The idea of “systemic racism” seeks the radical realtering of American society, its economy, educational and legal institutions. It is a root-and-branch attack on the very foundations of our culture. It hasn’t gotten too far yet, but it is – dare I say it? - progressing.
In my last piece, I quoted sources that explain the ideas behind “systemic racism:” (a) an institution’s having been originated by white Americans/Europeans and (b) any racially disparate impacts of that institution’s actions. As important is the notion that those institutions “produce” those disparate outcomes. It is that last idea that’s so pernicious, that carries the seed of the destruction of those very institutions.
Traditionally, our culture (like those of every culture everywhere at all times) has required individuals to, in general, comply with societal norms. If they don’t, consequences follow. But the woke narrative of “systemic racism” turns that idea, so sensible to most, on its head. To them, it is the institution that “produces” the disparities, not the individual’s behavior, that must change. That’s because the institution, by making demands on the individual, may “produce” failure on his part. The individual’s failure to meet the demands did not “produce” that failure, the institution making the demands did.
So, if Jane doesn’t work very hard in school, makes poor grades and performs poorly on the SAT, she may not get into college. That’s traditionally viewed as one consequence of Jane’s poor performance.
But, under a “systemic racism” regime, if Jane is black (not white or Asian), she does not bear the consequences of her actions, but the colleges and universities that rejected her application do. We may not ask her to improve her behavior. “Systemic racism” points out that those institutions of higher learning were founded by white people and represent their values, that, among those values is the notion of individual merit and the rewarding thereof, and that the data on high school performance and college enrollment show disparate impacts between blacks and whites. All of that means that those institutions (high schools and colleges) must alter their standards to eradicate the disparities. In Jane’s case, she must be offered a place in college despite her poor academic performance, whether or not she can do the work and whether or not she displaces another student more qualified than she. It is the fault of her high school and the college to which she applied that she failed to meet the requirements for admission. Institutions, not individuals must change.
And many of them are doing just that. So, for example, our finest colleges and universities (and others) have radically altered their entrance requirements specifically to increase black enrollment. At Harvard and Yale, for example, a black applicant with an SAT score 250 points below his white counterpart’s and 300 points below an Asian applicant’s, all else being equal, will be offered a place in the freshman class. Similar discrepancies can be found at colleges across the country. Those institutions don’t demand a better record on the part of the black applicant, but have altered their admissions standards to increase the likelihood that their percentage of black students more closely matches that of society at large.
In the same vein, other university systems, like the 10 campuses of the University of California, have simply stopped using the SAT and the ACT as measures of an applicant’s qualifications. Again, it was the system that changed to meet the individual, not the other way around.
Meanwhile, a white or Asian student, displaced by the lower performing black applicant, needs to find another place to pursue his higher education goals. Plus, black children hear the message all too clearly: you don’t have to work hard or do well; the system will accommodate you. That’s not to suggest that many black kids don’t work hard and do well. Of course they do. The point is that those who don’t are encouraged to continue their habits. Finally, white and Asian students also receive a message: the system discriminates against you on the basis of your race.
Consider as well the broadside attack on the police that gained momentum following the death of George Floyd. The same pattern was repeated. Do police departments in major U.S. cities have a history of anti-black racism? They do. Does the percentage of blacks arrested or killed by the police match the percentage of blacks in society at large? It does not. So, what is to be done?
One possibility, that has instinctive appeal to many people, is for blacks, particularly young black males, to commit fewer crimes. Young black males commit crime out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. Almost half of all the homicides in the U.S. are committed by that narrow demographic (about 2% of the population). Other violent crimes and property crimes are disproportionately committed by the same demographic. So, less crime commission by young black males would result in fewer arrests and lower rates of incarceration. And, since crime commission is, to a large extent, a function of growing up fatherless, black couples could do what’s necessary to ensure that their kids grow up in intact families. Those things, particularly the last, stand a good chance of altering individual behaviors so they don’t run afoul of the criminal justice system.
But that’s not the possibility preferred by those promoting the idea of “systemic racism.” No, they want to “defund” the police and replace many of them with social workers. That’s an initiative that, at least for now, isn’t going far, but in other ways, once again, the system has changed to accommodate lawless behavior. “Police-free” areas sprang up in Seattle, Minneapolis and Portland and municipal governments stood back and watched, having instructed the police to not interfere. In New York, no-bail policies resulted in violent offenders being returned to the streets, often to reoffend.
Again, rather than enforce the law, which would punish individuals who commit crimes, the woke narrative demanded that the system change. Yes, violent crime across the country has increased as police stood down, but that’s viewed as simply collateral damage, those few broken eggs that are necessary to the making of the omelet that forces the numbers of blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics arrested, charged, convicted and imprisoned to precisely match their percentages in society.
Needless to say, this is madness. No society can long endure that rewards bad behavior by its members, abandons the concept of merit, punishes hard work and achievement and ignores basic facts about what a problem is and how to solve it.