Guest post: To see the ocean we swim in

From a comment by Rob on Systemic v individual.

I’m not going to enumerate all the examples of serious cultural, institutional and systemic racism in western society. Any reasonable person just needs to open their eyes to see the ocean we swim in. CRT was initially adopted by law schools as a tool for analysing the effect of laws (past and present) and the way their application affected people coming into contact with the legal system (police, courts and prisons). Remember this isn’t just kumbaya-singing hippies at universities, but hard headed lawyers from a wide ranging political and social spectrum. You can find plenty of non-academic lawyers and prosecutors online who give meaningful and specific examples of current systemic racism in the ‘law’ and a number who write about the racist background of specific laws and classes of law that still exist, but were designed to target black people.

Let’s not get started shall we on on the number of States in the US that are actively gerrymandering their Districts to disadvantage black voters, and who are also changing their voting procedures to specifically disadvantage not all Democratic voters, but overwhelmingly those of black or latino background.

Even if, for arguments sake, we say that there is only historical racism, that still doesn’t remove the consequences of generations of past active racism. Multigenerational disadvantage and poverty – laws around redlining, the ability to work (or refuse work), violent destruction of black wealth, refusal to allow loans on an equal basis, underfunding of public utilities, healthcare and education. That’s what creates ‘black’ culture.

NZ, as I’ve said before, has its fair share of racists (and racism deniers), but as a society we have been making a conscious effort for the last generation to redress some of the inequalities that exist. That has included reparations to Iwi groups, some of whom have invested wisely and created employment and wealth for their people and some not. Recognition of language, incorporation of cultural values and consultation into Government policies. Even so, we still have much worse outcomes for health, education, housing, imprisonment for Maori compared to non-Maori. A recent large study of health outcomes found, as an example, that when a particular subset of patients’ case files were examined (late middle aged obese male smokers with heart conditions), if you were white you were more likely to be referred by your doctor for further tests, medication and treatment. if you were Maori you were more likely to be sent home and told to quite smoking and exercise more. Maori are more likely to rearrested, and imprisoned, for the same crime than white people. Dysfunctional Maori families are far more likely to have their children ‘uplifted’ than non-Maori similarly situated.

There are rays of sunshine. These things are part of national debate and there is wide acceptance at Government and within many professions that things need to change. Schools that have made even token changes to adopt elements of Maori language and culture have found that students become more engaged and outcomes improve.

The best evidence that there is a systemic issue is that when people do try to change the system, the very structures and practices themselves make shifting outcomes slow and difficult and easily eroded. I don’t believe that NZ is unique and I don’t believe we are the worst country in the world with respect to these issues.

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