The pattern we see in one organization after another is one where whites predominate in the upper rungs of management and in the highest paying jobs in business, the media, universities, the entertainment industry, and the legal system.  For a while, institutional racism became a topic of national discussion in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and other black men and women.  However, we are now seeing a backlash that is led by  the attack on Critical Race Theory.  The scale of the backlash can be seen in this sentence from a recent article: “As of July 12, 26 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism…”[1]

I have been expecting a backlash ever since the streets were full of demonstrators, both black and white, after the George Floyd murder.  At the time,  I remember realizing that we were in a historical moment unlike any since the 1960’s.  By the end of the 1960’s it became clear that proponents of maintaining segregation no longer had a winning argument.  Whether whites really believed in equal rights or not, it was no longer possible to argue in favor of continued segregation.

That did not end the issue, however.  The white supremacists did no wait long before they came up with a new line of argument.  Barry Goldwater was the first to imply that the civil rights demonstrations were illegitimate because they were a form of civil disorder.  The issue of civil order and crime became the focus for white supremacists.  At the same time, the anti-war movement was upsetting the powers that be, and their response was to equate that movement with disorder and wanton drug abuse.

As John Erlichmann, a key aid of Richard Nixon admitted:

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. [2]

This was the beginning of mass incarceration of black and brown men.  In 2021 black men are 13% of the general population but 38% of the prison population.  The US prison population has increased by 500% in the last 30 years.[3]  “5% of illicit drug users are African American, yet African Americans represent 29% of those arrested and 33% of those incarcerated for drug offenses.”[4]

A study by the University of California at Berkley finds that “while residential segregation declined modestly from 1970 to 1990, it began increasing in 1990 and has been getting starker ever since.  As a result, more than 150 large metropolitan regions in the U.S. – a whooping 81 percent of the total – are more segregated now than they were 30 years ago.  [5]  And a study by the New York Times, published February 27, 2019 , indicated that more than half of the nation’s schoolchildren are in racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite.[6]

So, while segregation has been illegal for 50 years, the level of racial segregation has actually increased!

All of this was accomplished via governmental policies at the federal, state and local level that never once used race as the rationale.  However, these policies had the effect of excluding and penalizing BIPOC citizens.  The racial hierarchy also morphed to allow a certain number of BIPOC people enter the upper rungs of society.  These well-off professionals, entertainers, and athletes are used as evidence that anyone can make it as long as they just work hard enough.  The corollary is that those who do not make it, have only themselves to blame.  Currently the wealth gap between whites and blacks is 10 to one.  In 2016 the median wealth of white families was $171,000 and that of blacks was $17,100.[7]

Finally, the mortgage industry remains essentially the way it was 40 years ago.  According to an analysis released by Northwestern University,

 “racial disparities in the mortgage market suggest that discrimination in loan denial and cost has not declined much over the previous 30 to 40 years.

In the mortgage market the researchers found that racial gaps in loan denial have declined only slightly, and racial gaps in mortgage cost have not declined at all, suggesting persistent racial discrimination. Black and Hispanic borrowers are more likely to be rejected when they apply for a loan and are more likely to receive a high-cost mortgage.

Discrimination in the mortgage market makes it more difficult for minority households to build wealth through housing, contributing to racial wealth gaps. Discrimination in the housing market increases housing insecurity for minority households and contributes to persistent neighborhood segregation. These results help account for why black homeownership has not increased over the last 35 years.”[8]

This incomplete recitation of structural inequalities illustrates how these inequalities are widespread and remain embedded in the very fabric of our society.  We are a long way from eliminating racial inequality.  Our nation is still very far from being what we proclaim ourselves to be.  The BLM movement did succeed in bringing attention to these realities on a scale not seen in many decades.  In doing so they posed a very real threat to the system of white privilege that exists across every spectrum of life in the U.S.

We are now seeing an across-the-board campaign to shut down the examination and discussion of racism.  Instead of focusing on the ways that BIPOC citizens are excluded, the anti-CRT campaign is focused on the supposed discrimination against white people, perpetrated by liberals and radicals.  The anti-CRT campaign claims that teaching the history of racism, especially structural racism, makes whites feel bad and demeans the history of this country.  Those who support this campaign are seeking to silence those who would bring attention to the racial disparities which still remain 50 years after discrimination was made illegal.

The blowback seeks to silence any discussion of racial inequalities.  After all, this was the strategy employed by white supremacists after the 1960s.  They embedded this strategy in “race-neutral” policies and legal structure.  These “race-neutral” policies (like the “three strikes” law and the higher penalty for use of crack cocaine) resulted in more discrimination without ever using racial language.  The struggle today is aimed at keeping that strategy intact.  If the defendants of white supremacy can succeed in shutting down any examination of racism and racial history, they can hold on to the desired inequities built into the current system.

