Saturday, July 3, 2021

Musings on Slavery and Systemic Racism on Independence Day

  Tomorrow we celebrate our nation’s independence.  The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776  proclaiming the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in America, then a slaveholding nation.  It would be 84 years and a terrible Civil War before slavery ended, and another 100 years before Black Americans gained their civil rights.

America has changed dramatically in those years.  The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination, but racism has continued to plague America, fostered by polarized partisan politics.  Donald Trump’s Republican Party continues to play the race card, and in the name of systemic racism Democrats promote racial preferences that will only exacerbate racism.

Systemic racism has been defined as “a form of racism embedded through laws and regulations within society or an organization.”  It’s based on racial disparities with no evidence of racial discrimination.  Civil rights laws require proof of racial discrimination for legal remedies.  Without such proof, racism is a moral issue of heart and mind that is beyond the reach of law.  

Civil rights fall under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  It provides equal protection of the law for all Americans.  That guarantees equal opportunity under the law, but not equality.  In a libertarian democracy that emphasizes individual freedom there will always be disparities, but racial discrimination should never be tolerated.

The primary racial disparities claimed in systemic racism are in income and criminal justice.  A strong middle class is essential to political and economic stability in a democracy, and America’s middle class is shrinking; but the depletion of the middle class is not caused by racial discrimination but by those in the stock market--both White and Black--getting richer.         

Income disparities are evident in a stock market that has thrived through two major recessions while the rest of America has struggled with a sluggish economy.  The Federal Reserve orchestrated these economic disparities by subsidizing megacorporations on Wall Street with low interest rates and purchasing their questionable debts.  With an improved economy Fed policies should end subsidies that favor investors in the stock market.

In criminal justice, racial disparities in arrests and incarceration most often reflect the incidence of crime rather than racial discrimination, but police have often used excessive force in arresting Blacks.  That’s not justified by statistics that indicate Blacks commit more crimes than Whites.  Reforms are overdue to restrict the lethal force used by police in making arrests.

America was born as a slaveholding nation; and even though racism continues to plague us, America has evolved into a nation with liberty and justice for all under the law.  To overcome pervasive racism--whether systemic or otherwise--America must promote racial reconciliation to improve race relations, and avoid racial preferences that would further divide us.


Wikipedia defines Institutional racism, also known as systemic racism, as a form of racism that is embedded through laws and regulations within society or an organization. It can lead to such issues as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power, and education, among other issues. Institutional racism has harmful effects on people, especially on students in school where it is prominent.[1]

The term institutional racism was first coined in 1967 by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation.[2] Carmichael and Hamilton wrote in 1967 that while individual racism is often identifiable because of its overt nature, institutional racism is less perceptible because of its "less overt, far more subtle" nature. Institutional racism "originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than [individual racism]".[3]  See

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. Often considered one of the most consequential amendments, it addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. The amendment was bitterly contested, particularly by the states of the defeated Confederacy, which were forced to ratify it in order to regain representation in Congress. The amendment, particularly its first section, is one of the most litigated parts of the Constitution, forming the basis for landmark Supreme Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education regarding racial segregation, Roe v. Wade (1973) regarding abortion, Bush v. Gore (2000) regarding the 2000 presidential election, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) regarding same-sex marriage. The amendment limits the actions of all state and local officials, and also those acting on behalf of such officials.  See

The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment provides "nor shall any State ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws". It mandates that individuals in similar situations be treated equally by the law.[1][2][3]  A primary motivation for this clause was to validate the equality provisions contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which guaranteed that all citizens would have the guaranteed right to equal protection by law. As a whole, the Fourteenth Amendment marked a large shift in American constitutionalism, by applying substantially more constitutional restrictions against the states than had applied before the Civil War.  The meaning of the Equal Protection Clause has been the subject of much debate, and inspired the well-known phrase "Equal Justice Under Law". This clause was the basis for Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the Supreme Court decision that helped to dismantle racial segregation, and also the basis for many other decisions rejecting discrimination against, and bigotry towards, people belonging to various groups.  See Wikipedia at

