Systemic racism is a form of racism that is ingrained in our society’s laws. It has a significant impact on healthcare, the education system, housing, the police force, political representation, and much more. It is a plague in our society that hinders growth and places Black people at a disadvantage, placing their lives in jeopardy.
From the Black babies just being born to the Black elders sharing their stories with the next generation – we are all forced into a society where we are set up to fail. It can be difficult to grasp if you're not at a systemic disadvantage, but I hope you will understand after reading this.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of babies are born in America, and of those babies, Black babies are three times more likely to die than white babies, and Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. Black infants delivered by Black doctors have had their mortality rate cut in half. Would this suggest that a doctor’s race has an association with whether an infant would live or not?
Because of the impact that systemic racism has on society, not only do Black individuals have lower access to healthcare, but negative preconceptions and false myths have led to about half of white medical employees believing that Black people have thicker skin and less sensitive nerve endings than their white counterparts. In a study published by Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, it was found that 40% of first and second-year medical students believed that Black skin was thicker than white skin and that Black people felt pain differently than whites. This false narrative has proven to jeopardise many Black people’s lives who are at the hands of doctors and here is one of their experiences.
“Maya” (a name given to protect her identity) is a Black doctor who faced racism from her work colleagues and as a patient. While pregnant with her second child, Maya shares how her labour pains had been doubted and ignored by doctors. When she was 38 weeks pregnant and began having contractions, she went to the delivery department where she was met by a nurse claiming that she was not dilated enough and advised her to take Tylenol and return home. After suffering and waiting in pain for hours, Maya was eventually given Morphine. When the midwife checked her, it turned out she was more dilated than expected. Her baby was delivered 10 hours later.
It’s not uncommon for a Black woman's pain to be completely disregarded and diminished. This inhumane treatment is one of the reasons that Black mothers and babies die at a much higher rate than white mothers and babies. Black people are vulnerable to systemic racism in healthcare. There will continue to be many cases like Maya’s unless medical students begin to question and challenge racial bias in healthcare.
Systemic racism does not only make Black individuals feel dismissed in healthcare, but it also gives the same treatment when it comes to education.
It is a privilege to receive an education. That includes the quality of that education as well. Ruby Bridges was the first African-American child to attend an all-white elementary school after it was desegregated. People threw rocks and racial slurs at a child, and parents had their children removed from the school. But she persisted in gaining Black students the right to equal education and helped to end segregation. Despite Ruby's efforts, and the Brown vs. Board of Education verdict that ruled segregation in schools unconstitutional, many schools in America remain segregated today.
This segregation comes in the form of funding. White school districts are $23 billion more funded than Black schools. $23 billion. That money is being invested into technology, books, teachers, academics, sports, arts, and various other things. However, that is money being taken away from schools with a majority of Black students. Imagine sending your child to a school where the cafeteria is in the basement with no windows, jail-like classrooms, broken laptops, books as old as the walls that hold the schools together, and short course lengths that can only afford teachers for a year.
This is the reality for many Black children in the United States. In that atmosphere, how do you think a child can learn? Would a child be excited to go to school in the morning? Or would they be defeated before they could even start their day? Not only do they have to deal with the constant reminder that they're not as academically proficient as their white peers, but the gradual influx of police officers in American schools has assisted in filling Black pupils with even more anxiety and discomfort.
One could argue extra policing in schools is a positive thing to help address issues of gun violence in schools. But in my opinion, it merely causes worry and dread — as if a microscope is placed over my head, watching my every move. Black kids are disciplined far more than white students. They are being restrained, dehumanized, and pushed out of schools at a higher rate than any other student.
- 1.7 million Black children attending schools with police don't have counsellors.
- 3 million Black children attending schools with police don't have nurses.
- 6 million Black children attending schools with police don't have psychologists.
- 10 million Black children attending schools with police don't have social workers.
When a child is deemed a criminal without ever having the chance to reach their full potential — that is systemic racism.
People might argue that Black students could just go to better quality schools, work hard for a solid education, graduate, and become law-abiding citizens of the United States. While this may appear to be simple, it doesn’t take into consideration an important factor: redlining.
Redlining is a discriminatory practice that fences off areas with a high Black population. It is a practice which systemically denies residents access to important services, like loans and investments from banks. This makes it impossible for residents and businesses in these areas from economically expanding, causing a spiral of economic decline, and the population of these communities becoming impoverished. Families have less accessibility and affordability to a high quality education because of their location. When the schools in these regions reflect their socioeconomic status, the possibilities of providing better education to their children are slim to none.
To continue to live in a society that sets you up to fail may be the difference between you and me. You don’t have to, but I do. And my brothers do, my parents do, my family does, my friends do, my neighbours do, the 8,315 people in my city do, and 42 million people in America do.
If you are white, this will never be your reality. But it doesn’t have to be mine either. It's not enough to sympathise with those affected by systemic racism or to tweet about it; you must actively work to dismantle systemic racism by holding discriminatory politicians and judges accountable, and by supporting organisations like the Racial Equity Alliance, which hold public hearings and debate racial justice issues like housing and education. By continuously educating yourself and actively working to dismantle systemic racism, you can help restore the right for future Black generations to have a fair chance at life.