How Institutional Racism is Hindering American prosperity

 

We often turn to institutions in America as a safety net to carry out some of society’s most important efforts towards ensuring the livelihood of its citizens. We turn to hospitals to keep us alive, police to “protect and serve”, and education to educate the next generation of doctors and engineers. However, this pursuit of a safer society has come at the expense of a significant portion of American citizens who identify as people of color through the systematic racism they face from some American institutions. The institutions of education and criminal justice system play key roles in oppressing many minority lives and do not give them an equal shot at a sustainable life. Since institutional racism has a dense history, it becomes difficult to stop perpetuating the detrimental cycles of violence and poverty minorities encounter that stem from institutional racism.

Another aspect that is problematic is the perspective of a large amount of Americans who truly feel institutions like prisons are making live for their family safe. On the surface, the idea itself is undoubtedly sound to any sane individual, but those who have witnessed firsthand the racial discrimination from a police officer will have an entirely different perspective. Nonetheless, because of these conflicting viewpoints, this is one of the key reasons as to why institutional racism is continuing to thrive and further destroying thousands of lives and adding to our national debt.

        In order for our country to remain an influential world leader, we must start by educating those unaware of institutional racism, demonstrate its noxious results, and finally draft laws to fully prohibit any type of discrimination within institutions. Only through conquering the root causes as to why violence and drug abuse occur, will we be able to make lasting change that does not come at the cost of America’s advancement.

        One of the big reasons why institutional racism has continued to persist throughout the years is because of the a significant portion of Americans believe some stereotypes detailing minorities as less-than, savage-like, lazy, etc. As a result, they use that same perception of minority groups to defend the misconduct of these institutions. For instance, a lot of individuals believe that African Americans and Latinxs are prone to violence and are a threat to American society. For this reason, in an effort to explain why there is disproportionate numbers of minorities in prison, they turn to the fear generated by stereotypes of minorities to highlight why we need institutions like prison. Unfortunately, because many of these institutions also operate with this type of stereotypical thinking, they often fail to reach their initial purpose. While some minority groups do commit crime, a fair share of Caucasian people who pose threats to society are often overlooked because of the spotlight that isolates minorities. This demonstrates one way in which racial bias within institutions are hindering America’s progress by spending money aimed at improving American lives while it is actually proving noxious to people.

Another reason that is blocking progress on improving institutional racism is a lack of a consensus in acknowledging the full extent of institutions’ impact of the livelihood of minority groups. Especially some individuals who live on the basis of colorblindness as a tool to combat racism. Some individuals believe that if they are color blind to the different races humanity takes on, that it will stop racism from occurring. While this idea has great intentions attached to it, it fails to acknowledge the very real implications race still has as it plays out on an institutional level. As author and professor Eugene Provenzo puts it, “Discussion of a post racial society and colorblind ideology suggests that racial discrimination has been greatly reduced, while research on whiteness and systemic racism asserts that racial discrimination remains deeply embedded in U.S. institutions,” (Provenzo, Eugene 2006). This reinforces the idea that while we have made progress in the way society has treated minorities, there is still a deeply open wound inflicted through the institutions that do not treat minority group with the same level of respect as their Caucasian counterparts. This colorblind ideology can only work when each and every individual is institutionally treated with the same respect as everyone else.

        Regardless of one’s belief in a colorblind ideology or even the belief that a majority of people of color are criminals and drug addicts, the disparities that occur in our criminal justice system still exist. The prison institution and the criminal justice system operate collectively on the basis of stereotypes that play a hand in the unfair treatment of America’s minority groups. This can be demonstrated through statistics that prove the opposite of what a significant portion of America claim regarding drug usage and minorities. For instance, the NAACP reports “5 times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites,” (NAACP). It is outrageous to seem our own government playing a role in the oppression of people of color simply on the basis of skin color oppose to any known fact about the individual. This finding alone reinforces how misconceptions of minority groups are utilized to try and validate the unfair treatment of them, which ultimately results in little progress to get drugs off the streets. If drugs are the issue we want to eradicate, then it seems illogical to almost ignore a group of drug abusers/dealers simply because they are white.   

        Furthermore, some people believe that many people of color actively decide to become criminals, use drugs, and drop out of school because they simply want to. While that would be an easier way to describe the situation, it is far more complex than a simple conscious choice. Instead, there are many external institutional influences that contribute to statistics demonstrating lower college going rates and higher prison going rates for African Americans and Hispanics. Some of the time the negative behavior observed from minority groups is a direct response to the racial discrimination they face in the institutions of education and prison. It is incredibly easy to dismiss the very real effects of the racial discrimination of people of color when one is blinded by white privilege or a higher income. They do know understand what it feels like to be watched like a hawk by a police officer when one is simply throwing out the trash for no reason other than their black or brown skin color. Or even going to class on time to be told by their teacher they are not smart enough to make it to college. Therefore, some people are left with limited options after being racially discriminated against by educational institutions and employers. This ultimately can force some of them to turn to unsustainable ways to support their families by any means necessary. This is definitely not a defense for all minority criminals, but this should demonstrate that there are higher-level influences that contribute to why some of these issues of drugs and violence are occurring. Accordingly, it would be more beneficial to invest our time and money towards educational and job opportunities that seem to be the root causes as to why some minorities become incarcerated. Ultimately this demonstrates that we need to have greater knowledge of these institutions in their entirety to better understand ways we can help solve the issue.

