Have you ever seen the video on YouTube called Race, equality, equity that shows a group of white and Black teenagers in a race? The winner gets $100. Before the race starts, the organizer goes through a series of statements. If they apply to a racer, he or she gets a head start.
Take two steps forward if…
You grew up with a father in the home.
Never had to worry about your cell phone being shut off.
Never had to help mom or dad with the bills.
By the end of the statements, it was clear the people in the front – mostly white – had a better chance of winning the $100.
“We would be foolish to not realize we’ve been given more opportunity,” the organizer, a white male, says in the video, ending the race with “If you didn’t learn anything from this activity, you’re a fool.”
The problem is we haven’t learned.
As the nation is having one of the most important conversations of this generation, there is still debate over the existence of structural racism. But the signs are visible. Cape Fear Collective’s (CFC) Racial Equity Dashboard shows Black citizens are underrepresented and take on a greater burden of the housing crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Over the coming months, CFC will continue to explore stark disparities in Black maternal health stats, mass incarceration, and employment statistics.
NAACP President Derrick Johnson defined systemic racism, also called structural racism or institutional racism, as “systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantages African Americans.”
“This is not about one incident,” Johnson told USA Today in the wake of the George Floyd’s death. “This is about the systemic and pervasive nature of racism in this nation that must be addressed.”
Seeing it often depends on the color of your skin.
“We have racists in this country,” New Hanover County Commissioner Woody White said. “I don’t believe we are systemically racist. If we had systemic racism, we would not have near the progress we’ve seen coming out of the civil rights movement. I do think you have racists, but the system itself – the judicial system, advancement in corporate America, the vast majority of what we know about the American dream is accessible and available to everyone equally.”
New Hanover County adopted a resolution in July declaring racism a public health crisis because of its adverse effect on health, education, criminal justice and housing for communities of color. The resolution passed 3-2 with White voting against it. He voted no because racism is “an ideation held primarily by the chronically ignorant,” and was reluctant to call racism a public health crisis, saying the vast majority of white people in the community are not racist.
“When I use the word ignorant, I mean chronically ignorant of the American concepts of equality,” White said a few weeks after the vote. “If you don’t embrace those ideals, you’re ignorant to me.”
But White pushed against the idea racism is a public health crisis. The pandemic and toxic water are crises because they provide equal risk and damage to the community.
“Declaring racism as a public health crisis it almost devalues the two concepts of racism and public health crisis,” White said. “Setting public health crisis aside. I wish more people would talk about the progress we’ve made. We have a lot to be proud of. It certainly doesn’t mean 1898 didn’t happen. But at least the last 40 years we’ve been ahead of the curve on race relations.”
But Ashley Daniels, a Black community organizer, doesn’t feel ahead of the curve. She’s been called a racial slur. She’s been singled out a work because of the color of her skin. Every day she is reminded she is Black, something most white citizens never experience.
“Every single thing we look at, across the board, the outcomes for African Americans and people of color are not in our favor,” she said. “Systemic problems have nothing to do with what people think. It’s really about the data.”
Last month, Business Insider published 26 charts showing the disparity in everything from Black American representation in high paying jobs to home ownership to how African Americans are more likely to be on parole than white Americans.
In the Cape Fear Region, Cape Fear Collective’s Racial Equity Dashboard found that a Black American in North Carolina is 1.8 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than a white person. Black citizens lack representation in civic engagement as barriers prevent voter registration and census response and the burden of rising housing costs across the region disproportionately impact Black neighborhoods.
But Daniels said the resolution and the removal of the Confederate statues as steps in the right direction. Seeing racism is a first step.
“I definitely think tides are changing,” Daniels said. “I definitely think that people are being more aggressive, assertive and resolute. The levy is breaking. It’s not just Black people asking for your rights. White people see racism as something they need to address.”
The only way to combat systemic issues is to acknowledge some people get a head start because of the color of their skin and to work to make sure everyone starts from the same line.
BY KEVIN MAURER