Since the earliest days of American history, the governing philosophy of the United States is rooted in the protection of individual rights. These rights include the protection of life, the ability to exercise liberty, and the freedom to pursue happiness. They are fundamental to our identity as Americans. Americans of all different races, ethnicities, creeds, and religions profess these rights as true and universal.
However, in the year 2021, it has become fashionable to indict the American system as “systemically racist”. This phrase is thrown around a lot in our culture. From professors in the classrooms to bios on TikTok, these two words are everywhere. But what do they mean? To be clear and define terms, the word “systemic” according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary means system-wide and all-encompassing. And the word racism, according to Merriam-Webster means to discriminate, antagonize, or have malice towards another race.
Joining the two phrases in the context of an entire nation such as the United States would mean that every system within the United States exhibits some form of racist and discriminatory behavior. In my opinion, this is a lie.
Consider the facts. Fact number one: the Constitution of the United States explicitly protects every citizen from unequal protection under the law, guarantees procedural due process, and affords every person birthed on American soil citizenship (a practice uncommon around the world). As of now, there is no good law that discriminates against someone based on skin color. And if there was such law, the Court would rightfully decry that law as unconstitutional.
Fact number two: the top two median income groups by distinct race are non-white. According to the Census Bureau, the top two median income earners (that is the average for everyone in a certain category) by race in the United States are Indian Americans and Taiwanese Americans. The median household income for Indian Americans is 88% better than the average White American. This is a greater income gap than the 58% disparity between the average White American and the average Black American.
While we would like to see incomes rise for every group, this data suggests that the American free-market economic system is far from systemically racist. Any racial group has the potential to out-earn any other, and the system can and does benefit people of color.
Fact number three: success is achievable in America even after periods of overt oppression.
There is no denying the United States has had an evil past when it comes to race. From the forced removal of the Cherokee people to the institution of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the United States is by no means faultless. However, in the modern-day United States, everyone can succeed despite egregious racial tragedies.
For example, in the succeeding decades following the end of the Second World War, Japanese Americans experienced a dramatic increase in their standard of living. The blog Densho, a project that seeks to understand the post-war history of Japanese Americans, describes it this way. “Many Americans came to recognize that the wartime incarceration had been a mistake”. Three decades after the war Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This bill provided a presidential apology and $20,000 payments to surviving former detainees. Japanese Americans would go on to become famous actors, military heroes, and members of Congress.
This success translates beyond just Japanese Americans. Celebrities such as Kanye West, Oprah Winfrey, Lebron James, and Barack Obama have achieved incredible success in the United States. These celebrities, and heroes for some, would not be as successful today if they did not live in a system that rewards hard work and innovation. Our system permitted a black man to rise from poverty and create the greatest shoe of all time, the Yeezy 350 V2. The United States, because of its focus on individual rights and free-market economics, permits the success of any person from any racial group.
Fact number four: the political system in the United States protects minority rights.
Perhaps the most important rebuttal to the myth of systemic racism is that rights in the United States protect the individual. The Bill of Rights was explicitly written to protect the people in the minority from the majority. Freedom of speech is guaranteed to prevent the government from silencing media it disagrees with. The right to bear arms is in place to prevent tyrants. Due process is in place to prevent kangaroo courts. The United States Senate is there to protect against the passions of the House of Representatives. The Electoral College exists to prevent Los Angeles and New York from choosing the President.
All of these things work in tandem with each other in a system designed for gridlock. If the system were not designed for gridlock, the majority could easily oppress the minority. For example, in Rwanda in 1994, the Tutsi ethnic group was overrun by the Hutu majority bent on wielding out a racial minority. This ended with the deaths of about 600,000 Rwandans, solely because minority rights were not protected. If a country were as racist as the modern political left says the United States is, the political system would not protect minority rights and be far more efficient in perpetuating racism.
Opponents of these arguments would take the view that the United States’ system of government was built to protect the institution of slavery and perpetuate the racism that followed. Ibram X. Kendi and others are examples of authors on the left that seem to take this view; the view being that America is and always has been systemically racist.
Kendi’s extraordinarily radical ideas have become mainstream within the academy. These radical ideas can be clearly identified. Kendi, in his book “How to be an Antiracist”, states “capitalism is essentially racist” and “racism is essentially capitalist.”
This extremely broad claim is debunked by many civil rights activists and economists alike.
Economist and Civil Rights Activist Dr. Thomas Sowell disagrees with Kendi. Sowell, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution notes that “Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green; all else is necessarily subservient to it, hence, race, gender, and ethnicity cannot be considered within it”.
Sowell is correct in this view as countless times throughout the history of the world, corporations and businesses have teamed up with civil rights activists.
For example, in the 1896 landmark Supreme Court case “Plessey Vs. Ferguson ”, the East Louisiana Railroad joined Homer Plessey in fighting for the equal treatment of people of color in law. The rail company saw racial segregation as a heavy cost burden because the cost of purchasing separate rail cars was exorbitant. Plessey would ultimately lose the case. However, Justice Harlan’s dissent would enshrine American legal thought for decades to come when he stated that the United States Constitution “is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
Kendi simply neglects this example along with countless others. Kendi divides each political issue into two categories – “racist and antiracist”. He presents a false dichotomy so as to implicate the political right on the racist side and the political left on the antiracist side. By doing so, Kendi perpetuates an already divisive political climate. He rejects the principles of American innovation and entrepreneurship by deriding capitalism, despite benefiting directly from the same capitalist system that sells his books. With Kendi’s political positions masquerading as racial justice, Kendi hinders the work of civil rights heroes like Ida B. Wells, Octavius Cato, and Martin Luther King Jr.
In short, to succeed as an American and be what you want to be, you do not need to be born with a certain skin color. America is not designed to favor a certain race. America rewards hard work and innovation. America is a kind and just nation. Its people, by and large, are the most tolerant on Earth. So no, America is not systemically racist. Don’t let your professors tell you otherwise.