20 Questions for Those Who Deny Systemic Racism

We really need some answers here

Tim Wise

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Image: Timothy Fenn, Flickr, CC License 2.0

Systemic racism. It’s a concept we’ve been hearing a lot about lately, and while most Black folks believe it to be a persistent reality, many whites seem uncertain or even reject the idea outright.

If you find yourself in the skeptic camp, I have some questions for you, because I am curious as to your thought process.

We’ll start with an easy one.

Question #1:

Do you think systemic racism was ever a thing in America, such that it profoundly affected the opportunity structure, and skewed the distribution of resources in a way that generally favored whites and disfavored Black people?

Assuming you answered yes to that question — because if you said no, you need to re-take 8th grade history, not spend your time here — then:

Question #2:

When did that stop being a thing? And what mechanism stopped it as an operative force in the lives of Black folks?

Assuming you probably answered the 1960s, and specified the civil rights laws of that decade as the mechanism, then:

Question #3:

Since when does the passage of laws against hurtful behavior end that behavior?

We have laws against murder, rape, robbery, assault, tax evasion, drunk driving, and all kinds of things, but, collectively, millions of people still commit these crimes, even though such acts are punishable, often with serious jail time. So:

Question #4:

Why would anti-discrimination laws effectively end racial discrimination, when those who violate these laws (unlike the ones mentioned above) are not punished criminally but are merely subject to a civil lawsuit, presuming the victim can find and afford a lawyer to take their case?

How much of a deterrent can such laws be when those who violate them aren’t likely to be caught, and even when they are, the most that typically happens to them is a relatively small financial penalty?

If your answer has something to do with attitudinal change — in other words, people’s hearts and minds have also become less racist —…

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Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)