The employer thought about the two men; they were equally qualified—maybe one had slightly better speaking skills than that of the other, but both were amazing candidates for the position. He sighed, looking down at the two resumes and the jotted notes from the interviews, knowing that he had to make a choice. But, in the back of his mind, he had already chosen the person who would look better for the company.
Michael had waited all day for the email, pacing back and forth around his parents’ house, hoping and praying. Reloading the page of his email account, his heart pounded loudly in his chest as anxiety and anticipation raced through his blood.
Ding! The notification of a new email popped up from the company’s manager, and Michael’s finger, without hesitation, clicked on it. He shut his eyes for five seconds, wishing one last time for him to be able to get this job, and opened.
Unfortunately, we have chosen someone else for this position. Thank you for your time.
Again—it had happened again. How many times was he going to make the final rounds before being the second choice to a white man?
Within the last 60 years, the rate of unemployment for African Americans has been almost twice that for white Americans. The situation above isn’t shocking, especially since many businesses choose white candidates over Black candidates in order to “maintain” the image of their company. This type of systemic racism is one that the world has gotten too used to seeing.
What is systemic racism? This phrase is one many of us have heard via social media, reading the words without much association, understanding that it is important yet being too lazy to search up the meaning—this may not be all of us, but it is too many of us. Systemic racism is racism that has been embedded into societies, such as discrimination within education, employment, criminal justice, annual income, and political systems. Racism can be broken down into two broader forms: individual and systemic. Individual racism consists of an individual’s actions and beliefs that perpetuate racism. Because of the historical laws that hindered Black people from pursuing greater futures, they live with the burdens and consequences today, which many Black stereotypes have been built upon.
The beginning of Black stereotypes, including those that cast Black people as criminals with poor and uneducated backgrounds or people who engage in wild and beastly behavior stemmed greatly from the film industry. Birth of a Nation, a famous movie from 1915 that gained a lot of popularity from the American public, portrayed Black Americans via white actors. These Black male characters were sexual predators, preying on innocent white women, weird, and the opposite of a “composed and well mannered” white person. Unfortunately, this shaped much of America’s views on African Americans from then onward, influencing the negative ways Black “male predator” stereotypes play into current issues of racism. Throughout history, African Americans have often been portrayed as monsters in the media. The Central Park Five incident, where five young teenage boys were wrongly sentenced to prison in Rikers Island after being accused of raping a white woman, was unjustly covered by news companies. These young boys were described as “beastly” and “deserving of a death sentence” despite the heavy lack of evidence for a conviction. Nonetheless, due to the public pressure exacerbated by news headlines and the media, these young boys were branded criminals, until the real rapist came clean many years too late. Events like these have impacted the way we portray Black Americans, creating the stereotype of them being uneducated, scary, and poverty-stricken.
But how do these stereotypes come into play? Systemic racism has slipped views of Black people as poor, uneducated druggies into society. Behind these perceived labels is a system created to give Black communities second-hand lifestyles compared to whites in the forms of housing, education, healthcare, employment, and other benefits. Redlining, a concept conceived in 1930, allowed banks to deny loans or mortgages to people who were mostly Blacks. Banks used red ink on maps to identify parts of a city at higher risks, and these neighborhoods were assigned to Black and Latino families. This practice prevented Black people from living in more affluent neighborhoods. Location is integral when it comes to accessibility of education and resources, so ultimately, the practice of redlining made it difficult for Black communities to receive adequate forms of education.
Some of the most prominent examples of systemic racism occurred during the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow Laws were created by white supremacists as a reaction to the abolition of slavery and the introduction of rights granted to freed slaves. In the 1896 court case Plessy v Ferguson, the Supreme Court concluded Blacks and Whites should be separate but equal, thus furthering income and resource disparities between the two races. This “separate but equal” doctrine drove restaurant owners to deny Blacks the right to dine in, posting signs like “white only” and reminding African-Americans once again of their second-class citizen status. Even public facilities such as bathrooms and water fountains segregated whites and Blacks. And to no surprise, African-American children were not allowed to attend the same schools as their white friends. Many stereotypes of African Americans have risen from systematic racism—for instance, the assumption that they are being uneducated comes from the difference in education the two races are offered. The quality of education Black people received was not something they could choose; it was forced upon them.
Knowing this, how can we abolish these stereotypes and prevent the continued pertinence of systemic racism? It starts from our own efforts, whether that be an uncomfortable conversation with a friend or family member, educating ourselves through reading about race relations, the history of slavery and African American treatment in the United States, and watching documentaries. We must have these conversations in order for change to be brought about, for people’s mindsets to transform into being completely and utterly anti-racist. We need to choose Black lives, hire them, read about their history, stand with them in protests, and support them. Until we ourselves are educated to make the moral decision to be committed to being anti-racist, racism will continue, and more and more damage will be done.
- Hannah and Josie
Segregation during Jim Crow Era: