“Systemic racism” has apparently become America’s fatal flaw. Best described as policies and institutions designed to discriminate on the basis of race, systemic racism has become the rallying cry of radicals seeking to overthrow the foundations of American society.
Paradoxically, some of the places most vigorously lambasted as systemically racist are the most racially diverse in leadership, or otherwise detached from overt racist influence. Inequality-burdened cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. are run by black or Democratic mayors, police chiefs, city council members, and school superintendents. The biggest problems facing these cities today have not to do with race (or Republicanism) but with failing local leadership, poor-performing school systems, a lack of school choice, and ineffective police forces. To reduce these complex, socially entrenched problems to “systemic racism” is to dodge accountability and blind oneself to their true causes.
This isn’t to say that systemic racism doesn’t exist today; it does—but not where the Left is looking. Consider President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). It includes a $28.6 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which prioritized helping restaurants majority owned by women or members of certain racial or ethnic groups. The ARP also included $4 billion in debt relief for black and other select minority farmers. Under the program, all “socially disadvantaged” farmers with an outstanding balance would receive 120 percent debt relief from the USDA, while others (namely, white farmers) wouldn’t. These relief programs have faced legal and political scrutiny across the country, from Texas to Florida and Wisconsin, on the grounds that they illegally discriminate by race and sex. One of these challenges was brought by the white owner of Jake’s Bar and Grill, who co-owned the struggling restaurant with his Hispanic wife. Because his wife owned less than 51 percent of the restaurant, his relief application was pushed behind those of other minority applicants.
The goal of these programs—to remedy the effects of past discrimination—may be laudable, but the means that the Biden administration is using to pursue this goal are reductive and likely unconstitutional.
According to this framework, race, rather than individual circumstance, is the definitive marker for economic need. The effects of historical discrimination are presumed to be so immense that any black American, regardless of economic position, is eligible to jump to the head of the line for governmental assistance. Neither wealth nor education nor skills can attenuate a black individual’s ancestral connection to the horrors of slavery, Jim Crow, or other forms of past institutionalized racism. In this paradigm, blacks are hostages to history. What could be a more dehumanizing view?
Moreover, the Biden administration has extended racial preferences not just to America’s most historically marginalized group but to virtually any individual not born into the inflexibly oppressive “white” caste. Thus, farmers or restaurant owners of Indian, Taiwanese, and Filipino extraction—among the highest-earning groups in America—qualify for government assistance, but not poor white farmers in Appalachia.
More than just poor whites lose out from these wildly arbitrary parameters for “socially disadvantaged” beneficiaries: under Small Business Administration regulations, “socially and economically disadvantaged” groups include blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Americans from select Pacific Asian and Subcontinent Asian backgrounds. Yet Americans of North African, Middle Eastern, and other Asian extractions or ethnicities are groundlessly barred from priority treatment for debt relief.
As appellate court judge Amul Thapar recently wrote in reference to racial preferences for Covid relief, “the schedule of racial preferences detailed in the government’s regulation—preferences for Pakistanis but not Afghans; Japanese but not Iraqis; Hispanics but not Middle Easterners—is not supported by any record of evidence at all.” This crude ethnic system of classification reeks of sectarianism—the kind of identity-based ideology that prevails in countries like Somalia, Lebanon, and India.
The Biden administration has embraced far-left radicalism that was once found only on the academic fringe and in the writings of neo-racists like Ibram X. Kendi (“The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination”).
Race-neutral policies specifically targeting the poorest Americans are the best way to remedy historical wrongs without discriminating on the basis of an arbitrary genetic lottery. Though it seems unlikely that the Biden administration will ditch its radical, systemically racist ideas, the legal and political scrutiny they now face offers some hope that they will not prevail.
Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images