A Grain Of Saul

A Grain Of Saul: The Definitive Proof Racism Is Real — And What To Do About It

Taking on the idea that racism no longer exists.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

It'd be convenient to believe that racism in the United States no longer exists in any meaningful way. It'd also be delusional.

Over the last few weeks, since Kanye West's embrace of President Donald Trump and the rapid ascent of Candace Owens, I've seen a lot of chatter on Twitter, Facebook, and other internet forums about the "myth" of racism and oppression in 2018.

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"Claiming you are the victim of racism is a weak cop-out to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions." 

"Black people like being oppressed." 

"Even if racism exists, it's not like Black people are slaves anymore, it's not like Jim Crow exists." 

"If African Americans could simply build traditional families or stay in school, things would be fine."

Kanye West poses for photographers in Paris in 2015. Photo Credit: DKSStyle / Shutterstock.com

While these points have unique flaws on their own, they each seem rooted in the idea that racism has been blunted to the point of being meaningless. Sure, many pundits admit, Americans may have some inherent biases. But is that really stopping African Americans from receiving the same opportunity? Are those biases hurting African-American communities as much as the "social justice warriors" of the left claim they are?

"You're not living through anything right now," Owens, who is Black, told a group of Black Lives Matter protestors at a Turning Point USA event. "You're overly privileged Americans."

But as Ben Shapiro loves to remind us, "the facts don't care about your feelings." I ask you to join me on a journey through the different stages of a Black American's life. 

It begins at conception.

Black babies are more than twice as likely to die as White babies. Of every 1,000 Black babies, 11.3 — or 4,000 Black infants each year — end up dead. The number is just 4.9 per 1,000 for White babies, a disparity that is larger now than it was 15 years before slavery ended in 1850. Tragically, a similar disparity exists for Black mothers, who are three to four times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy than White mothers. 

While researchers are still grappling with the reasons for these disparities, one prominent idea — albeit shocking — is starting to become accepted. Societal racism not only bleeds into health care, causing doctors to dismiss concerns or symptoms expressed by Black mothers, but the very existence Black women experience can be so stressful it's causing conditions such as hypertension and pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) that have deadly effects on pregnancies.

If a Black child survives birth, once they get to school, it won't take long for them to encounter the prejudices their mother lived through. 

A Black child will notice that most of their teachers do not look like them. They will realize that punishments are unfairly handed out as Black children are suspended twice as often as White children as soon as they enter preschool. Once secondary education rolls around, Black students are four times more likely to be suspended in public schools than White children. There is a wide range of evidence that those discrepancies are born from the fact Black children are disciplined more harshly for similar actions than their White counterparts. 

Blacks make up a disproportionate number of people in prison. Photo Credit: Skyward Kick Productions / Shutterstock.com

Suspensions in school lead to higher dropout rates, and more often lead Black children into feeling like school is a hostile environment. Still, close to 3 million Black students will overcome these barriers and be enrolled college this year. Despite affirmative action programs meant to equalize the playing field and give Blacks and Hispanics a better opportunity to attend college, more than half of Black college students fail to complete their degree work "for reasons that have little to do with innate ability or environmental conditioning," social scientist Claude M. Steele wrote for The Atlantic

Part of that devaluation is the reality that a Black college graduate will still have fewer prospects than less-qualified White Americans. African Americans with college degrees are twice as likely to be unemployed as other college graduates and will get the same rate of job offers as White high school dropouts. Hiring discrimination against Black Americans who are equally qualified as White counterparts is nearly the same as it was in 1989. Even the highest achievers, such as a Black Harvard graduate, receives the same rate of job callbacks as a White counterpart who attended a state school. Your name alone can be a hindrance. The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study titled "Are Emily and Greg more employable than Lakisha and Jamal?" 

In a word, and the answer is yes.

But despite this, many Black Americans do get jobs. They lead successful careers across every industry imaginable, and — like most Americans — aspire to buy a vehicle or home. There, too, they will feel the uneven contours of treatment that American society offers. 

