In 2016, the median white household held roughly ten times the net wealth of the median black household; the average black worker earned 73 cents on the dollar compared to his or her white colleagues; and even among college graduates, blacks earned 20 percent less than their white counterparts. For decades, racial disparities in wealth and wages have been stark and enduring – and frustratingly impervious to change.
To many liberals, these inequities are the obvious legacy of slavery and decades of legalized discrimination, such as under Jim Crow. The substandard education to which black Americans have been relegated has meant fewer students succeed in school and in the workforce. Segregated housing, too, has left many people living in neighborhoods without access to good jobs, reliable public transportation, or quality health care.
These systematic inequalities are among the many destructive by-products of “structural” racism. But too many white Americans simply do not understand this as a phenomenon, argues a new report. Instead, they tend to see racism through the narrow prism of individual—not institutional—behavior.
This failure to grasp the systemic nature of racism today could explain why the nation hasn’t made as much progress as it should—and could—on racial equity.