Racism not yet thing of the past

Emilia Gutierrez

Systematic discrimination still present in American culture 

Guest Column: Emilia Gutierrez
Guest Column: Emilia Gutierrez

A couple of weeks ago, Miss America winner Nina Davulurri, the first Indian American to take the title,  couldn’t celebrate without a racist uproar on Twitter. Over the summer, an 11-year-old Mexican-American boy couldn’t sing the National Anthem at an NBA game without outcry on social media about the “illegal alien” singing his country’s song. And with Halloween right around the corner, let’s not forget about the ever-so tasteful costumes that are seen year after year — men and women alike sporting “native” costumes accompanied with a tomahawk or braided hair and people wearing sombreros with mustaches is no more acceptable than painting your face black.

With a constant barrage of racist images and messages from the dominant popular culture, I do not feel that we, as a country and a culture, have gotten “past” racism, and it’s dangerous to believe we have.

According to the U.S. census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and The Commonwealth Fund, minorities suffer higher rates of poverty, unemployment and have lower graduation rates and health outcomes, popular culture and social media aside.

These statistics in the U.S. are not coincidental. As late as the 1970s, it was still legal for housing authorities and banks to discriminate based on color, so they would consequently not give minority families homes, apartments, or loans for mortgages like they did for white families. This caused a large percentage of minority families to live in poor neighborhoods, leading to extreme segregation in major cities such as Detroit.

Even though this type of discrimination became illegal in 1977, there was no funding given to help redistribute wealth or resources into the neighborhoods, or to help improve the quality of neighborhoods that minorities were living in due to decisions made by the banks and housing authorities.

Living in a poor neighborhood also means less access to resources, more violence and a lack of acceptable educational opportunities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, African Americans and Latinos are more likely than Caucasian and Asian Americans to attend high-poverty schools that are in these neighborhoods. A high poverty school lacks the resources needed to encourage intellectual development and college preparation materials and trainings are not financially possible. The effects of this significantly accepted paradigm cannot simply be erased in 30 or 40 years, especially when there are people who deny that racism is still a problem.

To this day, minorities are being scrutinized and discriminated against in very real ways. According to the National Poverty Center at the University of Michigan, states that have more black and Hispanic people accepting welfare have stricter welfare limits and lower family caps for benefits. Not only have we built our society against a backdrop of racism, we continue to reinforce it with racist laws, stereotypes and services. Pursuing minorities more often as suspects simply because of their race may not be legal, but it doesn’t stop it from happening. We see that reflected in the surplus of minorities in our prison systems. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that minorities are more likely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned than Caucasian people. The severity of their sentences are higher than those of Caucasian people, even when they’ve committed similar crimes. The statistics show very clearly that when controlling for other factors, minorities are systematically discriminated against in multiple arenas.

Perhaps the most recent example of institutionalized discrimination is in the adoption arena.

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the Michigan House Republicans passed three bills out of committee that would allow agencies that use taxpayer money to deny adoptions to families based on “moral” or religious objections. The bills are HB 4927, HB 4928 and HB 4991.

The language present in these bills gives incredible amounts of discretion to individual agencies, which can lead to discrimination against minority groups who they deem as not “morally sound” enough to adopt a child. This is just another example of how current of an issue discrimination is, and how legislators are putting their personal values in front of the best interest of children.

As a Hispanic woman, it’s very disheartening to hear comments and jokes such as “I once knew a Mexican lady. She did a wonderful job cleaning my house,”  “Stop playing the race card” and “People need to lighten up and stop worrying about offending someone” when discussing racial matters. In the U.S., policies are very much influenced by social values and beliefs. Whether it is comfortable for individuals to accept it or not, statistics clearly show that racist beliefs are negatively affecting minorities in very real, tangible ways.

Working toward ending this systematic discrimination starts with acceptance of the truth, having the ability to think critically and maybe feeling uncomfortable for a few moments in the meantime.

However, we cannot begin to work against oppressive systems if we refuse to acknowledge that they very much still exist.