, 71% of white students receive degrees, compared to only 29% of people of color.
- When they do graduate, black college graduates have significantly more debt than white graduates.
This is in addition to the lower quality of education in public schools in poorer neighborhoods and communities of color.
- The U.S. is one of only 3 of the 34 O.E.C.D. nations to give fewer resources and have lower teacher/student ratios in poorer communities than in more privileged communities.
- “[T]he vast majority of O.E.C.D. countries either invest equally into every student or disproportionately more into disadvantaged students. The U.S. is one of the few countries doing the opposite.”
- In New York, the value of the poorest 10% of school districts was $287,000 per student. In the richest districts, that number was $1.9 million per student.
- In the 2010-11 school year, the wealthiest 10% of New York school districts spent $25,505 per student. The poorest 10% of school districts spent $12,861 per student.
- The state of New York spends $19,000 per student on average. Tennessee spends $8,200, and some districts in Utah as little as $5,321.
- In Illinois, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina, school districts with a poverty rate of 30% received at least 20% less funding per student than districts with a 10% poverty rate.
- Only 17 states provide more funding to high-poverty districts than to low-poverty districts.
- A Georgetown University study found that the same racial divide is repeated in higher education: “The postsecondary system mimics and magnifies the racial and ethnic inequality in educational preparation it inherits from the K-12 system and then projects this inequality into the labor market.”
Much of the data in the prior section extends beyond racial concerns. If you live in a poor white neighborhood, or even a middle class white neighborhood… how do you feel about the wealthiest schools and students getting so much more in funding and resources than less wealthy and poor schools? At the same time… understand that the poorest predominantly Black neighborhoods are significantly poorer than the poorest white neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, children of color in public schools are treated much the way that teenagers and adults are treated by the law. Children of color are more likely to be perceived of as guilty, problem children, young criminals, and funneled into the justice system early. This is referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that young black boys were viewed differently than their white peers. “Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent.”
- Black and Latinx students are far more likely than white students to repeat a grade, especially in elementary and middle school.
- Black and Latinx students represent more than 70 percent of those involved in school-related arrests or referrals to law enforcement.
- Black students are 3.5 times more likely to be expelled than their white peers.
- Black and Latinx students make up 60% of confined youth today.
- Black and Latinx students also make up more than 70% of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement.
- While Black students make up only 18% of student population, they are 35% of those suspended once, 46% of those suspended more than once, and 39% of those expelled.
As you consider the following quotes, try and do better than the statistics above suggest is common: Remember that we’re talking about children, and consider what your perspective would be if this is how your children were treated at the same age.
“Criminal charges are brought against youth in schools for violations that never would be considered criminal if committed by an adult. … A child who has been suspended is more likely to fall behind in school, be retained a grade, drop out of high school, commit a crime, and become incarcerated as an adult. … The best demographic indicators of children who will be suspended are not the type or severity of the crime, but the color of their skin, their special education status, the school they go to, and whether they have been suspended before.”
All of the above—from police interaction and criminal background, to educational disadvantage from preschool through college—directly affect employment as an adult. However, even after they beat those odds, they face additional obstacles in obtaining and retaining employment.
- A black college student has the same chances of getting a job as a white high school dropout.
- Meanwhile, a white male with a criminal record is 5% more likely to get a job than an equally qualified person of color with a clean record. Read that again, please.
- Black men need to complete not one but two more levels of education just to have the same probability of getting a job as a white man.
- Pager, Devah, Bruce Western, and Bart Bonikowski. “Discrimination in a Low-Wage Labor Market: A Field Experiment.” American sociological review 74.5 (2009): 777–799. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2915472/
Inherited wealth also plays a big factor.
- The average net worth of black households is $6,314, compared to $110,500 for the average white household.
- While a college-educated white American has an average net worth of $75,000, a college-educated black American has an average net worth of less than $17,500.
- The black-white wealth gap is greater in the United States today than it was in South Africa in 1970, at the height of apartheid. We also incarcerate a higher percentage of blacks today than apartheid South Africa did.
Reread that last bullet point. In a genuinely free and equal society, does that sound like something that should happen? Are you able to maintain that our society is one of genuine freedom, equality, and opportunity… and yet somehow yields worse results than Apartheid South Africa?
Even when people of color do get the job, they face even higher wage discrimination than women do.
- White women make 78¢ for every dollar a white man makes.
- Black men make even less: 72¢ for every dollar a white man makes.
- Combine gender and race, and it gets even worse: Black women make 64¢ for every white male dollar, and Latina women make 53¢ for every white male dollar.
- Once released from prison, if they can get a job at all, the wages of black ex-convicts grow at a 21% slower rate than white ex-convicts.
- In challenges to Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, Pennsylvania had to admit that there had been zero fraud of the type the law attempted to prevent.
- An exhaustive analysis of all election-crime prosecutions since 2000 identified only 7 convictions for voter impersonation fraud. None of them involved conspiracy.
