In a June 24th Open Forum, Dave Stegmaier asserted that “racism no longer exists in any systematic way.” According to him, over the last 50 years systemic racism has been eliminated and that it is the paternalistic social programs of the Democratic Party that have left minority populations “without purpose or hope.”
Let’s look at the evidence.
Criminal Justice: According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Blacks make up 41.6% of death row inmates but they make up 52% of those wrongly convicted and later exonerated. The Sentencing Project reported that “Federal prosecutors, for example, are twice as likely to charge African Americans with offenses that carry a mandatory minimum sentence than similarly situated whites.”
Health and Environment: In 2016, a University of Michigan study published in Environmental Research Letters found “a consistent pattern over a 30-year period of placing hazardous waste facilities in neighborhoods where poor people and people of color live.”
Jim Crow Laws: In 2019 Virginia instituted a Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law — they reported last December that they found nearly 100 racist laws that need to be removed from the books.
Education: In an article titled “Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education” the Brookings Institution reported “Recent analyses of data prepared for school finance cases . . . have found that on every tangible measure — from qualified teachers to curriculum offerings — schools serving greater numbers of students of color had significantly fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students.”
Locally: In addition to these issues, Blacks in our community must deal with the affront and indignity, at the heart of our city, of a statue honoring those who fought, whatever their intentions may have been, to preserve the cruel institution of slavery.
Sadly, far from being eliminated, systemic racism is still prevalent. The examples I have cited are current realities. In spite of these disadvantages, many African Americans have managed to thrive. Thankfully we have made progress, but it demonstrates we still have a long way to go.
I’m not sure which “paternalistic social programs” Mr. Stegmaier has in mind, but from what I can see the social programs of the Democratic Party have improved the quality of life for all races. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped nearly 400,000 uninsured Virginians procure health insurance. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) has helped low-income people and is linked to improved nutritional outcomes and lower healthcare costs. In his 2021 budget, President Trump has proposed cutting its budget by 30% over the course of a decade. Democrats are also strong supporters of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which provides tax credits for low-wage workers. Ronald Reagan said “the Earned Income Tax Credit is the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress.” These programs do not rob ethnic minorities of “purpose or hope,” they foster it.
In order to end systemic racism, we must first recognize how deeply it is woven into our social fabric and begin dismantling it in all its multifarious expressions. And, blaming one political party, especially the party most ethnic minority persons believe represents their concerns, for the inequities so deeply ingrained in our nation’s history is unfair and unhelpful.
John Copenhaver is a resident of Winchester.