A rebuttal: Institutional racism is alive and well

Published 6:06 pm Thursday, May 2, 2019


Contributing columnist

In his April 23 column, Advocate-Messenger contributing columnist Bob Martin asked, “Are we still a racist nation?” His credentials at the end of his column show that he is a retired Centre College economics professor. I am so very thankful he’s retired.

Email newsletter signup

Martin states that “[i]nstitutional racism is a fashionable accusation among some people on the left.” He then goes on to say that while racists persist, “… they are so marginalized we rarely see overt racism. Have people changed their hearts, or did they just go undercover?”

Institutional racism occurs when institutions like businesses, schools, banks, realtors, etc. act in a way that treats non-whites differently from whites. It’s businesses not hiring a person of color even when this person’s education, experience and credentials are superior to the white person. It’s banks charging higher interest rates on loans to non-whites. It’s realtors steering clients to segregated neighborhoods.

I’m curious as to where Mr. Martin lives and gets his news. It would seem that he has found his personal utopia.

In my news feed yesterday, I saw where a 19-year old African-American man was handcuffed and had his car searched because a Louisville police officer observed the young man make a wide right turn. The police found nothing and released him. When the young man went to court to contest his traffic citation it was thrown out. The officer who stopped him didn’t show up in court. This probably wasn’t a racially motivated stop though. Right, Mr. Martin, since institutional racism doesn’t exist these days?

There are too many videos on social media to count that document horribly racist acts against Hispanics, African Americans, Native Americans and others whose skin contains more melanin than Mr. Martin’s and are fortunate enough to speak languages other than “American.” Insert eye roll and face palm emoji here.

The people who commit these racist acts are in our institutions. They work in the justice system, the education system, in industry and in politics. Given the number of overt racist acts that occur in public, I can only imagine the things that happen within the confines of our institutions. There are federal laws that were passed to literally protect non-whites from discrimination based on race. Does Martin think these laws are no longer needed because he hasn’t personally witnessed an overt act of racial discrimination?

In researching for this column, I read a blog by a sociologist who said instead of making an ad hominem accusation of institutional racism, we should call out the individuals within the institutions who are racist. While I agree with calling out the racists, it’s like trying to find fly poop in pepper. If racists are allowed to discriminate at will within an institution, the institution is racist.

We have a president who is clearly a racist. Just this week, Trump proclaimed Robert E. Lee to have been a great general, congratulated the SECOND pick (white dude) in the NFL draft while ignoring the first draft pick (not a white dude) and is going to be the first president to not present the Teacher of the Year award this year (The honoree is African American). Really?

Trump’s overt racism has created institutional racism within the White House and the upper echelons of our government.

According to a new study (January, 2019) from the University of Washington that looked at the risk and health impacts of violent hate crimes, Hispanic and black populations have a higher risk of becoming victims of race- or ethnicity-motivated violent hate crimes compared to Whites.

“The society we live in has a bias that disenfranchises minorities and people of color,” said Robert Tessler M.D., M.P.H., who led this study as a master’s student in the UW Department of Epidemiology and a fellow at HIPRC. “This study provides some objective data supporting that claim.”

“There is a clear inequity in the risk of victimization between non-Hispanic whites and minority populations in this study,” said Tessler. “Specifically with non-Hispanic blacks, non-Hispanic whites are less frequently victimized with less severe injuries and fewer consequences of these victimizations.”

This information is available with a few quick internet searches. Mr. Martin wanted a study of institutional racism. Here is a study of societal racism. Members of society work in our institutions. I seriously doubt they check their bias at the door.

FBI statistics show that hate crimes are on the rise. Trump continues to embolden racists to come out from under their rocks and remove their white hoods. Racism — institutional, societal, and systemic — is alive and thriving, Mr. Martin.

G. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.