10 Questions All Racism-Denying Politicians Must Answer


While both major political parties in the U.S. historically have failed to address racism honestly and fully, the current slate of Republican candidates for president offers an object lesson in the persistent denial of systemic racial inequality by the power elite.

The examples range far and wide. Before ending his run for president, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker accused protestors from the #BlackLivesMatter movement and elsewhere of increasing racial tensions and “us[ing] law enforcement as a scapegoat” — ignoring the history of racial aggression by law enforcement that brought such a movement forth. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, too, has used ugly racial stereotypes in his campaign. “Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” Bush announced in South Carolina. “It isn't one of division and 'Get in line and we'll take care of you with free stuff.’” (The dogwhistle to those who could quickly connect his “taker” language to minority communities rang loud and clear.)

Meanwhile, as journalist Stacey Patton points out, the campaigns of the candidates leading the pack at the moment — Donald Trump and Ben Carson — are conjoined by the ideals of “racism, sexism [and] xenophobia” found at their cores. “Both [Trump and Carson] promote a white supremacist, patriarchal status quo,” Patton suggests, "that have Huey Long and George Wallace smiling in their graves.”

Carson, for one, isn’t shy about his denialism. “I don't believe race determines underdog status today,” he wrote in 2014. “Rather, it is the circumstances of one's life that should be considered.”

This kind of rhetoric works with conservative audiences. This in part because, as David Edwards reports for Raw Story, white people aren’t very good at accepting the fact of their racial privilege. In fact, “[r]esearchers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business have found that white people respond to evidence that they are privileged by their race by insisting that they face greater hardships in life.”

Political denial of racism, then, speaks to an audience often convinced that they have overcome hardships but who have not faced their own privilege.

And yet, despite what these campaigns would like you to believe — that regardless of race, success in the U.S. is mostly a product of effort, and that everyone has the same opportunity to achieve success — the evidence is overwhelming that racial inequality remains a powerful part of who succeeds in America and why. All one has to do is consider data around education, employment and justice to understand just how much race continues to matter in American life today.

So to all those running for the highest office in the land, and all those who support them, a few questions to consider:

1. If racism isn’t a factor in overall success, why does higher educational attainment increase a person’s income within her/his race, but not among different races?

See educational attainment broken down among races:


2. If racism isn’t a factor, why do blacks with some college have about the same probability of employment as whites who have not completed high school?

See employment probability by race and educational attainment:


(Source: Young Invincibles, 2014)

3. If racism isn’t a factor in the justice system, why are prison populations dramatically inverse in proportion to the racial demographics of the U.S.?

See the 2010 prison incarceration rates by race:


(Source: Calculated by the Prison Policy Initiative from Bureau of Justice Statistics)

4. If racism isn’t a factor in education, why are school suspensions and expulsions significantly disproportionate between white and black students?

See inequitable discipline by race identified in 13 Southern states:

“On average, Blacks were 24% of students in the 3,022 districts we analyzed, but rates at which they were suspended [48%] and expelled [49%] are disproportionately high.”

5. If racism isn’t a factor in employment opportunity, why is the economic advantage of graduating from an elite university less for blacks than whites, as recent research suggests?

The results show that although a credential from an elite university results in more employer responses for all candidates, black candidates from elite universities only do as well as white candidates from less selective universities. Moreover, race results in a double penalty: When employers respond to black candidates, it is for jobs with lower starting salaries and lower prestige than those of white peers. These racial differences suggest that a bachelor’s degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market. Thus, both discrimination and differences in human capital contribute to racial economic inequality.


(Source: Discrimination in the Credential Society: An Audit Study of Race and College Selectivity in the Labor Market)

6. If racism isn’t a factor in who gets arrested, why are black boys viewed by police as older than their biological age (and older than same-age white boys) and less innocent?  In a series of studies exploring the dehumanization of black children, researchers found,

...evidence that Black children are afforded the privilege of innocence to a lesser extent than children of other races. Studies 2–3 build on these findings by demonstrating that Black boys are seen as more culpable for their actions (i.e., less innocent) within a criminal justice context than are their peers of other races. In addition, Black boys are actually misperceived as older relative to peers of other races. Further, the above research provides evidence that, in undergraduate and police populations, these racial disparities are predicted by the implicit dehumanization of Blacks. These findings demonstrate that dehumanization of Blacks not only predicts racially disparate perceptions of Black boys but also predicts racially disparate police violence toward Black children in real-world settings.

7. If racism isn’t a factor in whom employers seek to hire, why do women of color have the lowest wages at every level of educational attainment? See data on access to job by race and gender:


(Source: IPUMS via PolicyLink.org)

8. If racism isn’t a factor in income distribution, why are black children from middle-class homes highly likely to fall below the social class of their birth? See data on income by race:


9. If racism isn’t a factor in economic security, then during our recent economic disturbances Why Didn't Higher Education Protect Hispanic and Black Wealth? As authors and policy analysts William Emmons and Bryan Noeth explain:

Compared to their less-educated counterparts, typical white and Asian families with four-year college degrees withstood the recent recession much better and have accumulated much more wealth over the longer term. Hispanic and black families headed by someone with a four-year college degree, on the other hand, typically fared significantly worse than Hispanic and black families without college degrees. This was true both during the recent turbulent period (2007-2013) as well as during a two-decade span ending in 2013 (the most recent data available).


10. If racism isn’t a factor in school funding, why does research reveal that "no matter how rich or poor the district in question, funding gaps existed solely based on the racial composition of the school”?  As data scientist David Mosenkis told The Atlantic,

"'If you color code [Philadelphia's] districts based on their racial composition you see this very stark breakdown. At any given poverty level, districts that have a higher proportion of white students get substantially higher funding than districts that have more minority students.'... Just the increased presence of minority students actually deflated a district’s funding level. “The ones that have a few more students of color get lower funding than the ones that are 100 percent or 95 percent white,' Mosenkis said."

Denying racism requires different answers than the data above support — answers that unmask the racist core of the denial that neither politicians nor the public who support them are willing to state aloud.

As a first step toward addressing the tremendous race-driven inequity in the U.S., we need political leaders and the public to face the hard truths about how racism functions in this society. Then we must to commit to taking the actions necessary to fix that which, if ignored, is destined to destroy our nation.

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