Yes, we have made great strides in individual rights. The Civil Rights movement profoundly affected me as a woman. I was born into a society that denied me fundamental rights that we take for granted today.
- 1954 Women gain the right to serve on Texas juries.
- 1963 Women enroll at Texas A&M University for the first time.
- 1963 Congress passes the Equal Pay Act, prohibiting sex-based pay discrimination.
- 1964 Congress passes the U.S. Civil Rights Act, outlawing discrimination in public accommodations and employment.
- 1973 Congress passes the Women’s Educational Equity Act to foster the development of nonsexist teaching materials.
- 1973 Texas allows women to obtain credit in their own names.
- 1978 Congress passes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
- 1986 The U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously that sexual harassment constitutes illegal job discrimination and upholds affirmative action based on race and gender.
I am profoundly grateful. But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Systemic racism is alive and well. Merriam-Webster defines systemic racism as the oppression of a racial group to the advantage of another as perpetuated by inequity within interconnected systems (such as political, economic, and social systems).
SYSTEMIC RACISM DEFINED
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “A growing body of research shows that centuries of racism in this country has had a profound and negative impact on communities of color. The impact is pervasive and deeply embedded in our society—affecting where one lives, learns, works, worships and plays and creating inequities in access to a range of social and economic benefits—such as housing, education, wealth, and employment. These conditions—often referred to as social determinants of health—are key drivers of health inequities within communities of color, placing those within these populations at greater risk for poor health outcomes.
“The data show that racial and ethnic minority groups, throughout the United States, experience higher rates of illness and death across a wide range of health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, asthma, and heart disease, when compared to their White counterparts. Additionally, the life expectancy of non-Hispanic/Black Americans is four years lower than that of White Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic, and its disproportionate impact among racial and ethnic minority populations is another stark example of these enduring health disparities.”
STEPS TO ELIMINATE SYSTEMIC RACISM
According to NAACP President Derrick Johnson, there are three steps we can all take to address systemic racism.
- Acknowledge it exists. Time Magazine, for instance, explains that “systemic racism also found its way, more insidiously, into the institutions many Americans revere and seek to safe-guard. Established in the 1930s, Social Security helped ensure a stable old age for most Americans, but it initially excluded domestic and agricultural workers, leaving behind two-thirds of black Americans. Federal mortgage lending programs helped white Americans buy homes after World War II, but black Americans suffered from a shameful catch-22. Federal policy said that the very presence of a black resident in a neighborhood reduced the value of the homes there, effectively prohibiting African-American residents from borrowing money to buy a home. And sentencing laws of the past several decades meant that poor black Americans were thrown in prison for decades-long terms for consuming one type of cocaine while their wealthier white counterparts got a slap on the wrist for consuming another.”
Pretending racism never existed by covering up the past does nothing to help the future. If you have not read The 1619 Project, I suggest you do. This work helps bring another perspective to the historical narrative we learned as children.
- Get involved with organizations who are fighting it. Work within your own organizations to identify and remove harmful policies.
- Elect leaders and policy makers who won’t reinforce or support structurally racist policies.
LAST THOUGHTS ON SYSTEMIC RACISM
Allowing systemic racism to flourish hits us in the pocketbook. We pay taxes to help those affected by the consequences of years of oppression. Eliminating it will make this country more vibrant and powerful.