Today, a House Judiciary subcommittee is hosting a hearing to discuss the H.R. 40 bill which seeks to create a commission that would explore reparations for Black Americans who have faced disproportionate disadvantages due to long lasting systemic racism. If passed, this would be a major step toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S.
The effects of systemic racism
Systemic racism, also referred to as structural or institutional racism, is defined as “a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity,” according to the Aspen Institute. Systemic racism is not something “a few people or institutions choose to practice.” It is ingrained in our social, economic, and political systems and has adapted over time. It identifies the parts of our history and culture that have historically privileged “whiteness” while subjecting people of color to unjust disadvantages.
Since the protests from last summer following the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought many issues surrounding racism in the U.S. to the forefront of national conversation. One of the biggest topics in the fight for racial equality is that of systemic racism and dismantling systemic racism in the U.S.
Systemic racism is present in all systems and institutions and prevents or makes it more challenging for people of color to participate in society and in the economy. Some areas where systemic racism is prevalent include the criminal justice system, employment, housing, health care, politics and education. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed some of the ways in which systemic racism in healthcare, employment, and housing has impacted people of color who suffer from disproportionate rates of infection and hospitalization.
Black Americans face greater, disproportionate disadvantages due to historic practices of racism and discrimination within these systems that have evolved over time. One example of this is the, now illegal, practice of redlining.
Redlining refers to the system used by banks and the real estate industry in the 20th century to determine which neighborhoods would get loans to buy homes, and neighborhoods where people of color lived — outlined in red ink — were deemed the riskiest to invest in.
This practice made it nearly impossible for people of color to obtain loans and was a form of segregation which kept people of color living in poor, low-income, often urban areas while white people were able to afford homes in the suburbs.
Redlining was banned in 1968, however the areas that were once deemed “dangerous” or “hazardous” by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corp are still more likely to be home to lower-income, minority residents to this day. Black Americans also make up nearly half of the homeless population today, despite making up only 13% of the population. These disproportionate numbers reflect the impact of systemic racism and shows how old systems of discrimination can become ingrained in our society and have lasting effects long after those practices have been banned.
Steps toward dismantling racism in the U.S.
To properly dismantle systemic racism, change must be made across the board and all institutions must consciously reflect how they may be contributing to the discrimination of people of color or hindering their advancement in society.
To address the issue moving forward, NAACP President Derrick Johnson outlined three key steps: First, we must “acknowledge that racism actually exists.” Second, we must get involved with organizations that are fighting it. And third, we must elect leaders and policy makers who won’t reinforce or support structurally racist policies.
“Racism is not a partisan issue, and we need to stop making it a partisan issue,” Johnson said. “It’s a question of morality.”
President Biden has pledged to address the issue of systemic racism in his Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity last month where he stated that,
“By advancing equity across the Federal Government, we can create opportunities for the improvement of communities that have been historically underserved, which benefits everyone. For example, an analysis shows that closing racial gaps in wages, housing credit, lending opportunities, and access to higher education would amount to an additional $5 trillion in gross domestic product in the American economy over the next 5 years.”
Additionally, in his Proclamation on National Black History Month, 2021, President Biden reiterated these sentiments stating:
“we are also launching a first-ever whole‑government-approach to advancing racial justice and equity across our Administration –- in health care, education, housing, our economy, our justice system, and in our electoral process. We do so not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the smart thing to do, benefiting all of us in this Nation.
We do so because the soul of our Nation will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist. It is corrosive. It is destructive. It is costly. We are not just morally deprived because of systemic racism, we are also less prosperous, less successful, and less secure as a Nation.”
You might be interested: How systemic racism is costing the U.S. trillions
Another step Congress is taking toward dismantling systemic racism in the U.S. is the possibility of granting reparations to the families of formerly enslaved African Americans. After the Civil War, reparations were promised to formerly enslaved families, but the promise was never fulfilled. Now, Congress is taking another look at the H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act.”
The bill has been introduced in every legislative session since 1989, and since the last time a hearing was held on H.R. 40 in 2019, it has garnered the support of 170 members of Congress and 300 organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, NAACP and ACLU. However, in the three decades since the bill was first introduced, it has yet to reach the House floor for a vote.
Today, a House Judiciary subcommittee is hosting a hearing to discuss the H.R. 40 bill.
If passed, H.R. 40 seeks to establish a commission to study “and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes,” according to H.R. 40’s text.