Maybe you’re like me, and you’re tired of rhetoric. My wife is a nurse, and one of the current emphases in medicine is “evidence-based medicine”—as opposed to “eminence-based medicine.” And that’s a good thing. When I’m in the hospital or visiting my doctor, I want them using treatments that science actually proves are good and do work.
I have come to take a similar approach to politics. I’m not interested in cliché ideas or rehashed rhetoric; I want evidence-based policies, and I try to take data-based positions.
If you’re like me in this way, then I present to you a data-based approach to discussing the issues of white privilege and systemic racism—what it is, whether it truly exists, and what it looks like.
Others have used various analogies to explain what white privilege is—the immortal Invisible Knapsack and the very apt bicycle analogy are two excellent ones. But those are focused on explaining what privilege is (and what it is not) and what we mean when we talk about it, moreso than on presenting data that prove that the disparities that those approaches take for granted do indeed exist.
What follows is, as far as I know, the largest and most complete collection of facts, statistics, and data that demonstrate and exemplify the reality of white privilege anywhere on the internet. Mixed throughout, and especially at the end, you’ll find some occasional commentary from me—but by far and away the emphasis is on the data. I put it before you, with minimal commentary, so that you can decide for yourself—and because I believe it speaks for itself. Most of my thoughts I have saved to the end.
The data are organized into 12 categories: Police, the War on Drugs, Prison (Mass Incarceration), Criminal Justice/Courts, Education, Employment, Wealth, Workplace, Voting, Media, and Housing.
Before we dive right in, one final note: The data I’ve provided generally pertain to black and Latino people, but the experiences they quantify are not limited to these groups. Almost all of them are things that all other minority groups experience to one degree or another. In particular, I often focus on data relating specifically to black people. This is not to suggest that other groups do not experience the same forms of discrimination, in the same areas—it is simply that in almost every instance, black people experience the harshest forms of discrimination at the highest rates. And so, I have chosen to focus often on data comparing white and black experiences in various areas.
Finally, I cannot stress enough that this is only the tip of the iceberg. As extensive as this list of statistics is, it is by no means anything close to exhaustive. What you see below only begins to scratch the surface of the daily reality for 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.
- Blacks 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
To be clear, the above chart deals with people being arrested by the 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—many police departments across the country do not report it, as it is not required. The well-recognized tendency of police is to give police officers the benefit of the doubt to the greatest extent possible. Furthermore, the categories reported to the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Report are self-selected by police officers and departments—meaning that they have every opportunity to classify any given shooting more favorably than it perhaps ought to be. “These reports may or may not be accurate, and can boil down to an officer’s word.” Therefore, the data in the chart above ought to be considered very conservative; if anything, since the data is entirely based upon police officers’ non-compulsory self-reporting, the bias in these data must be assumed to favor police. Thus, if we could account for all officer-involved homicides in all police departments in the entire United States, and if it were possible to use an objective measure that did not depend on an officer’s own assessment of an incident in which he is involved, it’s entirely possible that the data might show an even greater race-based disparity.
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. Few lose their job, let alone face criminal charges. 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. When viewed against data that show extremely high levels of unwarranted racial profiling (see next section, and also War on Drugs, below) and stiffer charges and sentences for people of color (see Criminal Justice / Courts, below), the result is a stark contrast: People of color who do NOT deserve it are being stopped, arrested, charged, and imprisoned, while police officers who DO deserve it routinely don’t even have charges brought against them—let alone are they convicted and sent to prison. The criminal justice system, therefore, precipitates, protects, and even encourages racism.
Police also stop, search, and frisk blacks and Latinos 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.)
- In New York City, whites comprise 44% of the population; blacks and Latinos, 53%.
- Between 2005 and 2008, 80% of NYPD stops were of blacks and Latinos. Only 10% of stops were of whites.
- 85% of those frisked were black; only 8% were white. (Blacks and Latinos were frisked 50% of the time; whites, only 34%.)
