Systemic Racism Continues to Infect US
After the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed the US’ racial justice record, the UN human rights office issued a statement in 12 August 2022, in which CERD Expert and Country Rapporteur Faith Dikeledi Pansy Tlakula recounted her observation that the country’s firearm homicide rate had increased, especially amongst black men and in impoverished communities.
While acknowledging the measures that had been taken to address gun violence, Ms. Tlakula had wondered what was being done to address its “disparate impact” on racial and ethnic minorities as well as indigenous peoples.
In her remarks, Ms. Tlakula had told the Committee that uncomfortable conversations and concrete measures and actions were necessary “to lay the scourge of racism to rest” and questioned why the country has yet to institutionalize a coordinating mechanism, like a national human rights institution.
Human rights organizations also believe that decades after the US committed to end racial discrimination; systemic racism continues to infect its institutions. Although the Biden administration has shown it can name the problem, but the time has come to take bolder action to radically transform these abusive systems and fully implement human rights obligations.
Therefore, the engrained policies in the United States have disproportionately harmed non-white racial groups, especially Black Americans, including those leading to mass incarceration, police and immigration law enforcement killings and abuse, and policies affecting education, health, and reproductive rights.
The negative effects of these policies include:
-The average white family in the US has roughly eight times the wealth of the average Black family, and white college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates.
In other words, after centuries of discrimination and economic exclusion, the US racial wealth gap remains stubbornly large. The median white American in their early thirties had $29,000 more wealth than the median Black American of the same age. This racial wealth gap is even greater among older adults: the median white American in their late fifties had $251,000 more wealth than the median Black American.
-Almost two million people are locked up across the United States, with Black people imprisoned at a rate three times higher than white people. Black women are imprisoned at 1.7 times the rate of white women.
-Discrimination in enforcement of US immigration laws, including the US criminal re-entry statute, which a federal judge found was “enacted with discriminatory purpose” and would not have been enacted absent racial animus, continues unabated.
-In 2020, the US had an estimated 580,000 unhoused people, 39 percent of whom were Black, even though Black people are only 12 percent of the US total population.
-Police in the US continue to kill Indigenous, Latinx, and Black people at significantly higher rates, as much as 350 percent more frequently, than white people. Even greater racial disparities attend nonfatal uses of force by police.
In another development, during a panel discussion on addressing and preventing racial discrimination in the criminal justice system, in May 2022, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on States not to “sit by and continue to watch history repeat itself,” and urged States to reimagine and reform their policing and criminal justice systems, placing human rights at the centre of these efforts, adding that new models of justice were needed to protect and serve everybody, without discrimination.
The High Commissioner highlighted that nowhere is discrimination more visible than in law enforcement and the criminal justice system, with an alarming picture of system-wide, disproportionate impacts on people of African descent in some countries, with excessive numbers of Africans and people of African descent in prison populations and Blackness being associated with criminality and delinquency.
Therefore, it is safe to say that in the absence of congressional action to pass H.R. 40 and S. 40, President Biden should establish the commission to study and develop reparations for the legacies of slavery through executive order.
In addition, the US government needs to build an equitable future for all, and that requires going beyond ordinary public policy to take concrete measures to begin to comprehensively tackle everything from the yawning Black-white wealth gap to the terror of white supremacy.
Achieving racial justice in the United States requires unflinching dedication and substantive actions to end the compounding structural harms that stems from the enslavement of Black people and the legacies of settler colonialism.