Kuntz: Recognizing racism

BY KATIE KUNTZ | JUNE 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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For every white person arrested on marijuana charges in the state of Iowa, eight black people are arrested on similar charges, according to a recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that blacks make up only 3.1 percent of the Iowa population, and whites account for around 93 percent. So for every black person in Iowa there are 31 white people.

However, Iowa prison populations show that blacks account for about 25 percent of people in prison, and when it comes to arrests for drug charges, specifically marijuana, the disparity is too large to be ignored.

Still, many want to do just that — ignore it. Iowans, like most other people, are not inclined to admit racism. Many Iowans are more likely to make excuses for the wide disparity rather than admit that racism is a key factor in the disparity’s creation.

It’s a difficult reality to face, but the evidence of widespread racism in Iowa is becoming increasingly tough to refute. After the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union noted that Iowa has the country’s largest racial disparity in marijuana arrests, there was also the unfortunate “Hater’s gonna hate” map released by NPR showing that the Midwest has some of the highest rates of using hateful and racial slang online.

And while it may be uncomfortable to admit that you might harbor some prejudices toward people of a different skin color, it is probably even more challenging to accept the idea that your beliefs are unfounded and causing problems that could be avoided if only we could just be nicer to one another.

For example, it may be easy to look at the statistics above and think that blacks must use and sell more marijuana than whites. After all, they are the ones being arrested for it, even more than other minorities, and far more often than whites.

Yet, the truth is that marijuana use is virtually constant across ethnic lines. According to a recent study from the PEW Research Center, as many as 48 percent of all Americans have used marijuana at least once, regardless of ethnicity. And even more than that, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 44 percent of all white people have tried marijuana, while the statistic for blacks is only 34 percent; of the people who admitted to using marijuana, 68 percent were white while only 11 percent were black. Or, for every black person who used marijuana, 5.2 white people did. Yet, blacks are arrested four times as often as whites for marijuana use, and in Iowa, that increases to 8 times as likely.

These data are hard to ingest and do not reflect positively on the culture of Iowa.

We are, any way you slice it, the worst state in the nation for incarcerating based on race rather than actually fighting crime in a fair and unbiased manner.

This racism, the act of profiling, and creating ideas about people based on the color of their skin, is deplorable and changes our society in a way that holds us all back.

Studies show again and again that children with a parent in jail are more likely to go to jail themselves, have difficulties in school and likely have trouble getting jobs and being successful adults. So while our prejudices might tell us that minorities are more likely to live in poverty, do poorly in schools, and end up in jail, isn’t it our duty to fight that destiny and recognize that those prejudices are making us fulfill our own prophecy?

The truth is that minorities are not committing more crimes than whites, but they are being arrested and prosecuted more. We have the ability to change lives and futures and it could start by just letting go of those little lies we so often believe are true.

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