The country has made tremendous progress since civil rights legislation outlawed racial discrimination in the mid-1960s. Jim Crow got the death sentence. Yet racial disparities have persisted in almost every aspect of American life, from life expectancy to wealth accumulation to academic achievement to incarceration rates. Studies have identified institutional racism, within banks for example, or insurance companies. Experts say the persistent racial inequity is more accurately described as structural racism. The Aspen Institute, which has taken the lead in identifying structural racism and educating people about it, describes it as the “system in which public policies, institutional practices and culture representation perpetuates racial group inequity in every key opportunity area, health, education, employment, income and wealth.” In many cases, the perpetuation of racial inequity is unintentional, making it difficult for people to recognize it. It’s not a “colored” sign above a cracked water fountain. But the impact on people of color, their communities and thereby the society as a whole, is just as tangible.
Perhaps one of the more dramatic examples of the unintended racial impacts of a government policy was the difference in federal mandatory sentencing for powered and crack cocaine. There was a 100 to 1 disparity. A person possessing five grams of crack, about 10 to 50 doses, received a mandatory minimum sentence of five years while a person had to possess 500 grams of powdered cocaine, about 2,500 to 5,000 doses, to receive the same sentence. According to The Sentencing Project, while two- thirds of regular crack users are white or Latino, 80 percent of the people convicted of a federal crack cocaine offense were African American. As experts pointed out, it would have been difficult to purposefully design a system that was more racially inequitable. It took more than 20 years for the disparity in sentencing to be corrected. We may never be able to calculate the damage done to tens of thousands of individuals, their families and communities.
This report is designed as a tool for journalists and researchers. It lists links to more than 150 studies that, since 2000, have found racial disparities in the areas of health, education, housing, employment and criminal justice. The pervasiveness of racial inequity is shocking, even if you think you are aware of it. If there is a silver lining, however, it is that so many people and institutions are dedicated to documenting it and doing something about it. Thousands of our fellow citizens understand we can never be the country we have aspired to be until racial inequity is a rarity and not the norm.
Each section (except the one on employment disparities) includes examples of institutions and initiatives working to solve the problem, as well as sources. The studies that are highlighted provide an overview. Most of the studies can serve as launching point for journalists to investigate the specific issue in their communities. As extensive as this list is, it is only an introduction to the documentation of continued and pervasive racial disparity.
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The Structural Inequity Research Guide is designed as a tool for journalists and researchers. It lists links to more than 150 studies that, since 2000, have found racial disparities in the areas of health, education, housing, employment and criminal justice.
Download the Guide (PDF Format)