Friday, December 19, 2008

Institutional Racism: 45 Years Later – Even With A Black President

I saw something on the news this morning that moved me to ask myself how, in this day and age, could anyone be subjugated simply because of their race, color, religion, or national origin? As I watched; transfixed by the account of a young Muslim woman who was arrested and jailed because she did not want to remove her traditional head scarf, I wondered. How could I help? A few moments later, still troubled, the words of my dear brother Martin’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech echoed through my mind. And then it hit me. Who, but someone like me, understanding the power of the media in all its forms and the omnipresence of government in our lives, was more suited to shed light on this issue?

If you haven’t heard about this check out an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution entitled, “Georgia Judge Jails Muslim Woman Over Head Scarf.” It’s quite enlightening.

What happened to this young lady is a vivid example of Institutional Racism. Wikipedia defines it as “a form of racism which is structured into political and social institutions. It occurs when institutions, including corporations, governments and universities, discriminate either deliberately or indirectly, against certain groups of people to limit their rights...It reflects the cultural assumptions of the dominant group, so that the practices of that group are seen as the norm to which other cultural practices should conform…”

Sad thing is this is not an isolated case. In 2007, The Advancement Project detailed three notable cases of institutional racism in an article entitled, “Buried Alive: Institutional Racism and Zero Tolerance.”

And, it’s also not limited to the courts. As the name implies, it occurs in almost all of our American institutions including housing, health care, education, and the military, just to name a few.

V. Elaine Gross, explains the affects of institutional racism on minorities and housing in her article, New Horizons for Long Island: Undoing Institutional Racism And Overcoming Regional Inequities. Ms. Gross notes, “Land Use planning and municipal codes, policies and enforcement practices often create and perpetuate racially segregated housing patterns. Examples of this include: (1) private and public affordable housing (especially rental housing for low-income families and other social-purpose housing) is excluded from many predominately white neighborhoods and sited in the few predominately black neighborhoods. Also, some practices of realtors, housing developers, and landlords, notably “racial steering”, “blockbusting”, selective advertising, and removing housing from the market based on the race of the applicant, ensure that African Americans (and other people of color to differing degrees) are afforded a limited number of communities in which to live.”

Vernellia Randal notes differences in health status reflect, to a large degree, inequities in preventive care and treatment. For instance, African-Americans are more likely to require health care services, but are less likely to receive them.

In education, it is well known that many academics and theorist believe that girls are somehow less able in the hard sciences (math, physics, chemistry, etc.).

Many feel that the military’s current “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy is biased against homosexuals.

The bottom line is that 45 years later after Martin Luther King made his famous “I Have A Dream Speech”, racism is still a problem in America—even though the nation has elected its first black President. But know this, you can fight back and here’s how:

Know The Rules. Know the processes and procedures of how things are done, who does them, what forms to file, and how to appeal decisions you don’t agree with. Read everything BEFORE you sign it.
Know Your Civil Rights.
Exercise Good People Skills. Stay calm and be mindful of what you say to whom.
Get The Facts. Take notes; get names, titles, and dates; record conversations (when legally permissible); take pictures; keep a phone log and a journal.
Get A Second Opinion. Ask to speak with a supervisor or unbiased party empowered to make a decision.
Get An Attorney. Keep one on retainer if you can.
Inform Consumer Rights Organizations. The Better Business Bureau as an example. You can find a fairly comprehensive list on the Consumer World website.
Write. Your congressman, senator, governor, mayor, city councilman/woman, alderman, police chief, sheriff, etc. all have select staff to help you—take advantage and remind them that these institutions were put there to serve you. Write letters to supervisors and fill out customer service surveys and complaint forms.
Be Active In Your Community. Vote; attend parent teacher conferences, city council meetings, church meetings, etc.
Network. Talk to neighbors, church members, fraternities, sororities, Masonic organizations, and clubs and share war stories.
Push For Dialogue On The Issue Of Race.
Tell Local Civil Rights Organizations.
Alert The Media.
Candid Camera ‘Em!
Send a WASP in and see how they are treated—the results just might surprise you.
Become An Activist. Boycott, picket, start a petition, pass out leaflets, begin a letter campaign, voice your opinions on blogs, etc. Exercise your right to free speech!