They try to bolster their argument by claiming that discussions about racism are themselves racist.  This claim is patently false.  To carry it to its logical conclusion business should restrict , any discussion of profits and losses lest they impact the ability of businesses to run their business.  This is absurd.  Managers know that to manage anything, you have to measure it.  We have only to look at what happened with the Quality Improvement Movement.  Companies that embraced the Total Quality or Quality Improvement Movement  achieved remarkable savings.  They were able to do so because they did two things: (1) they measured the cost of rework (having to do something more than once to get it right, and (2) they were able to achieve a desired level of quality in the product or service they provided.  Measurement enabled them to identify any places in the process where the outcomes did not comply with the desired standard.

Measurement allows us to see how a process unfolds and whether it unfolds in the desired way we design it to happen.  Essential and volatile systems like power generation stations and chemical plants have large electronic boards in the control rooms where engineers closely monitor the gauges that indicate how the system is performing.  Another example of measurement is visible when you become a pilot.  When I learned to fly, I was taught which four gauges needed to be monitored at all times in order to stay safe (altitude, turn and bank, compass and gas).

Those who are seeking to restrict any discussion of racism or the history of racism are doing their best to keep the focus solely on the ideals stated in various documents (e.g., Declaration of Independence, etc.).  They are dead set against anyone examining how well the nation conforms to the ideals it espouses.  They are rightly concerned that such an examination will reveal that the nation is a long way away from where its publicists say it is in terms of racial equity.

We have been here before.  Immediately following the end of the Civil War, there was no talk of the “Noble Cause or the “Lost Cause.”  That came after the white supremacists were able to roll back Reconstruction.  By 1880, propaganda groups across the country put up public monuments to Confederate leaders and generals.  The KKK terrorized black communities and the nation went in to a period of severe denial that was not challenged until the 1960’s.  Now there is an attempt to recreate that suppression of the truth.  To defeat this  propaganda people will need to ignore the claims about whites being oppressed and keep a focus on what the data say about the state of racial equity in the workplace, in media, entertainment, education and the legal system.

It helps to know when your opponent is seeking to distract you.  These claims that CRT is hurting whites is one such ploy.  We can respond to those who advance their claim that CRT and teaching racial history this by pointing out that we are willing to look at data that supports their claims as long as they are willing to look at data that depicts the state of exclusion of BIPOC citizens in the workplace, in media, the management of lucrative sports franchises, education, and the legal system.

Those railing against CRT are actually citing examples of how whites are the victims of discrimination. By doing so, they are asking people to look at data.  In effect, they are presenting data (measurements) about the status of whites.  By doing so, they are mirroring what BLM has done: present data about the status of racial groups.  Most of their claims are anecdotal.  Moreover, they only want to allow data about one racial group, whites.

I think we can engage the white supremacists by encouraging them to present their data as long as we can present our data.   We can propose discussing the extent to which whites face exclusion or oppression versus the extent to which and in which arenas BIPOC people face exclusion or oppression. Data about the systematic exclusion of BIPOC citizens if plentiful. I predict our opponents will find a rationale to avoid such a discussion.  The last thing they want to do is allow the presentation of data that demonstrates our society excludes BIPOC citizens across all sectors of social life.

If the proponents of anti-CRT refuse to discuss the relative oppression of whites versus BIPOC people, it will be one more example in U.S. history where one racial group, whites, is seeking to dictate both the process by which history will be discussed, as well as the content.  In this regard, they are merely continuing a pattern of racial politic which has been running the nation since slavery first began, more than 400 years ago.

[1] “Map: Where critical Race Theory is Under Attack.” Education Week, July 12, 2021, https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/map-where-critical-race-theory-is-under-attack/2021/06

[2] Forbes, “Nixon’s Drug War, An Excuse to Lock Up Blacks and Protestors Continues,”  by Erik Sherman, May 23, 2016, https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2016/03/23/nixons-drug-war-an-excuse-to-lock-up-blacks-and-protesters-continues/?sh=2f3eb7b742c8

[3] Center for Law and justice, “No to Prisons, Yes to Caring Communities.”  https://www.cflj.org/programs/new-jim-crow/new-jim-crow-fact-sheet/,  April 20, 2021

[4] “Criminal Justice Fact Sheet.” NAACP, https://naacp.org/resources/criminal-justice-fact-sheet

[5] “Your city is more segregated than it was in 1990, new study shows.” Grist., https://grist.org/race/residential-segregation-study-race-berkeley/, June 28, 2021.

[6] “How Much Wealthier Are White Schools than Non-White Ones, 23 Billion Report Says. ”Sarah Mervosh, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/27/education/school-districts-funding-white-minorities.html, February 28, 2019

[7] “How wealth inequality has changed in the U.S. since the Great Recession, by race, ethnicity and income. Rakesh Kochhar and Anthony Cilluffo, Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/11/01/how-wealth-inequality-has-changed-in-the-u-s-since-the-great-recession-by-race-ethnicity-and-income/. November 1, 2017

[8] “Racial discrimination in the mortgage industry persistent over the last four decades.” Hillary Hurd Anyaso, Northwestern Now, January 23, 2020, https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2020/01/racial-discrimination-in-mortgage-market-persistent-over-last-four-decades/