In February 2016, Toyota had to pay back $21.9 million to African-American and Asian borrowers when it was outed for charging people of color higher interest rates than Whites with similar credit scores and incomes. General Motors was forced to pay back $80 million for almost identical crimes, while Honda had to pay $24 million. And that's just vehicles. Wells Fargo was forced to pay $175 million back to Black and Latino Americans whom it charged higher interest rates for home loans. More than 34,000 times, Wells Fargo charged African-American and Latino customers higher interest rates when they had similar credit scores and income as White applicants. 

Unfortunately, Wells Fargo wasn't alone. A story in the New York Daily News covered the banks caught overcharging African-American customers: Countrywide Mortgage discriminated against more than 200,000 Blacks and Latinos, and had to pay back $335 million. Hudson City Savings Bank, First Tennessee Bank, Sage Bank, M&T Bank, PNC Bank, and Suntrust all got caught doing similar things, though the sums they paid back were smaller. One study found that more than half of all African Americans who took out home loans from 2004-2008 were discriminated against with high-interest rates.

2018 is on pace to be the deadliest year for police brutality, a problem that disproportionately affects Black Americans. Photo Credit: Laurin Rinder / Shutterstock.com

All this is to say little about what happens when Black Americans encounter the criminal justice system. When a Black American is old enough to get their license, they'll encounter police that pull Black drivers over more often and search them more often, and still find less illegal contraband such as drugs and guns compared to their White counterparts. Black drivers are three times more likely to be searched, according to a federal study from 2013. And a North Carolina study indicates it's possible the gap in search discrepancy is getting worse, not better.

This year is also on pace to be the deadliest year for police brutality ever, a problem that disproportionately affects Black Americans. During Jim Crow, an era Owens and others like to remind us is so far in our past, the average number of Black Americans lynched each year was 38. In 2015, 104 unarmed Black Americans were killed by police. Black Americans are two times more likely to be shot and killed by police when they are unarmed than White Americans. 

If a Black American survives their encounter with police, the court system is not much friendlier. African Americans are more likely to be wrongly convicted than White Americans for crimes they did not commit. They are more likely to spend longer periods of time in prison before being exonerated for those crimes they didn't commit. Despite being 13 percent of the U.S. population, Black Americans are 47 percent of the 1,900 exonerations in the National Registry of Exonerations. Innocent Black Americans are seven times more likely to be convicted of murder than innocent White Americans and more likely to be executed, too. 

Anecdotal evidence of racism is abundant as well. A viral tweet pointed out the laundry list of racial bias incidents highlighted by The New York Times in the last two weeks alone. A Black student at Yale fell asleep in a campus common area, only to wake up confronted by police. A University of Florida faculty member pushed a Black student off the graduation stage; Nordstrom Rack falsely accused Black teens of stealing; a woman called the cops on Black Airbnb guests thinking they were robbers; two Black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks were arrested while waiting for a friend; the police were called on five Black women for golfing too slowly. Shaun King, whose April Twitter thread on the realities of racism inspired parts of this story, posted a video Thursday of a North Carolina police officer aggressively lifting a 22-year-old Black man by the throat off the ground outside a Waffle House. He was wearing a tuxedo having just taken his 16-year-old sister to prom and had gotten into a verbal argument with a Waffle House staff member. This was his punishment.

These stories, just a glimpse into Black life in America in the last two weeks, bring personal narratives to the data that shows racism is not some ancient relic of the past. Black Americas are not "privileged," as Owens asserted — they are consistently and overtly discriminated against. Americans can continue to debate the effect this racism has on a Black person's life, or the reparations Black folks should be offered for this racism, but we can no longer debate whether that racism exists. 

As Americans, acknowledging that existence is just the first step. As a White man, I can only point to the data and the anecdotal evidence together — I'm not equipped to speak to the experience of daily life for Black Americans. We need to engage our communities, particularly the ones telling us they feel this racism in their daily lives, and ask them how we can help. We need to elevate their voices and take the action they prescribe — not simply the actions we're comfortable with — to remedy the challenges in front of us.

And it's time we did it together.

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