How Institutionalized Racism Still Affects the US Today
Is there evidence that racial bias is baked into society? Research shows that black children may already be perceived differently than their white and Latino counterparts by adults by the age of 10. Job applicants can be overlooked just based on the sound of a name. Lopsided incarceration rates show that being charged for drug possession often simply comes down to who gets pulled over. These are examples of institutionalized racism going strong. Institutionalized racism is especially insidious because it often plays out through unconscious bias that causes people to act on assumptions and stereotypes without necessarily being aware that their perceptions are shaping their decisions. What is the state of institutional racism in 2021? While the conversation on equality has never been louder, the fact remains that there’s still lots of work to be done.
Is Institutionalized Racism Still a Problem in America?
Institutionalized racism is often born of subtlety. One study offers a good demonstration of how deep implicit impressions can run. Researchers asked a group of 265 female graduate students from large public universities in the United States to rate the “innocence” levels of people ranging in age from infants to 25 just based on their photos. The study participants judged children up through age 9 of all races as being “equally as innocent” regardless of race. However, that changed at age 10. Participants began to view black children as “significantly less innocent” than children of other races after the age of 10. It’s easy to see how this bias can translate to behaviors and decisions involving law enforcement, teachers, jurors and employers. This information also shows that black children lose the protection afforded by presumed innocence long before they reach adulthood when compared to children of other races.
Institutionalized Racism in Everyday Interactions
It turns out that it’s not even necessary to see a picture of a person for implicit bias to kick in. When it comes to job applicants, a name that “sounds” black is often enough to get a résumé shuffled to the bottom of the pile. In one study, researchers responded to job postings in Boston and Chicago newspapers using fake names that were chosen for sounding either “African American” or “white.” The result was that “white” names received 50 percent more callbacks for job interviews. A study from 2015 looking at name perception in relation to threat versus prestige found that people tend to associate what the study’s authors defined as black-sounding names with violence and aggression compared to white-sounding names.
Where It Leads: Racism in the Criminal Justice System
It’s easy to draw a straight line from the implicit bias that occurs in classrooms and job markets to the nation’s prisons. The statistics are daunting. African Americans account for nearly 35 percent of the prison population while making up just 14 percent of the general population. The incarceration rate for African American men is five times the rate for white men. African American women have an imprisonment rate that’s double that of white women. What’s more, the majority of people incarcerated for drug offenses are African American even though African Americans make up just a small percentage of the nation’s drug users.
Fixing Institutionalized Racism: It Starts by Recognizing Implicit Bias
Studies showing how perceptions are formed based on things like photographs and names are important for shining a light on the roots of institutionalized racism. However, knowing that institutionalized racism exists is different from correcting the issue. The work that needs to be done involves recognizing the where, when and how of the subconscious processes that cause people to act on biases. The next step is reforming the subconscious to the point that institutions ranging from classrooms to courtrooms are no longer molded toward racist standards. While it can seem too easy to say that change begins within, the reality revealed by studies on implicit bias shows that this is truly the way to create reform.
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