I believe America is a racist country, but I understand why some people don’t.
People have different definitions of what they believe racism to be. There are people who define racism differently than I do. They believe a person or system must have intent and malice to qualify as racist. Many believe Black people are less intelligent or not as hardworking.
But there is a difference between believing something and knowing something is true. It is impossible to disprove what someone believes. It is, however, easy to know things.
I know that the Black unemployment rate has consistently stood at twice the white unemployment rate since we started measuring unemployment. I know that Black schools are funded at lower rates than white schools. I know that the criminal justice system incarcerates and sentences Black defendants at different rates for the same exact crimes. I know Black people are more likely to die during police encounters. I know white people are paid better than non-white people who have the same education and experience. These objectively true facts are why I believe that America is racist.
But maybe I’m wrong.
So, just for the time it takes you to read this article, let’s forget everything we believe and stick to the things we objectively know. And, if we are going to talk about solving these disparities using things that we are 100 percent sure about, there is a wide swath of things that we can dismiss from here on out:
Everything white people ever did.
There has never been a nanosecond in American history where the majority of Black people learned in an equal education system. Racial disparities in the criminal justice system have always existed. There has always been a racial wage gap and a wealth disparity. Black people have never had equal access to the polls. We have never had access to the same housing, financial stability, political representation or due process enjoyed by the white majority.
To solve these problems, we have tried all the white things.
Trickle-down economics did not eliminate the wealth, economic and employment gaps, nor did privatization of industries, fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget or any other plan. Yet, when we hear the repeatedly regurgitated Republican talking about stimulus packages, welfare, socialized medicine and other progressive policies, no one ever asks the most relevant question of all:
What if you are wrong?
No one can claim with 100 percent assurance that reparations will eliminate the wealth gap. We can’t be certain that universal healthcare will erase health disparities. No one knows the outcome of any financial policy. All we know is that everything we have ever tried in the history of this country has not closed the distance between being white in America and everyone else. In fact, there is only one economic strategy that we know can work.
We know economic stimulus works.
The New Deal proved that providing a race-targeted economic stimulus can be successful. The New Deal built the white middle class. It provided long-term financial stability and generational wealth for white America. Twenty years after the Great Depression, the white rate of homeownership had risen from less than 45 percent to more than 60 percent. According to the Census Bureau, three out of every four white Americans owned a home at the end of 2020, while fewer than 45 percent of African Americans did, meaning–when it comes to the primary driver of wealth–Black people are economically worse off today than when white people were at their lowest point.
Yet, when it comes to Black America, conservatives argue that universal healthcare and government handouts won’t work. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he doesn’t think “reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea.”
“For opponents of reparations, it is not about the cost or the difficulty of the policy, but about perceptions of the worthiness of the contemporary recipients of cash payments,” explained University of Massachusetts Amherst’ Tatishe Nteta, noting that only 28 percent of whites support reparations.
And, according to the Republican ethos, the key to success in America is hard work and education. A lot of Black people agree with this, so white people might be right on this one. But, remember, we are talking about what we know. If education is the path to equality, then only one question remains:
We know Black students are disciplined more harshly than white students who commit the same offenses. We know that white teachers grade Black children more harshly. We know most Black children are five times more likely to attend a highly segregated school and twice as likely to attend a school where more than half the students are poor. We know majority-Black schools have fewer books in their libraries, fewer computers and offer fewer advanced science and math courses. How is an equal education even possible in a system like this?
And what if they’re wrong?
Comparing their education and experience to their employment level and, whites are overrepresented in every professional field. Take this job, for instance. Whites earn 57 percent of journalism degrees but get 86 percent of the journalism jobs. Black Americans earn 12 percent of the degrees but only 5 percent of newsroom jobs. Statistically, most white people don’t know much about this country’s history of slavery. Even though they prove their lack of knowledge of Black history every day, they are the most vocal about how it should be taught.
Since we are not going to address the things we believe, here is what we know: In this nation’s 245-year existence there has never been a movement for Black liberation or equality that was supported by the majority of white people.
Contrary to popular belief, most white abolitionists supported gradual abolition. Even the most fervently progressive whites didn’t support full equality for Black citizens. The women’s suffrage movement refused to advocate for the rights of Black women. The veteran’s rights movement stiff-armed Black war heroes. In 1963, 78 percent of white Americans said they would leave their neighborhood if Black people moved in. According to a 1964 Gallup poll, a year after the March on Washington, 74 percent said the event was “detrimental to achieving equality.” In 1965, a Cornell University Roper Center poll revealed that a plurality believed that “that civil rights organization had been infiltrated by communists.”
They were wrong about segregation. They were wrong about every piece of anti-lynching legislation from 1882 until 2020. They were wrong about the civil rights protests. And the Black Power Movement. And women’s rights. And veterans’ rights. And voting rights.
These are not things we can choose to believe.
They are objective facts.
Because of history, we know—when it comes to issues of race and equality—white people have proven themselves to be wrong 100 percent of the time. Because of the present, we know that the majority of white people’s opinions have not fixed the pervasive economic, social, financial or political disparities that still plague Black America.
When it comes to Critical Race Theory, education, reparations, voting rights, police brutality and wealth inequality, what if—again, based only on what we know—we stop considering the opinions of the group who has been wrong every single time?
What if they’re just as wrong about teaching history as the actual data shows they’ve been about teaching the Civil War, slavery and everything else? What if conservatives are as wrong about educating Black kids as they’ve been about integrating, busing, funding, grading and disciplining Black kids?
What if they’re as wrong about police brutality as they were about it in 17o4? And 1804? And 1904? And 2004? What if they are as wrong about reparations helping Black people as they were about helping Black people during the New Deal? What if conservatives are as wrong about “ballot security” as they were during Reconstruction, or the 1960s or the Reagan administration?
What if all these white people are wrong?
And because Merriam-Webster defines racism as a “belief that race is a fundamental determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” All we know is, the opinions of white people have been “fundamental to the predominant social, economic, or political practices” in America. And those practices have led to the “oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another.” If only we could know the definition of systemic and the second definition of racism, no one would ever believe white people were wrong.
Believe it or not.