- Under the NYPD’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” program, in every year since 2009, 87% of those stopped-and-frisked were black or Latino. 10% were white.
- 24% of blacks and Latinos had force used against them by the NYPD, compared to only 17% of whites.
- Only 2.6% of all stops (1.6 million stops over 3.5 years) resulted in the discovery of contraband or a weapon. Whites 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 blacks was 3,400 stops per 10,000 residents higher than the white stop rate. The Latino stop rate was 360 stops higher.
- Blacks were 127% more likely to get frisked and 76% more likely to get searched than whites; Latinos, 43% more likely to get frisked and 16% more likely to get searched.
- And yet, frisked blacks were 42% less likely to be found with a weapon than frisked whites; Latinos, 32% less likely.
- Consensual searches of blacks 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 Latinos 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 Latino, 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 Latinos 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 blacks and Latinos, 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 blacks and Latinos being stopped more often, even though whites were more likely to have contraband.
- In another study, it was found that blacks are three times more likely to be stopped in California than whites.
- A 2007 U.S. Department of Justice report on racial profiling found that blacks and Latinos were 3 times as likely to be stopped as whites, and that blacks 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.”
Crime statistics do not justify the increased likelihood that people of color will be stopped, frisked, searched, and arrested. As mentioned above, hit rates on contraband are consistently higher—often much, much higher—for whites than for non-whites. The same is true in other areas, such as drug use, possession, sale, etc.—which brings us to our next section, on the War on Drugs.
War on Drugs
Similar disparities between the practice of racial profiling and actual crime rates can be seen in the “War on Drugs”:
- Blacks are less than 13% of the U.S. population, and they make up only 14% of regular drug users, but 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.
- Blacks aged 18-25 are less likely than whites to have used marijuana in the last 12 months:
Blacks of all ages are also more likely never to have used marijuana:
- And yet, black arrest rates for marijuana 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
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 have no 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.
What the War on Drugs has done is trap millions of people, especially black men, in poverty, and push them toward a life of crime. With black boys arrested 10 times more frequently than white boys, for a non-violent crime that they commit less frequently than white boys, black men are funneled into the criminal justice system from a young age. 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.
Meanwhile, time spent in juvenile detention centers and state and federal prisons exposes young boys and men of color to the harder criminal element. Prison acts as a sort of “Crime U,” where non-violent offenders whose only crime was smoking a little weed—something a majority of Americans, especially white Americans, do at some point in their lives (82% of drug-related arrests in 2013 were for possession only, not dealing)—are encouraged and taught to commit increasingly worse crimes.
At the same time, the War on Drugs has given rise to criminal organizations that are both difficult to escape (even for kids trying to avoid gang life), and often appear to provide greater opportunity than getting a job and abiding by the law. In addition to juvenile detention and prison time, disparate rates of suspension and expulsion (see Education, below) bring young men of color into contact with the gang element, increasing the likelihood that they will become affiliated with a gang.
Finally, once they have a felony on their record, most states prohibit them from voting. Thus, the War on Drugs has become a new Jim Crow, a law enforcement policy that unfairly and disproportionately targets black men, which results in their disenfranchisement (see Voting, below) and effectively permanent relegation to an American underclass.
The War on Drugs has not only failed—it has created, fueled, and currently supports the very thing it purports to fight. Its only legacy is lifelong marginalization and disenfranchisement of millions of black and Latino men, and the utter destruction of countless communities of color. It 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 4 decades, and an absolute explosion in the prison population. The primary reason for this increase is the War on Drugs (see above), which is wholly ineffective, disproportionately targets people of color to extreme degrees, and has created a culture of crime that has trapped black men in poverty.
- 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 Latino 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. Blacks in specific are less than 13% of the U.S. population, but they are 38% of the American prison population. This is not simply because black men are committing more crimes—see Poverty, below.
- African American juvenile youth is 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 five times as likely to go to jail as white boys; Latino 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.
