Are we still a racist nation?

Published 4:23 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Contributing columnist

“Institutional racism” is a fashionable accusation among some people on the left. It is most frequently invoked without definition, nor a discussion of the objective evidence that is consistent with such a thing as institutional racism.

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The context is: While acts of overt racism are rare these days and Jim Crow laws have been repealed, bigotry persists because racism permeates our institutions.

Clearly, racists persist, but they are so marginalized we rarely see overt racism. Have people changed their hearts, or did they just go undercover?    

The evidence for this accusation is circumstantial: It consists of differences in average outcomes between different groups. For example, former Attorney General Eric Holder cites the fact that black children are expelled from school at a higher proportion than white children. He asserts there is no other explanation than racism.

A similar argument is made about the fact a higher proportion of young black men are convicted of crimes. The implication is our criminal justice and education systems are racist. In fact, there are numerous alternative explanations that could explain this.

A legitimate scientific test would be to control for all other possible explanations and then consider the unexplained residual. Or, test by taking a large random sample of cases. Investigate each case, searching for possible bias in each instance. We need to know if the systems are racist and should not convict these institutions and their people without evidence.

If institutional racism is real and evidence exists, one would expect to see successful lawsuits against institutions. If any convict were released based on “institutional racism in the justice system,” the prisons would be emptied, and the rule of law would end. Similarly, if the education institutions were also convicted, educators could not control their classrooms. These are dangerous accusations to make.

“Systematic” or “institutional” racism is an assumption that the normal state of nature is all outcomes are equal. This assumption has never been observed. It is clearly inconsistent with a capitalist economy, where outcomes are driven by market forces and individual choices.  Attempts to impose equality of outcomes always result in tyranny and widespread bloodshed.

If the U.S. was awash in institutional racism, why are we the preferred location for immigration for people from around the world? People vote with their feet and that vote tally establishes the U.S. as the most preferred nation to live in, particularly for poor people. The US means OPPORTUNITY and we should be proud of that.

Yes, I am patriotic. Yes, I am a nationalist. I believe the nation-state should be preserved. The practical difference is I am a small-government nationalist. My country is far from perfect, but the significant point is it is better than any other real alternative and has been so, at least since the end of the Civil War. I welcome all who share our values and are willing to contribute to the well-being of our people.

Bob Martin is the Emeritus Boles Professor of Economics at Centre College.