Modern Racism Is More Than Microaggressions

I’ve noticed mainstream news media (including psychology outlets) often focus on certain types of modern discrimination (e.g., unconscious biases, microaggressions) and leave out more systemic forms. Modern racism is more than microaggressions, and the idea that it is limited to the acts of individuals may incorrectly suggest to people that it is a problem that simply exists when members of a minority group are “too sensitive” about what others say or if they dwell in “long ago” overt systemic racism like slavery. I’m hopeful that awareness of present-day racial biases at a more systemic level (e.g., in educational and criminal justice systems) foster attitudes that lead to addressing problems of inequity effectively (e.g., through supporting causes and legislation that demand change). Consistent with this idea, one recent poll shows that Americans have become less satisfied with how Black people are treated in the United States over the past two years and another shows that greater numbers of Americans say that the country needs to make changes to achieve racial equality.  This may be due to efforts by activists to increase awareness of present day racial discrimination.

If you want to find out more about current systemic types of racial discrimination in the United States, I provided a list of information that I found while preparing for my Diversity in Clinical Psychology class or in searches since then. In an effort to make this post readable to a wider audience outside of academia, many of these links are not to academic articles. However, I chose videos, articles, and podcasts based on scientific evidence and data, and most provide direct links to that evidence. If you find something to the contrary, or based on problematic data, please e-mail me, and let me know. Accuracy and continual learning are important to me. After all, being challenged in my thinking by people with different viewpoints played a valuable role in my seeking out all of this information in the first place.

1) In the U.S. healthcare system, White people, on average, receive superior healthcare in a number of ways (also, see this link) and racism takes a clear physical toll on the health of pregnant Black women and affects birth outcomes in a striking manner (and it is not all reducible to socioeconomic status).

2) With regard to voting, restrictive voting laws (e.g., those allowing some forms of ID and not others) in the U.S. are more likely to be proposed and enacted in places where there is a higher ethnic minority turnout, even though voter fraud is rare.

3) In education, on average, Latino, Black, Native Alaskan, and American Indian children attend schools with fewer opportunities (e.g., without access to the full range of math or science classes) and racial segregation in schools is still a significant problem: 12, 3, and 4. Children of color are also disciplined more harshly than White children starting in preschool (also, this link). Each of these systems that I mention have a profound impact on individuals’ lives, but the educational system has been found to be especially relevant for upward social mobility.

4) Within the past 10 years, 2 major companies (Wells Fargo and Bank of America’s Countrywide) paid out settlements due to evidence that they were systematically leading Black and Hispanic individuals to sub-optimal housing loans, charging them more interest, and more likely to deny them credit for homes, even when accounting for relevant factors such as credit history and eligibility: 1,  2, 3, 4, and 5. Housing is a major source of investment and way to acquire savings. This discrimination has a profound impact on families.

5) In the criminal justice system, there are a number of disparities, but one of the clearest, as an example, is that White and Black people use and sell drugs at very similar rates, but Black individuals are much more likely to be arrested for it: 1 and 2.  This has a widespread impact because the charges can lead to significant employment obstacles (e.g., being denied a job because of a felony charge), education obstacles (e.g., no longer qualifying for student loans), and voting obstacles (e.g., losing the right to vote). In experimental simulation studies, where literally everything is controlled for except for variation of skin color, community members and police officers are significantly more likely to shoot at Black men than White men.

This is  some of the systemic racism occurring in the United States in the present and is by no means comprehensive.  If there is something you think I should add, please contact me by e-mail, and let me know.  I’ll keep you posted about the research from our lab investigating how these types of discrimination affect mental health (especially suicidal behavior and disordered eating).

*This post was inspired by a number of people and events. I want to especially acknowledge my sister, Linda Gordon. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ advice about writing helped me counter the obstacles.