Michal Gerson has asserted that “I don’t think it possible to be a conservative without believing that racism is, in part, structural.”  I reject any claim of racism (systemic or otherwise) without evidence of racial discrimination; and systemic racism is based on racial disparities rather than acts of racial discrimination.  Gerson is right when he says that “The phrase ‘systemic racism,’ like ‘climate change’ and ‘gun control,’ has been sucked into the vortex of the culture war.”   And he’s right to say that “The emotional reaction to these words seems to preclude reasoned debate on their meaning.”  But I believe that “In a free society, responsibility for success and failure is largely personal and I don’t feel guilty for self-destructive life choices made by others.” Gerson says “that reasoning sounds convincing until it’s tested against the experience of our own lives, “ and goes on to confess to growing up in a middle class neighborhood in St. Louis that was shaped by white flight and was largely indifferent to the residual effects of “separate but equal” Jim Crow racism.  Gerson says that “Only later did I begin to see that my normality was actually a social construction. By the time I was growing up in the 1970s, St. Louis no longer had legal segregation. But my suburb, my neighborhood and my private high school were all outcomes of White flight. The systems of policing, zoning and education I grew up with had been created to ensure one result: to keep certain communities safe, orderly and pale.  ..Systems had been carefully created to ensure I went to an all-White church, in an all-White neighborhood, while attending an all-White Christian school and shopping in all-White stores. I now realize I grew up in one of the most segregated cities in the United States.  Was this my fault? Not in the strictest sense. I didn’t create these systems. But I wish I had realized earlier that these systems had created me. This is what I mean by systemic racism.”

Gerson makes a dubious distinction between guilt and responsibility for the racism in St. Louis:  “There is an important moral distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility.” It is not useful, and perhaps not fair, to say that most White people are guilty of creating social systems shaped by white supremacy. But they do have a responsibility as citizens, and as moral creatures, to seek a society where equal opportunity is a reality for all.”  That’s certainly true. And “It is true that “wokeness” can be used as a political weapon. It is true that shame culture can be cruel and misdirected. And, as a conservative, I believe that equal opportunity, rather than mandated economic equality, is the proper goal of a free society. But what if equal opportunity is a cruel joke to a significant portion of the country?” I believe equal opportunity is just that, and that beginning with public education, when people spurn their opportunity to earn a high school degree, they forfeit an equal opportunity for good jobs.

Gerson acknowledges that in America “we have the advantage of what a friend calls ‘systemic anti-racism.’ We have documents — the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the 14th Amendment — that call us to our better selves. We are a country that has exploited and oppressed Black Americans. But we are also the country that has risen up in mass movements, made up of Blacks and Whites, to confront those evils.  The response to structural racism is the determined, systematic application of our highest ideals.”  We can agree on that final note as it applies to any form of racism. See

George Will has framed systemic racism as an attack on the traditional standards of meritocracy in competing for the benefits of society, saying that attacking ‘merit’ in the name of ‘equity’ is a prescription for mediocrity. “Today’s accusations of ‘systemic racism,’ more frequently bandied than defined, disparage American society’s allocation of wealth and opportunity on the basis of metrics of merit. The disparagers presume the allocation is inherently unjust unless it ameliorates racial disparities. So, around the nation, selective public high schools and colleges are accused of perpetuating racial hierarchies by admission policies that seek excellence as measured by standardized tests. Yet aptitude tests for college admissions were adopted so that objective measures of merit could weaken the entrenchment of stale elites.  No society ever has too much talent. With America facing a future of intensifying commercial and military competitions of increasing sophistication, it is reckless to advocate retreat from meritocracy toward, inevitably, government-engineered mediocrity.” See

Critical race theory (CRT) is a field of study that proponents of systemic racism consider a justification for racial preferences.  See Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Critical Race Theory and The 1619 Project at    


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