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Noble: Systemic racism in America

In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told Steve Wyche of NFL.com.

Clair Noble

Kaepernick’s protest was interpreted as showing disrespect for our country, flag and the military. Although not Kaepernick’s stated intent, that was how it was construed. Initially, most Americans disapproved of Kaepernick’s protest.

What does this have to do with systemic racism? First, to the question as to whether systemic racism exists in America, one need only to reference the voluminous evidence to find it woven throughout our history, policies and laws.



In 1788, the Constitution went into effect upon ratification by the 13 colonies. Article. I. Section. 2. States: “Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States … excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” Called the three-fifths compromise, it was a compromise that affected both representation in Congress and taxation, but also codified in our founding document Blacks’ inferiority to whites.

As to the notion that we are judging people in the past by the standards of today, know that there was widespread objection to the institution of slavery at our nation’s founding. It was referred to as a “national sin.”



Supreme Court rulings reinforced Blacks’ inferior status. In 1857, Chief Justice Roger Taney issued the infamous Dred Scott decision which held that no persons of African descent, either free or enslaved, are U.S. citizens and therefore do not have the right to sue in federal court.

In 1896, the Supreme Court found in Plessy versus Ferguson that segregation does not signify racial discrimination. This decision spawned the concept of “separate but equal.” The decision rested on the contention that if accommodations are equal, no discrimination occurs. However, whether it was schools or water fountains, the facilities were rarely equal.

Following the Civil War, laws were passed throughout the country restricting Blacks from voting, institutionalizing segregation, and limiting where Blacks could live. Mortgage lenders denied Blacks mortgages based on race or where they lived. This practice, known as redlining, was backed by the U.S. government; for example, the government encouraged developers to include racially restrictive covenants in their developments.

Emory Professor Dorothy Brown and author of “The Whiteness of Wealth” details the various ways the tax code works against Blacks. For example, F.H.A.-insured loans allowed many whites to become first-time homeowners. Ninety-eight percent of F.H.A.-insured loans went to whites.

Blacks were caught in a Catch-22 — due to segregation, they were prevented from living in white neighborhoods but could not get loans to buy homes in Black neighborhoods. Also, since 1951, homeowners have been able to sell homes with tax-free gains so long as they purchased another home of equal or higher value. Building wealth through home equity has been available to whites for generations. As a result of redlining and segregation, Blacks have been blocked from building wealth.

The effects of redlining linger. Home values for Blacks purchasing homes in diverse neighborhoods will not appreciate at the rate of a white neighborhood. Ahead of the 2008 recession, many Blacks were steered to subprime loans and were victims of predatory lending practices. To add insult to injury, homeowners who sell at a loss get no tax break, in contrast to those who sell stocks at a loss and are allowed a deduction.

In America, justice is not blind. According to the United States Sentencing Commission, “Black male offenders received sentences on average 19.1 percent longer than similarly situated White male offenders.”

Additional examples of bias can also be found throughout society in medical care, employment and education.

Kaepernick took a knee to bring attention to injustice. Ironically, it was not his knee that changed millions of hearts and minds. The knee that shifted national sentiment belonged to a white man. A viral video captured that knee as it crushed a Black man’s neck for nine minutes. After the George Floyd protests, a majority of Americans approved of Kaepernick’s right to take a knee.

The Supreme Court decisions and redlining were overtly racist government action. The tax laws may not be overt, but they still disadvantage Blacks. Just as Kaepernick’s intentions were misconstrued, tax policies intended to encourage home ownership initially excluded Black Americans and continue to harm them. Once we acknowledge the unfairness baked into the system, we can correct it.

Unconditional love exists without limitations or conditions. Acknowledging our country’s imperfections is not a sign of hatred for America. It is also how we continue the task of building a more perfect union.


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