 The only way we can stop the negative impacts that institutions have on people of color is through understanding the origins in which these institutions were founded on. One of the earliest ways in which people of color, specifically African Americans were subjected to systemic racism occurred during the construction of what is now modern day policing.  Unfortunately, many Americans are simply unaware of the basis for which institutions like the police force/prisons started from. Given that police and prisons play such a heavy impact on our society, it is disheartening to know that people do not know that these entities have a dark background involving slavery. For example, it all began with  “Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behaviors of minorities. (Potter, Gary 2013)” While we commonly only know police to “protect and serve” Americans at large, it is shocking to see how much things have changed from when it first began. To think that policing was invented to actually protect slavery and to mistreat slaves who ran away, makes it difficult to ignore the longstanding history of racial discrimination that is embedded within this institution. Especially when statistics tells us “African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population,” it makes one question what the real motives of prisons in America are aimed to do. In addition, when taking into account companies like Target, Starbucks, and Whole Foods who benefit from the forced labor of millions of inmates. Additionally, when taking into consideration how the police force was used to harass, harm, and force out many indigenous elderly, children, men and women from their native land in order to support big business in installing oil pipe through sacred Native land. Overall, by understanding the history that shaped some of these institutions, we can better decipher what their true roles in society are in order to transform them into more sustainable entities. It also helps us better understand the very real discrimination that persists in our criminal justice system that reveals a great deal of the blame to be on the institutions oppose to the individuals who identify as people of color.

Although it appears that police and prisons racially discriminate against minority groups, this is not a call to end these institutions. Instead, this is to highlight the negative reality that many lives being destroyed because of it and to demonstrate the need for large-scale policy reformations.

        If the lives of minorities are not convincing enough to call for change, the amount of money that America spends in its partially failed quest to create a sustainable society is something to examine. First off, why would we invest so much money into institutions that do not fully uphold their purpose? It seems as though there are better ways to achieve the goals of prison and policing. Part of the problem that is preventing these institutions is by targeting the surface level outcomes that are a result of deeper root causes. If someone is abusing drugs, we arrest them and throw them in jail. However, this is not a sustainable solution and does not tackle the deeper causes that have someone turn to drugs. Instead, we need to allocate money toward solving the root causes of issues oppose to simply putting a Band-Aid on the surface. This also extends to other problems such as the reason why minority groups commit crime. If we utilized the money we spend towards the root causes such as educational resources and job opportunities, than we will have a better chance at long-term changes. It is no secret that America has accumulated a large national debt. Therefore, since we are not being entirely successful in our original approach to make America safe, we now more than ever need to strategically utilize our money to the best of our ability.  The federal and state governments continue to spend money on a prison system that does not does not fulfill its purpose to deter crime and rehabilitate its inmates. Ultimately, since we are spending all of this money only to fail at diminishing violence, we will continue to further our national debt unless we tackle issues that the root so that they are solve for a longer time oppose to making a small impact.

        Additionally, although the prison/policing systems play one of the largest active roles in racially discriminating against minority groups, we also see the same thing occurring within the institution of education. Unfortunately, youth of color do not always receive the same healthy school environment, as do a majority of their Caucasian counterparts. They are instead faced with an environment that is under resourced, overcrowded, understaffed, and encounter some of their teachers who do not care about their success. When a youth of color begins hearing their dreams and goals being shot down by a person of authority for the mere fact of their skin color and not because of their capabilities, it proves problematic. This truly wreaks havoc on a child’s confidence and sometimes disables them from wanting to participate in something such as education because they now feel it is not a liable option for their life.

To go a step further, another way in which the education system discriminates against people of color are through how they are treated by school police and administrative laws. For instance, some students who come from lower income communities may face a toxic environment at home that may cause them to have some behavioral issues at school. Unfortunately, many of the administrative laws created actually target youth of color for even a minor offense. Some teenagers at this age are not only face issues inside their home, but are also in a critical age where there are still trying to figure themselves out. However, some of the zero tolerance laws that are established leave very little room for these kids to learn from their mistakes and instead send them to a juvenile detention centers where a permanent criminal record. Unfortunately, many youth of color are being targeted at a space that is supposed to help them develop into a young adult, but are instead channeled towards a life in prison. For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union described what is commonly known as the school to prison pipeline as “a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems,” (aclu.org) It is difficult to hear that such a concept exists in American society that almost predisposes minority youth to a live behind bars where most of their individual liberties are stripped from them. Children go to school to receive an education that will help set them up in a career of their choice, however, that is clearly not the case for youth of color.

