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CC ISSUE: MAR 2012 Last updated: Mar 7, 2012

Structural racism: Racism’s Deep Roots

Ahlam Jbara

In this day and time of our lives, it is tempting to think that racial inequity is a problem that we have overcome. Our experiences continue to indicate that is not the case.

The social reality we call “race” is still one of the strongest predictors of how groups of people fare in terms of wealth, health, education and many other aspects of life. Even in the 21st century of high-profile success stories at the individual level, the legacy of past discrimination within policies and institutions continues to have an intense impact. It is also important to be aware that there are also many current institutional and government policies that, if left unchecked, will only increase what are already oppressive inequalities. The problem is real, and if people don’t take active measures to change the systems that continue to fuel it, it will not go away.

Past racism and privilege have contributed to the divide in poverty and wealth among racial groups. There is research that shows past housing policies and practices that continue to segregate neighborhoods, communities, towns and cities. Analyses point to the ways in which current methods of financing schools keep public education highly unequal. Evidence exists about the lack of knowledge that racial and ethnic groups have of one another and about the cultural stereotypes that rise up to fill those gaps in understanding. These historical legacies and current policies, practices and cultural representations are the components of structural racism.

Let us go back to where it all started. In 1619, the first 20 African slaves were sold to the settlers in Virginia as “indentured servants.” In 1789, the Constitution was adopted but “slaves counted as three-fifths of a person for means of representation. In 1856, Democratic party leaders in Los Angeles called for a special convention to consider splitting the country in two to increase Anglo-political influence. In 1870, the first segregation law was passed in Tennessee, mandating the separation of African Americans from whites on trains, depots and wharves; by the end of the century, African Americans were barred from white hotels, barber shops, restaurants, theaters, and other public places. By 1885, most southern states also had laws requiring separate schools.

The effects of our history still play a role in our daily lives, segregation of our neighborhoods and communities, underfunded schools in the inner-city, discrimination in the work place and a divide amongst people.

In Islam, all people are equal and no person is superior to any other except by piety and righteous deeds in addition to what one strives to offer to God. Islam abolished all forms of sectarianism and discrimination between all classes of society. It also abolished the privileges granted to people on account of their nationality, ancestry or lineage. This is demonstrated in the following Quranic verse: “O mankind, We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other. Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”

How do we get to a point that we live by the words of Allah and our prophet? There needs to be a comprehensive and solid plan to move toward racial equity.


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