- A very influential conservative federal judge, who previously upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, has since reversed his position in light of a vast amount of data that now shows that voter ID laws are not necessary and do not prevent voter fraud, but that they do legitimately and indisputably disenfranchise millions of voters.
- A comprehensive database of US voter fraud uncovered virtually zero voter ID fraud—out of 2,068 alleged voter ID fraud cases, only 10 legitimate cases of voter impersonation. That’s 1 case out of every 15 million.
- In Texas in the last decade, there have been 2 confirmed accounts of legitimate voter fraud—out of 20 million votes cast.
Voter ID laws do absolutely nothing to prevent election fraud, but they do have a significant effect on voter disenfranchisement. Minorities are disproportionately affected.
- 11% of the American population do not have the kind of government ID required by the strictest state voter ID laws—including 18% of Americans over 65 and 25% of blacks.
Meanwhile, many states have laws that prevent former felons from voting, disenfranchising them for life.
- Voter laws that prevent felons former felons from voting disenfranchise 5.85 million Americans with felony charges in their past.
- Because of racial disparities in incarceration, these laws disproportionately disenfranchise people of color. As a result, felony-disenfranchisement policies currently deny more than 10% of the black population the right to vote.
- According to a study in Canada, non-white women who go missing receive 27 times less media coverage than white women.
- African American children comprise 33.2% of missing children cases, but only 19.5% of cases reported in the media.
Housing discrimination can include such things as landlords refusing to rent to black people, or charging higher rent; real estate agents failing to show black people houses in white neighborhoods; banks funneling black people into higher-priced loans; and much, much more, all on the basis of skin color.
- Black and Latinx people face housing discrimination an estimated 4 million times each year.
- While some of the more blatant forms of housing discrimination have declined in the last 3 decades, overall levels of discrimination remain extremely high.
- Housing discrimination is difficult to quantify, because a majority of cases go unreported. See this Report of the National Commission on Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for more information on housing discrimination.
- Read some of the stories at the beginning of this ProPublica article for examples of the kind of discrimination that occurs every day.
- Practices such as redlining, in which banks designate certain low-income neighborhoods where they won’t lend for home purchases or where they charge higher interest rates than similarly priced homes in non-redlined neighborhoods, and pricing discrimination, in which lenders charge minorities higher loan prices than comparable white buyers, made the 2007 housing crash and the financial crisis worse overall, and particularly bad for Black families, who were twice as likely to enter foreclosure during the recession than white families.
- “[B]lack families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.”
- In 2009, bailed-out banks such as Wells Fargo and many other large banks were found to have pushed minority borrowers who qualified for prime loans into subprime loans, which can add as more than $100,000 in interest payments to a mortgage over the life of the loan.
- Subprime loans were given to 41.5% of Black and 30.9% of Latinx borrowers, but only 17.8% of whites.
- “Among high-income borrowers in 2006, African Americans were 3 times as likely as whites to pay higher prices for mortgages—32.1 percent compared to 10.5 percent. Latinxs were nearly as likely as African Americans to pay higher prices for their mortgages at 29.1 percent.”
- Washington Mutual was the worst: 56.9% of Black and 42.3% of Latinx borrowers paid higher prices, compared to 16.9% of whites.
- Wells Fargo and Bank of America (two of the largest U.S. mortgage lenders), and many other banks, have been accused of neglecting foreclosed homes in minority neighborhoods, while maintaining foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods. This depresses the value of that home and the homes around it, hurting everyone in the neighborhood and causing the effects of closure to last longer.
Housing discrimination is inextricably linked with wealth accumulation and the growing wealth gap between whites and blacks; over the last 25 years, that wealth gap has tripled.
Housing discrimination and educational segregation go hand-in-hand, as sub-par, underfunded schools in poor neighborhoods depress educational attainment in low-income areas. Poverty, violence, teen pregnancy, and drug use are all exacerbated by housing discrimination.
But while the data above may serve as a small window into how housing discrimination affects minorities, it’s an issue that is hard to quantify. Instead, I would encourage you to read the following articles, which demonstrate how extreme housing discrimination in past generations continues to affect Black neighborhoods today. Ask yourself this simple question as you read:
Where would I live today, and what would I have, if these had been the experiences of my grandparents and parents?
This Town Needs a Better Class of Racist
“If you sought to advantage one group of Americans and disadvantage another, you could scarcely choose a more graceful method than housing discrimination. Housing determines access to transportation, green spaces, decent schools, decent food, decent jobs, and decent services. Housing affects your chances of being robbed and shot as well as your chances of being stopped and frisked. And housing discrimination is as quiet as it is deadly. It can be pursued through violence and terrorism, but it doesn’t need it. Housing discrimination is hard to detect, hard to prove, and hard to prosecute.”
The Case for Reparations
“From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market. … [Today,] black families making $100,000 typically live in the kinds of neighborhoods inhabited by white families making $30,000.”