- 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, blacks 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, blacks and Latinos 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 defendents convicted of murdering white victims received the death penalty. However, only 8% of whites who killed whites and 1% of blacks who killed other blacks 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
If you’ve watched Law & Order or just about any other police procedural show, you’re familiar with the idea that almost anything you can 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.
- Blacks are 21% more likely to receive mandatory minimum sentences.
- Blacks 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.”
- 2/3 of criminals receiving life sentences are non-whites; in the state of New York, it’s 83%. 
The higher rate of mandatory minimum sentencing, the increased likelihood of a prison sentence, and the longer overall sentences, are even worse when considering the previous statistics. Consider that blacks are routinely brought up on stiffer charges for the same actual crime, while whites are more frequently charged more leniently. Consider also that whites are more often successful at pleading the initial charge down to lesser charges than people of color. The result is that people of color end up facing longer sentences for lesser crimes, while whites receive shorter sentences for greater crimes!
- Blacks 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—not exactly a liberal bunch—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.”
Read that again, please. 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.”
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 refered 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 Latino students are far more likely than white students to repeat a grade, especially in elementary and middle school.
- Black and Latino 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 Latino students make up 60% of confined youth today.
- Black and Latino 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.
“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.”
And even when you factor all of the above in, the “get an education, get a job” argument still has massive problems. Because even when they manage to beat the stacked deck and graduate high school without a criminal record, they still face huge discrimination.
- 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.
- Blacks need to complete not one but two more levels of education just to have the same probability of getting a job as a white guy.
- 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.
Not only does this have a direct effect on everything from getting a job to getting access to healthcare and adequate representation in the legal system (all of which are made easier by having money), but it also translates to lower home ownership rates and higher deficit/debt rates.
And why do blacks have less inherited wealth? Because for 250 years, they didn’t have property, they were property. Yes, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation happened 150 years ago, but then we went straight into Jim Crow. For 100 years. Until the Civil Rights Movement (MLK, Malcom X, Black Panthers, Rosa Parks, etc.), which was forty years ago! Your parents were alive when MLK was assassinated! Rosa Parks refusal to give up her seat on the bus, which ignited the whole 15-year movement, was the year before my parents were born! They were children and teenagers during almost the entire Civil Rights Movement! This isn’t ancient history; it’s yesterday. We’ve gone from slavery to Jim Crow to today—which, in light of the statistics listed above and below, isn’t looking so much like equality anymore. When, exactly, were black people supposed to find the opportunity to accumulate and pass on even the most modest amount of wealth?
And we suddenly expect that since slavery is over and the Civil Rights Movement happened and that’s all done, black men should be able to get it together and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” within a single generation?
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.
These are just a few statistics, which barely scratch the surface, on workplace discrimination against people of color. The direct effect this has on poverty in black and Latino communities must be considered before simply writing incarceration rates off as being due to higher rates of crime in black and Latino communities. Poverty leads to crime, and for people of color the odds of being poor are much, much higher specifically because the system treats them unfairly. That directly impacts crime in black and Latino communities.
Voter ID laws have been proven to be completely unnecessary and ineffective. They purport to prevent a kind of voter fraud that simply does not exist. They are a new Jim Crow—a way for conservative white politicians to prevent blacks and Latinos from voting. An increasing number of states are passing these voter ID laws, along with restrictions on early voting, same-day registration, community voter registration drives, and more—all of which serve absolutely zero purpose whatsoever, except for the (intended) side-effect of disenfranchising millions of blacks and Latinos.
- 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. Instead, they have disenfranchised millions of young people, minorities, and elderly, who disproportionately lack the necessary government IDs and utilize early voting, same-day registration, and community voter registration drives—other voting-related activities that are being banned alongside the passage of voter ID laws. This can only be seen as a highly transparent effort to keep young people, minorities, and the elderly from voting.
- 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.
