Systemic racism: A concise history

Keywords: racism, war on drugs, inequity, incarceration

A friend pointed me to this 18 minute video by Phil Vischer the creator of Veggie Tales that very concisely overviews the history of how the U.S. got to the current point of social inequity. It starts with the end of slavery then continues through Jim Crow laws, segregation, redlining, the war on drugs, and incarceration rates. The video relates these to the fact that the average Black household income is 10% if the average white household income. This lower economic situation affects the ability of Blacks to get loans, pay for education, buy houses, etc. and thus perpetuates multigenerational inequity.

Although the video infers the effect of incarceration on income, it doesn’t do so explicitly. Having a record not only reduces family income during incarceration but also makes it harder to get a job or even to find a place to live. A significant factor in race based incarceration is drug possession (see the video for statistics.) I only recently came to realize how blatantly racist the war on drugs is. This racism goes back to the beginning of the 1900s when drug laws were being implemented, but here’s an explicit quote from someone that was “in the room” during the Nixon administration when the phrase “war on drugs” was popularized. As presented in an L.A. Times article:

[The war on drugs] “was authored by President Nixon not for reasons of health or science, but rather simple prejudice, according to Nixon’s domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” he reportedly said 26 years ago in an interview that Harper’s Magazine published in 2016. “We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

One very minor criticism I have of the video is that it presents statistics without reference to studies. But it is intended to be brief and it’s harder to provide citations in this format.

The video is an awesome presentation of an extremely not awesome part of reality. It’s worth the time to watch.

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