#TK evidence that shows inequality and injustice in (1) education, (2) justice system/sentencing/law-making, (3) medical, (4) banking/loans, and (5) employment.
“Right now, there exists an almost ironclad link between a child’s ZIP code and her chances of success,” said Ryan. “Our education system, traditionally thought of as the chief mechanism to address the opportunity gap, instead too often reflects and entrenches existing societal inequities.”
Urban schools demonstrate the problem. In New York City, for example, only 8 percent of black males graduating from high school in 2014 were prepared for college-level work, according to the CUNY Institute for Education Policy, with Latinos close behind at 11 percent. The preparedness rates for Asians and whites — 48 and 40 percent, respectively — were unimpressive too, but nonetheless were firmly on the other side of the achievement gap.
When a public-school system based on equity and “equality of opportunity” is embedded within a capitalistic society, it can be a little disorienting for students, parents, and teachers. The DOE can proclaim its “twin goals of access and excellence” with a confidence in noble purpose, but when the system is constructed in a way so that individual motives incidentally hinder those who don’t have the same advantages, the compass can be difficult to read. But the conundrum of public-school inequality shouldn’t be ignored.
I sympathize with the New Jersey parent who, commenting on the practice of academic “tracking” in his daughter’s high school, was cited in an article as saying he could easily “look in a classroom and know whether it’s an upper level class or a lower level class based on the racial composition.” Tracking is a common process in which students are segregated based on their performance. A University of Colorado report bluntly states that while tracking is “rarely couched in the express language of race or class differences ... the preservation of privilege is always the subtext” of arguments in favor of it.
At the center of these debates are interpretations of the gaps in educational achievement between white and non-Asian minority students as measured by standardized test scores. The presumption that guides much of the conversation is that equal opportunity now exists; therefore, continued low levels of achievement on the part of minority students must be a function of genes, culture, or a lack of effort and will (see, for example, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve and Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s America in Black and White).
The assumptions that undergird this debate miss an important reality: educational outcomes for minority children are much more a function of their unequal access to key educational resources, including skilled teachers and quality curriculum, than they are a function of race. In fact, the U.S. educational system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, and students routinely receive dramatically different learning opportunities based on their social status. In contrast to European and Asian nations that fund schools centrally and equally, the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent, and spending ratios of 3 to 1 are common within states. Despite stark differences in funding, teacher quality, curriculum, and class sizes, the prevailing view is that if students do not achieve, it is their own fault. If we are ever to get beyond the problem of the color line, we must confront and address these inequalities.
The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. The former is the system the United States describes in its report: a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system. As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole states in his book No Equal Justice. These double standards are not, of course, explicit; on the face of it, the criminal law is color-blind and class-blind. But in a sense, this only makes the problem worse. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system sends the message that our society carefully protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but in practice the rules assure that law enforcement prerogatives will generally prevail over the rights of minorities and the poor. By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black.
At no time in the history of the United States has the health status of minority populations–African Americans, Native Americans and, more recently, Hispanics and several Asian subgroups–equaled or even approximated that of white Americans. Two observations, some four decades apart, illustrate this persistence of inequality. In his classic 1944 study of the role of race in American life, Gunnar Myrdal noted that “Area for area, class for class, Negroes cannot get the same advantages in the way of prevention and care of disease that whites can.” (Myrdal, 1944).
A patient of mine recently shared a story with me about her visit to an area emergency room a few years ago.* She had a painful medical condition. The emergency room staff not only did not treat her pain, but she recounted: “They treated me like I was trying to play them, like I was just trying to get pain meds out of them. They didn’t try to make any diagnosis or help me at all. They couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.” There was nothing in her history to suggest that she was pain medication seeking. She is a middle-aged, churchgoing lady who has never had issues with substance abuse. Eventually, she received a diagnosis and appropriate care somewhere else. She is convinced that she was treated poorly by that emergency room because she is black.
The legacy of redlining remains entrenched across the country today. Tachovsky, a data analyst, has drawn on those old HOLC maps and recent Census data to show how closely contemporary poverty rates align with the racist mortgaging policies of the early 20th century.
Cities have been trying to head off the nefarious housing practices and effects, too, with a number filing suits against banks and companies suspected of a variety of steering practices. One common form of this is predatory lending, where banks reserve high-interest loans almost exclusively for people of color, what’s sometimes called “reverse redlining.” Another comes in the form of a company’s refusal to deliver services, like utilities, to neighborhoods with large black and Latino populations.
Case in point: This week the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated from 2008-2010 against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. The bank, Associated Bank, denies wrongdoing in the settlement, but HUD itself is declaring victory in "one of the largest redlining complaints" ever brought by the federal government against a mortgage lender. HUD's analysis of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data concluded that the bank disproportionately denied qualified loan applicants in predominantly minority neighborhoods in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, compared to other lenders operating in these same communities. The case is not about doling out mortgages to minority households that wouldn't otherwise qualify for them — it's about offering equal access to families that look just as eligible on paper as white homeowners nearby.