As a lifelong conservative American, here is something I have never understood. Conservative Americans are (a) fiercely “patriotic” and claim to be the defenders of freedom, liberty, democracy, etc., and (b) also predominantly Christians, meaning that they ought to believe in grace and mercy for all of us sinners. So, aside from partisan self-interest, I find it hard to understand how they find it okay to rob a person of their democratic right to vote for their entire lives on the basis of mistakes that are in their past—often times mistakes that they made when they were kids! Shouldn’t their Christian faith cause them to forgive, to give people another chance, and their patriotism and passion for democracy and the Constitution bring them to the defense of any person robbed of 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.
- While 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.
- Blacks and Latinos 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 to 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 whites.
- “[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 blacks and 30.9% of Latinos, but only 17.8% of whites.
- “Among high-income borrowers in 2006, African Americans were three times as likely as whites to pay higher prices for mortgages—32.1 percent compared to 10.5 percent. Latinos 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 blacks and 42.3% of Latinos 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.
All of the above practices, along with many others, make housing much more expensive for minorities. 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. The concentration of black people in poor, “inner city” or “ghetto” neighborhoods is a direct result of blatantly discriminatory and predatory lending and home ownership practices between from the 1930s through the 1960s, designed to strip blacks of what limited wealth and property they had as white contract sellers profited massively at their expense in ways that make modern loan sharks look like saints.
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.
In truth, it is difficult to adequately quantify housing discrimination. The statistics above present some picture, but much of today’s circumstances are the result of blatant housing discrimination practices of the early and middle 20th century that herded minorities into segregated, poor neighborhoods, from which it is now extremely difficult to escape.
Instead, for those willing to maintain an open mind who care enough to learn about the persistent discrimination that underlies all of the statistics in the sections that have preceded this one, I urge you to read these two articles, both from The Atlantic. The second one, The Case for Reparations, is unquestionably one of the top three most important articles I have ever read.
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.”
You cannot begin to grasp the extent of white privilege or the continuing extent of massive systemic racism until you are at least aware of the legacy and extent of housing discrimination, and the ways that it has historically and continues to underly the causes of higher rates of crime and poverty seen above. Together, housing discrimination and the War on Drugs create a new form of Jim Crow—invisible, self-justifying, self-perpetuating, and nearly as destructive as the original Jim Crow.
What People of Color Can Expect
So here’s the reality. Black people in America can expect to have a hard time finding a job, and be paid less for it when they do get it. 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 becoming involved with gangs, reduce their access to investment, reduce the quality of their children’s education, 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 that an officer with an attitude problem or a quota to fill might arrest them on bogus charges, or maybe even plant evidence on them. They can expect police 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 whites, they can reasonably expect to remain in poverty for their entire lives. They have very little reason to believe the American Dream applies to them.
And that’s when they’re doing their best to do everything right! God forbid they should make a mistake, as many of us do, especialy when we’re young. If they do, 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 the gang element in their neighborhood). 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 valid reason. And when that happens, they can expect that justice will not be served.
My Personal Experience with Poverty
As I write this, I live in poverty—right now, this very moment. I don’t mean that I’m broke, though I am that, too; but you can make good money and pay all your bills and still be broke, because you spent all that money and you have nothing left in the bank at the moment.
I am not just broke; I am poor. I am a poor person. And because of that experience, I can say this much with absolute certainty: If it were not for the certainty that I have that sooner or later, my family will get out of poverty, I would live not only in poverty, but in despair as well. That is the only thing that keeps me going.
But because I live in poverty, I know a lot of other people who live in poverty—people of color. And let me assure you, the certainty I have that we will make it out is entirely due to my background, and and my wife’s. Are we working hard at it? Yes, it’s rough, and we are. No one is giving us an inch. But the things we’re able to do, the way that we are able to work the system, our very understanding of how the system works, our expectation that if we do the right thing the system WILL work for us, the education we both have, the very way we are able to think about and determine approaches to problems (which is a result of the education we got and the parents we had—which are in turn due to the fact that our parents were at home, not working a second or third job or in prison, and we attended good schools and had full stomachs during the school day)—all of these things, and more, are the reasons we’ll make it out. And they are things that many black and Latino people born in poor neighborhoods across America simply do not have.
