Liberty Matters

Systemic Racism, a Broader Lens – the Reilly Response to Peer Essays

Reading through the essays from my talented co-authors, Harold Black and Ramon DeGennaro, honed but did not alter my perspective on “systemic racism.'' The term is a vague and ethereal one, which often ends up meaning almost nothing when confronted with modern multi-variate analysis.
 Dr. Black, although more of a specific subject matter expert than I am, makes a point very similar to that in my piece, noting that: “It has become convenient for many to assume that systemic racism occurs whenever there are racial disparities.” For example, in his field of housing policy, Black notes that the 2019 U.S. rate of home-ownership “was 73.3 percent, while that for Blacks was [just] 42.1 percent.” The reason typically provided for this is racial bigotry or “systemic racism:” a 2023 report from CNN pungently pointed out that “one major lender accepted over 75 percent of applications from Whites while denying over 50 percent of Black applicants.”
However, in response, Black notes an obvious but rarely made point: turning down profitable loans simply to enjoy the ‘rush’ of bigotry would be insane behavior for a bank. Citing Choi, he points out that B/W gaps in home ownership close sharply – by 31% in the case of the first variable and 27% re the second – when adjustments are made for household income, marital status, and credit score. Amazingly, some 33% of Black households have levels of credit use and eligibility that are “insufficient to generate a credit score (italics mine),” and taking factors like this into account largely closes the racial gap in access to owned property.
Dr. DeGennaro’s paper takes a different tack, arguing that some current gaps and trends exist which can be called “systemic,” and which do on average disadvantage Blacks and other “people of color.” However, the targets of my fellow center-right writer are explicitly not those preferred by mainstream academia. He argues at one point that “minimum wage and occupational licensing laws serve as barriers” to POC and others seeking good jobs, and at another that “minorities tend to have less formal education” and less access to charter schools than Whites. Most notably, DeGennaro identifies the welfare-sped “collapse of the family structure” as the largest single cause of contemporary structural issues in the Black community.
I agree with DeGennaro on essentially all of the problems he identifies and solutions he suggests to them. However, a pesky question which arises is: what does this have to do with (current, conventionally defined) racism? The primary reason Blacks and Hispanics have lower levels of advanced education than Whites, in 2023, is not Jim Crow bigotry but rather the plain fact that we are doing a lot worse in secondary school. The mean-average Black SAT is 941, while that for Hispanics falls under 990. Whites are more than 100 points ahead at 1118, and Asians (Schroidinger’s Minority) beat them.
Further, this seems to be due far more to dubious study habits than to any sort of oppression. Recent data from the hardly-rightist Brookings Institute indicates that Caucasian school-children study roughly twice as much as Black teens and pre-teens, and Asian kids almost 3x as much. Largely as a result, SAT scores for Black scholars from families that earn at least $200,000 per year have long been below those for White students from households clocking in at just $40,000 annually.
 Similarly – and to a striking degree – patterns of intra-American family collapse date back to the Great Society of the 1960s rather than to historical ethnic conflict. Additionally, these patterns have become a problem for ALL major groups to an extent which is rarely acknowledged. Per a 2017 CDC report, rates of non-marital “illegitimate” child-bearing for U.S. populations are currently: 35.3% for Whites, 69% for Blacks/African Americans, 65.7% for Native Americans and Alaska Natives, 51.2% for Mexican Americans, 63.6% for Puerto Ricans, and 52.6% for Hispanics generally.
Sweeping patterns of this sort – are we speaking of welfare policy? Feminism? – strike me as being definable as racism only if we adopt the left-bloc definition of that vice as “literally anything which produces disparate group outcomes.” I would warn against doing so.
That said, one excellent point which both of the other writers in this series, especially Dr. Black, do make is that disproportionately many Black Americans are struggling today, due in part to the circumstances of our national past. Obviously, those circumstances – such as “HRA” red-lining policies which impacted Black family wealth – were often racialized. This reality does not imply the existence of any definable system of current racial oppression. Poor White people near where I live in Appalachia are just as broke today, for surprisingly similar reasons. However, it is a reminder that actually fixing the problems of today is more likely to help Black folks than members of almost any other group – and of our shared ethical duty to do exactly that.