Tag Archives: systemic racism

Critical Race Theory

I was really hoping I could avoid ever posting about the asinine debate over Critical Race Theory–but the other day, I saw that our bootlicker-to-the-Right Attorney General had entered the fray, a clear sign that the racists and their enablers think they’ve found a winning formula for 2022.

So I guess I do need to weigh in, in a (probably useless) effort to clarify what all the noise is about.

I didn’t encounter Critical Legal Studies and its cousin, Critical Race Theory until I was a college professor. Both approaches were–and are–relatively arcane, primarily the preoccupation of a subset of legal scholars. As Heather Cox Richardson recently explained it,  Critical Race Theory was a theory conceived in the 1970s by legal scholars trying to understand why the civil rights legislation of the past twenty years had not eliminated racial inequality in America.

They argued that general racial biases were baked into American law so that efforts to protect individuals from discrimination did not really get at the heart of the issue. While this theory focused on the law, it echoed the arguments historians have made—and proved—since the 1940s: our economy, education, housing, medical care, and so on, have developed with racial biases. This is not actually controversial among scholars.

While CRT explicitly focuses on systems, not individuals, and while it is largely limited to legal theory classes rather than public schools, Republicans have turned this theory into the idea that it attacks white Americans and that history teachers are indoctrinating schoolchildren to hate America. In the past three and half months, the Fox News Channel has talked about CRT nearly 1300 times.

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked to discover that people who couldn’t define either “socialism” or “capitalism” if their lives depended on it are having trouble distinguishing between their fear of being “replaced” by Jews and scary Black people and a graduate-level study of how and where racial stereotypes are reflected in the country’s legal system. (I guess they never heard of redlining…)

Assertions that CRT is being taught in America’s elementary and high schools is ludicrous–as I have been complaining pretty much forever, schools aren’t even teaching the most basic concepts required for civic literacy, let alone a theory that requires a familiarity not just with the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but with significant elements of America’s legal structures.

The GOP-hyped hysteria over Critical Race Theory is just another effort to mask garden-variety racism  by pretending that the fight is really about something else. It takes its place beside the party’s rejection of “political correctness” (i.e., I refuse to abide by your social expectation of basic civility) and “cancel culture” (i.e., I should be free to spew my venom but you shouldn’t be free to respond by signaling your disapproval).

 One of the biggest disappointments of my adult life has been my reluctant recognition of the extent and depth of American racism, and the degree to which it infects our politics. That said, despite the evidence of the past few years–the hysterical reaction to Obama’s election, the subsequent election of an ignorant blowhard willing to demonize the “other”– I  still refuse to believe that the majority of Americans are in thrall to hate and fear.

The problem is, the rabid racist minority–thanks to gerrymandering,  vote suppression (and let’s be honest, voter apathy) and the Electoral College– has seized outsized control of America’s government. And when it comes to turnout, rage is a great motivator. If dishonest and dishonorable politicians can drum up fear and anger by emphasizing culture-war issues like the “threat” of a mischaracterized CRT, they may yet overwhelm the majority.

We live in an incredibly dangerous time.

Systemic Racism

I have been very critical of the Indianapolis Star since its acquisition by Gannett. (In all fairness, it wasn’t a particularly distinguished publication before that.) And while I remain unimpressed overall–and positively livid over its neglect of adequate reporting on state and local government– I must compliment the paper on recent reporting that not only highlights an unfair situation, but provides readers with an excellent illustration of what is meant by systemic racism.

Much of the pushback that accompanies accusations of systemic racism can be attributed to a widespread misunderstanding of what the term means. It doesn’t imply intentional animus–instead, it refers to widespread systems that may well have been intentional at one time, but have since simply been accepted as “the way things are.” (Redlining, for example, was long justified as simply a reflection of the differences between “good’ and “bad” neighborhoods, despite the fact that those designations often simply reflected the racial makeup of the inhabitants of those neighborhoods.)

The lede to the Star report tells the story:

Carlette Duffy felt both vindicated and excited. Both relieved and angry. For months, she suspected she had been low-balled on two home appraisals because she’s Black. She decided to put that suspicion to the test and asked a white family friend to stand in for her during an appraisal. h Her home’s value suddenly shot up. A lot. h During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the first two appraisers who visited her home in the historic Flanner House Homes neighborhood, just west of downtown, valued it at $125,000 and $110,000, respectively.

 But that third appraisal went differently.

To get that one, Duffy, who is African American, communicated with the appraiser strictly via email, stripped her home of all signs of her racial and cultural identity and had the white husband of a friend stand in for her during the appraiser’s visit.

The home’s new value: $259,000.

This particular situation isn’t a one-off, and it isn’t unique to Indiana. Media outlets have reported several similar situations around the country. As one expert noted, it is almost reflexive–what we might call “implicit bias.”  When appraisers see Black neighborhoods, they make unwarranted assumptions about the prevalence of crime and the quality of the schools, and devalue the property accordingly.

It isn’t just the appraisal process. Duffy qualified for a lower interest rate when her application omitted any indication of her race, even though her credit report didn’t change.

Toward the end of the article, there was a good explanation of the difference between systemic and individual racism.

Andre Perry, of Brookings, has conducted research on how racial bias distorts the housing market. He compared home prices in neighborhoods where the share of the Black population is greater than 50% to homes in areas where the share of the Black population is less than 50%.

They controlled for crime, walkability and other factors that could effect home prices. After those factors were controlled for, homes in Black neighborhoods were underpriced by 23% or about $48,000 per home. Cumulatively, there was a loss of $160 billion in lost equity.

Perry’s research preceded the crafting of the Real Estate Valuation Fairness and Improvement Act of 2021, which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in April. The bill addresses racial disparities in residential and commercial real estate appraisals.

Discrimination in appraisals can be both systemic and individualistic.

“Systemic is the price comparison model,” he said. “When you only compare homes to like peers in neighborhoods that have been discriminated against, you essentially just recycled discrimination over and over again … You have individual acts of racism and you have more systemic reasons why. Both are robbing people of individual and community wealth.”

When individual bigotry raises its ugly head, most other people can see it for what it is. Systems that incorporate assumptions that were originally bigoted, however, are much harder to see and to root out.

That said, it’s a task we need to attend to.