All of my black and Latino friends that are as poor as I am, or even poorer… they do not have any hope of making it out. They don’t even think like that. It’s just life for them. I can only imagine that the only reason they don’t live in complete despair, as I would if I were permanently trapped in poverty, is because they never expected to make it out in the first place. Because they don’t really have an American Dream. That was never a reality for them in the first place.
I’m not saying there aren’t exceptions. I’m not saying it’s not possible. What I am saying is that poverty has a way of trapping you in it, and never letting go, and I have experienced that personally. What I am saying is that my wife and I are barely making it, even though we don’t have to worry about any of the 150 statistics that I have listed above. What I am saying is that we will barely make it out, and we have been trying for a decade—and that is despite a long, long list of advantages we have over the average person that is as poor as we are. Without the advantages we have, it’s highly unlikely that we’d ever make it out of poverty.
What would you do if you were born poor, and that dream of getting your dream job, marrying a good-looking guy or girl, buying a house, and shopping for white picket fences simply wasn’t an option for you? For many blacks and Latinos, continued poverty is what they can expect, and the American Dream as white people like me conceive of it isn’t something that is part of their reality.
What Would You Do If It Were You?
Many whites want to talk about “reverse racism”; I have been there, myself. I’ve gotten upset about it. But before we go there, spend just one more moment with me in their shoes, and let’s consider whether those attitudes genuinely constitute racism, or merely the legitimate and understandable anger, frustration, and bitterness as a result of all of the above.
Do blacks hold negative racial attitudes toward whites? Yes, plenty of them do. But ask yourself this: Considering all of the above—and considering that I have just barely scratched the surface in attempting to describe what it’s like to be black in America every single day—what would your attitude be toward white people, if it was you?
More to the point, how would whites react to all of the above if suddenly, overnight, whites and blacks switched places? How would we react if, retaining the expectations of the lives we currently enjoy and view as normal, we were suddenly treated as they are?
To be quite honest with you, I think there is a surprisingly high percentage of black people who are amazingly benevolent toward white people, despite living their entire lives in a system that, at the very least, favors us—and in more ways than I can describe, on occasions too numerous to count, actively persecutes them.
Were our position suddenly switched with theirs, we would not be so magnanimous. Nor would we be quiet. We would decry the injustices we were suddenly facing every hour of every day, on every television and radio program in the nation. We would protest in the streets of every town and city across the nation. And we would be angry, bitter, spiteful, and hateful toward those who occupied the position of privilege we currently enjoy. Much more, I think, than many of them are toward us.
The epitome of white privilege is that if black people attempted to do that, mainstream white society would chide them for being self-interested, denounce their outrage as unbecoming and inappropriate, admonish them to work within the system, and turn the tables on them to blame them for all of the above. In fact, that’s exactly what does happen, any time they talk about it at all.
A Common Objection
And while we’re at it, let’s dispense with the other argument you’re hearing a lot these days, especially on Fox News. “What about black-on-black crime? Over 90% of black people are killed by other black people! Why aren’t they addressing that?” First, the answer; second, the rebuttal. The answer: They are. White people just don’t hear about it, because we aren’t in the places where they’re addressing it, as this Daily Show video points out.
Now, the rebuttal: The majority of Americans are killed by other Americans; therefore, we should just not talk about, let alone do anything about, terrorism. We should instead focus on American-on-American crime.
I’m guessing you get the point. Yes, most blacks that are killed by other people are killed by blacks. That’s still overly simplistic, because blacks killing blacks is but a symptom of mass incarceration, mass poverty, mass disenfranchisement, and mass segregation wrought by housing discrimination, all of which are the direct result of the War on Drugs, a racist criminal justice system, and decades of housing discrimination—which are themselves the heritage of 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of “separate but equal,” and 35 years of racist housing policy.