We need to begin holding the education system accountable for the noxious treatment of our youth. We also need to provide students with a better environment that encourages them to reach their full potential instead of trying to destroy their aspirations. Not only is our education system itself the problem, it is also the lack of investment in youth that contribute to this horrible outcome. For example, it is commonly know that it costs more money annually to house an inmate in prison that it costs to send that same person to college. While large numbers of minority youth are being forced behind bars, it ultimately comes at the cost of many taxpayers whose money given to the state are being used to fund private prisons. We do so little to invest in our youth and ensure their success but we are quick to spend money on punishing them and putting them into jail or prison. Racial discrimination within the institution of education seems to negatively affect the lives of many young people of color and furthers our national debt as we continue to spend large amounts of money for policing and maintaining prisons.

        Overall, one can see how detrimental institutional racism is on the lives of so many young people of color and how much spending is goes towards things that do not truly fulfilling their promised purposes. This poses obvious threats to America as a number of people are being incarcerated instead of being shaped as function members of society, which would contribute to advancing the country. In addition, we are also continuing to grow our national debt without the results to prove that our spending is actually worthwhile. While banning police or prisons is not a feasible solution to this issue, large-scale reforms on policies that dictate how these institutions are ran are vital in ensuring individual equally. Policy changes seem key to improving this issue because of the deep-rooted history that has been the basis for the racial discrimination present in some American institutions. However, interpretation and implementation of these new laws are also vital since there is no point in having legislation if it is not utilized in the manner in which it was designed for. We also must change the focus of our spending towards programs that hint at the root causes of issues instead of tacking the surface level outcomes that stem from the problem. In doing so, it would help us further develop the capacity of young minorities so that they focus on healthier ways to deal with the issues they face in their lives. Only then, we be able to truly reach the aim of our pursuits of public safety instead of increasing our debt and destroy the lives of millions of people of color in the process.  

In essence, our government must take a firm stance against institutions who mistreatment of people based off trivial characteristics such as their skin color. Although it would help if those who are aware of the institutional mistreatment of people of color raise that same awareness to others, it is ultimately the government’s responsibility. The government as agents of public service have the tools available to them to regulate American institutions to ensure that they are ran properly. Moreover, as the government is the entity that decides how money is spent, they should be even more adamant about whether the money they are giving to institutions like prisons and education are doing well in reaching their goals. It is essential for the growth of America to not be the one’s digging own graves as we waste enormous amounts of money on institutions that cause civil and monetary problems. We instead should be allocating our money more effectively by examining the root causes of issues and work on solving the problem from the bottom up. Once we dismantle racism within institutions and utilize our money more adequately, only then will we be able to move forward as a nation and maintain our world influence.

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3 thoughts on “How Institutional Racism is Hindering American prosperity

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  1. Thank you for writing this piece! I enjoyed the language that you employed throughout, as it was unapologetic and direct in addressing institutional racism. You make the critical point that federal and state governments continue to spend money on a prison system that neither fulfills its purpose to deter crime nor rehabilitate its inmates. Similarly, the class of African Americans has been disproportionately impacted by felony disenfranchisement—a recent report estimating that one in every thirteen black Americans have lost their voting rights in the United States. I find it absolutely fascinating to analyze the decisive role felon disenfranchisement laws play in the U.S Presidential elections. Consider this: In the 2000 Presidential election, Florida was a determinant state in securing the presidency for George Bush as he won the election by a minimal 537 votes. With such a slight margin, if Florida’s 600,000 non-incarcerated disenfranchised felons would have been able to cast their vote, the Democratic candidate Al Gore could have arguably won the election.
    To explore possible alternatives for domestic laws regulating felon disenfranchisement, the United States must look abroad to the international standards for universal suffrage.
    In Michael Moore’s documentary “Where to Invade Next”, Moore argues that the U.S. criminal justice system would make great strides if it adopted policies similar to the Norwegian Correctional Service’s normality principle, which maintains that during the serving of a sentence, life inside prison should resemble life outside as much as possible. Through Norway’s implementation of restriction of liberty, all Norwegian prisoners retain their right to vote and maintain the same rights as all citizens of Norway.

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  2. Although reforms and policy improvement seems to help with the eradication of racial inequality in America, it is also seen to just be another route in politics to stall on eliminating racism. I think the best way to make a change is to have and maintain the goal to abolish the prison system which has systemically translated into the new Jim Crow in our country. There are other countries like Norway for example who see lifetime sentences and the death penalty as our America’s constitution states, “cruel and unusual punishment”. Therefore, Norway does not have the death penalty, nor are their prison systems as inhumane and have lifelong sentences like ours does. Norway also has lower crime rates than America so maybe we should follow their model to improve Institutional Racism and mass incarceration.

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  3. Really great post. It amuses me how backwards we look in a global context thanks to issues of institutional racism. I too believe that it presents a huge obstacle to our nation as we try to access our greatest potential. The question is, where to begin? I happen to think we start with education – I believe knowledge truly is power. I would poke holes in your assertion that “Although it would help if those who are aware of the institutional mistreatment of people of color raise that same awareness to others, it is ultimately the government’s responsibility. ” More than it being helpful, I think it is entirely necessary for those aware of institutional mistreatment of people of color to raise that same awareness to others. Government agencies are fully aware of the disparities between white people and people of color, they have all the data in the world to demonstrate such. But they won’t act on it until enough people are informed on the issue and pressure the government to make a change. It’s just much easier to maintain the status quo.

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