The key is to recognize the pain to cure our racial illness.
Those Black Lives Matter demonstrations aren’t just about police shootings. The shootings are a painful symptom of a deeper disease that affects more people and prevents us from getting to where we ought to be as a nation.
We pay attention to a bleeding wound, but sometimes the infection inside is doing more damage and going unnoticed.
Racism kills, poverty kills, and the two together are especially deadly. Sometimes they kill the physical body, sometimes the mind, but often they kill dreams. And they do all that without drama most of the time, and outside the awareness of people who aren’t directly suffering.
Seattle Black Lives Matter Protest
Protesters plan to rally Thursday, July 21, at Westlake Park, starting at 6 p.m., then march through downtown.
And unlike other diseases, this one requires the apparently healthy carriers be cured.
Most Read Local Stories
- First of six weather systems rolls into Seattle area; at least a week of rain ahead
- When is daylight saving time? Do you need to turn clock back in Washington, given the new law? Your questions answered
- Amazon drops additional $1 million-plus into Seattle City Council races, with ballots out this week
- 'Hunter killer assassins': Why the Boeing saga is the story of our times | Danny Westneat
- Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide charity care when patients can't pay. What's going wrong?
I like to listen to Shankar Vedantam’s podcasts and radio shows about social sciences and about the ways our brains work that we often don’t recognize. This week he talked about new research on efforts to eliminate a problem that mostly disadvantages black and Latino men.
Job applications often ask people to check a box saying whether the applicant has a criminal history. Employers reject people who check that box at higher rates, so many jurisdictions have adopted laws in recent years to ban the box for initial screening — employers can ask later in the process but can’t shut the door right away before considering strengths that might overcome that checkmark.
Researchers tested employers in areas with the restriction and found that when there was no box, employers were even more likely to reject black men right away and accept white men at an even higher rate than before. What appeared to happen is that white men, without evidence to the contrary, were treated as if they didn’t have a record and black men, without proof of a clear record, were treated like felons. White men with a record benefited when there was no box; black men without a record lost opportunities.
It’s not just the police who make quick judgments about people based on race.
And I’m certain most of the people making those hiring choices are not stereotypical, hateful racists, just people who, like most Americans, have ideas that affect their choices in ways that are sometimes even too subtle for them to notice.
Black men are more likely to spend time in jail or prison than white men. The people screening job candidates are not likely to go so far as to consider why black men are more likely to wind up in prison in the first place, anymore than they are likely to try especially hard to distinguish between men with a record and the majority who don’t have a criminal record.
It’s worth remembering the path that often leads to jail and the many ways it’s a product of the national disease.
Schools expel black children at much higher rates than students of other races. Police arrest black and Latino men at higher rates for some offenses that white men commit at similar rates, such as drug use. Police stop and search black drivers at much higher rates than white drivers and are less likely to search white drivers. When white drivers are searched, they are more likely to be in violation of the law. The sheer intensity of policing of black people assures more will enter the justice system. Black men are more likely to be convicted than white men for similar crimes and given longer sentences.
Each inequality magnifies the effect of bias, intentional or unintentional.
Black people are more likely to live in areas of concentrated poverty and few jobs. Try to move and landlords discriminate. Try to get a job and you face more bias baked into the system — just putting a black-sounding name on a résumé lowers the callback rate.
Think about how difficult life was for many Americans during the Great Recession. The white unemployment rate went up to 9 percent, which was just about what it is for blacks in “normal” times. The black unemployment went up to 17 percent and much higher than that for young black men.
It’s not just police shootings that have people demanding fair treatment.
In community after community where there have been shootings of black or Latino men, there have been documented disparities across the board. There are two cities of Baton Rouge, stories about that city say, one poor and black, the other white and better off.
A couple of weeks ago, I read another Pew Research Center report on the vastly different lives of black and white Americans — in employment, income, wealth, health outcomes, education. The differences, and the stories we tell ourselves about why they exist, are reflected in how people see race and its impact.
People don’t seek a cure when they can’t see the disease. Right now, the whole American body has a fever that requires our attention. That’s why people march. Sometimes it’s a headache, but it tells us we have a malady we need to heal.