What People of Color Can Expect
So here’s the reality. Black people in America can expect to have a harder time finding a job, and be paid less for it when they do get it, than white people. They can expect to have a harder time getting a loan, and pay a higher price when they do. They can expect to have a harder time finding an apartment or a house, which may make it more likely that they end up in a “bad neighborhood,” which in turn can increase the risk of their children going to under-resourced schools, being over-policed, becoming involved with gangs, and can reduce their access to investment, and disadvantage them in myriad other ways.
They can expect to be viewed and treated as dangerous criminals when they enter a grocery store, hail a taxi, or even move into a neighborhood. They can expect to have a hard time getting accepted to college, struggle to make the same grades and receive the same treatment from professors and advisors once they’re there, and have a harder time graduating. They can expect to be regularly pulled over or stopped while walking down the street, for no reason whatsoever—and when they do, they can reasonably fear than they will be the victim of all forms of mistreatment and misconduct, from police brutality to arrest to death. They can expect officers to operate under the assumption that they are guilty, and they can expect to be railroaded by the justice system—even to the point of being forced to take guilty pleas when they are innocent. If they were born in poverty, as a much larger percentage of them are than white people, they can reasonably expect to remain in poverty for their entire lives.
And that’s when they’re doing their best to do everything right. Should they make a mistake—as many of us do, especially when we’re young—they can expect to pay for it in ways that white people don’t, often for the rest of their lives. They can expect to be treated as young criminals by their teachers, given harsher sentences (longer suspensions, quicker expulsions, etc., both of which remove them from school and expose them to violent elements in their neighborhoods or in the criminal justice system). They can expect to be arrested, charged, convicted, and imprisoned for offenses that a large percentage of whites consider part of “being a teenager” or a college student. They can expect stiffer charges, higher conviction rates, and longer sentences.
And yes, black mothers and fathers can reasonably fear that any time their child walks out the door, he might get in trouble with the law, get arrested, have his entire future ruined—or even, yes, be shot and killed by a police officer for no reason but that he’s Black. When that happens, they can expect that justice will not be served.
Relating the Data to the Movement
Every year, American police kill between 1,200 and 1,800 American residents. This is far from necessary: For comparison, the combined population of the UK, Germany, France, and Japan is 14 million higher (343.5 million) than the population of the United States (329.5 million), but in the last year on record, these 4 countries had 42 police killings… combined.
Black people are disproportionately represented in police killings. But the larger picture that all of the data above begin to paint is that for every Black person killed by police, dozens or hundreds are beaten and brutalized, thousands are unjustly targeted and arrested, and millions are threatened, harassed, treated as criminals, and forced into the criminal justice system, which has the capacity to destroy every area, every aspect of their lives.
And tens of millions of white people write it off, call them liars, disbelieve their stories when they tells us about their lives, and insist that systemic racism is not a significant problem in America.
But when you read the above data, do you imagine living that life? Can you? Is there a world, a scenario, in which you would be okay with that, if it was your daily experience? Can you fathom the seething anger that would boil up in you every time you saw a cop, every time a white woman treated you like a criminal, or every time a white man played devil’s advocate with your the experiences of your life?
Talking about white privilege isn’t about trying to take what you and I have, or claiming that your life has been easy. It’s about recognizing that life is hard enough as it is, that there are enough obstacles built-in already—even for you and me—and all this extra is wrong and shouldn’t exist. It’s about recognizing that some people don’t even have that yet. And they should.
And I know we agree on that.
The Question I Ask Myself
We’re in the middle of a movement that this country hasn’t seen the likes of in 50 years. The question you have to ask yourself—the question I keep coming back to, myself—is a simple one, but the answer can’t simply be assumed. As asked in a pair of tweets from 2014:
“If you’re desperately trying to justify violence against unarmed civilians in 2014, who do you think you would have been in 1964 or 1944? You want to disprove the claims of people talking about an unjust and racist system today, but you would have listened during Apartheid, Jim Crow, etc.???”
By 1964, of course, the author of that tweet meant the Civil Rights Movement; by 1944, he meant the Holocaust. If we’re not willing to recognize, let alone fight against, the injustices of our generation, how can we see ourselves as the type of people who would have fought against the injustices of the past?
Three final statistics from the Civil Rights Era ask us this same question: Who do we want to be when history ultimately tells our story?
- In 1961, only 22% of Americans supported the Freedom Riders.
- In 1963, only 23% of Americans supported the March on Washington.
- In 1964 (the year the Civil Rights Act passed), a majority of white voters thought the Civil Rights Movement had gone too far and 73% said Black people should stop demonstrations.
- In 1966, 85% of whites thought demonstrations by Black people were hurting the cause of civil rights.
- In 1967, 83% of Americans thought Black people should stop protesting and be happy with what they had.
To understand how our parents and grandparents failed half a century ago is to ask ourselves whether we are willing to fail in the same way today. So… Who are you today? In the face of today’s injustice, which all of the above just barely even begins to describe, are you being today the kind of person that would have opposed slavery, the Holocaust, Jim Crow, and Apartheid back then?
History suggests the answer can’t be nearly as comfortable as most people want to think it is.