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Prall: Institutional racism still pervades our society

BY JACOB PRALL | DECEMBER 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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Institutional racism is invisible, ambient, and powerful. It coats everything like a thin layer of gunpowder, from D.C. to our shining seas. Heightened tensions and explosive upheaval should not be surprising, then.

We do not live in a “post-racial” America. Income inequality has become the class definer of the decade, but that can’t be used as an excuse to couch important issues that sow dangerous cracks into the foundations of justice and governing institutions of the United States.

According to research from Northwestern University studying job applicants in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 17 percent of white job applicants with criminal records received a call back from employers; 14 percent of blacks without criminal records but with similar or superior credentials received the same call.

There’s also the fact that black men between the ages of 15 and 20 are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by an officer of the law than their white counterparts.

When a group of people are systemically treated as criminals, social constructs are more inclined to mold them into self-fulfilling prophecies.

We all act with a biased lens over our eyes, and that’s the danger of saying racism is gone or subdued. It isn’t men in hoods and burning crosses, it’s men in suits and unrealized intention. As Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva put it on CNN, it is “racism without racists,” a way to maintain domination over a minority without blatant hatred.

This sort of discrimination is harder to detect, and illusive in nature. After all, those that look for it are looking through their own lens of bias. Statistical evidence of economic prosperity, education, and death at the hands of law enforcement are all objective enough to draw basic conclusions on. Tread carefully, though, as every second is a chance to lose sight of what can, will, and has happened.

The key is awareness. The United States has a long history of denial, trying to forget how it got to where it is today. This is a fundamental mistake. You can only learn through experience. When experience is selected and not comprehensive, your education is less substantive and prone to injustice, repeated mistakes, and irresponsibility.

Looking forward will require looking back with an open and unapologetic mind. Large-scale awareness and self evaluation is the first step in changing how our society views and deals with racial problems in America. Only then will the institutions we all help build a little higher change in a meaningful way.


Correction: A previous version of this column mentioned a study conducted on racial biases in 1987, however, the results of the study were not reported accurately. The DI regrets the error.


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