But even if you want to ignore all that, it doesn’t matter. Because blacks killing blacks is NOT a good reason NOT to talk about, get upset about, and demand change in the gross injustices and massive systemic racism in the United States, particularly in the criminal justice and housing systems.
Diabetes and heart disease kill even more blacks than other blacks—but that’s not a good reason not to talk about this. Nor is it okay to attempt to minimize this problem, to make racism and injustice seem like a small thing that hardly ever happens, by comparing it to black-on-black crime. This is a massive problem. It is something we should be above. It is something we claim to be past. But we are not. Not even close.
And hopefully, all of the data and commentary provided and linked above has begun to make it clear that even that very issue itself—that of black-on-black crime—is a product of over 400 years of slavery, violence, discrimination, and marginalization perpetuated by the a society built to favor whites at the expense of blacks and other minorities. If anything, the reality of black-on-black crime, when viewed not simply as a phenomenon to itself but through the lens of its underlying causes, even further demands that we talk about the white privilege that has caused and now perpetuates it.
We must talk about it. We must be honest about it. We must end it.
Further Reading: The Importance of the History of Slavery and the New Jim Crow
Perhaps an even more common objection is found in the mentality that self-righteously suggests that black men should just get themselves together—in a single generation. I’ve been there, too—and if that’s you, I ask only that you first reserve judgment while doing just a little bit more reading. Read these two articles, and then ask yourself if it makes much sense to place all of the onus on black men to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” in a system that has consistently, deliberately prevented them from doing so. In fact, ask yourself if that is not precisely what they have tried to do—but somehow been prevented from achieving it.
And if you’re really serious about this issue, read the book that Joshua DuBois’s mentions: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. It’s what’s on my virtual nightstand right now, and it is being hailed as the most important book on the issue of race since Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
This is my challenge to you; I am throwing down the gauntlet. If you have strong opinions about racial issues, then you have a responsibility to be informed on the issues about which you’re so opinionated. Conversely, if you’re not willing to put in a very small amount of effort to become better educated on a tremendously important human rights and social justice issue, then in my book you forfeit your right to an opinion. A deliberately ignorant opinion is not, in fact, an opinion at all; it is willfully held prejudice.
If you’re white, then much of what this book and these articles discuss are things you were likely unaware of. I know I was. A little reading is not a lot to ask, and for anyone with strong opinions on these issues, this book and these articles ought to be mandatory.
The Privilege of Privilege Blindness, and the Importance of Talking About White Privilege
Here’s the thing: It’s easy for white people like me to be completely oblivious to much of this. Why should we know much about it? It has not been part of our experience. We’re not aware of this, because we haven’t lived it. And that is what white privilege is—it’s the privilege of not having to even think about white privilege, or even be aware of it, let alone worry about it. But this is why it’s important to talk about it. Because nothing is changed if we don’t talk about it—especially when the injustice in question is so woven throughout our entire society, and perpetrated by our own social structures.
When the authorities and the institutions are the guilty parties, the effort needed by the people to end injustice is massive. The first step is to stop perpetuating it, ourselves—but we can’t stop there, either, because this is too pervasive a problem in our society to only correct our own behavior, and not also be a part of calling for change on a national, society-wide level.
This can’t be a thing that a few people fight against; it has to be a massive movement. It has to be something the entire country is talking about. It has to be something that we finally, again, say is unacceptable. It has to be something that we, as an entire society, will no longer put up with, to the point that we’re willing to make the massive changes that are necessary to end this. Changes like ending the pointless war on black pe—I mean, drugs. Changes like completely overhauling the way that the police are held accountable for their actions. Changes like completely overhauling our justice system. Changes like putting genuine protections into our lending and housing industries.
But none of that can happen if the predominant storyline is that race isn’t an issue, racism is a problem of the past, etc. You can’t take race out of it. No one is “making this a race issue”—it already is one. It has always been one.
So here is the hugely important question for you. I saw this on Twitter:
“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?
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?