The end of systemic oppression starts with us

Systemic racism and oppression: What does that even mean? Are these words just buzzwords that the media throws around?  Systemic racism and the oppression that results from it is not a new thing. It has been going on for decades. In fact, it is so common that sometimes we don’t even notice it.  It’s time for our society to wake up, and pay attention.

For decades, minority groups (including women) have faced discrimination and prejudice.  systemic oppression is when one group is discriminated against by an organization or group, and personal discrimination happens on an individual level. The result of systemic oppression is that minority groups miss out on community resources, getting hired for a job, buying a house or even making equal pay.

Mass incarceration and a racially biased criminal justice system are a huge part of this.  In 2014, African Americans constituted 34 percent, of the total correctional population, according to a criminal justice fact sheet published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  Mass incarceration is an epidemic in the USA.

The war on drugs and the policing that was part of it was heavily present in communities of poverty, and communities of color. People were often  severely and disproportionately prosecuted for minor charges.

“Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island when he was 16 years old, accused of stealing a backpack. Though he never stood trial or was found guilty of any crime, he spent three years at the New York City jail complex, nearly two of them in solitary confinement,” according to an article in the New York Times.

These events led to a cycle of poverty in these neighborhoods that involved the incarceration of large groups of minority men.  Once these men have a criminal record, they are often unable to register to vote, obtain employment, get loans or take advantage of other community services.

The effects of mass incarceration can lead to repeat offenders and people taking on crime, or unlawful employment (like drug dealing ) to get by.  Poverty repeats itself in an environment where those effected have no fair chance to move up in life. This also leads to absent fathers, gang violence and crime as a lifestyle that often feels required.

Negative attitudes toward law enforcement within communities grow from incidents of police brutality and discriminatory policing.  Negative views of poor neighborhoods and the “hood” effect police interaction with residents.

Some people including the author of “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander said that: “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

Another aspect of systemic oppression is communities that were segregated long ago due to redlining.  Redlining essentially barred blacks and other minorities from buying homes, and moving out of the city to the suburbs like their white counterparts.  Redlining has been illegal since the sixties. This practice homogenized communities and gave white neighborhoods access to tax dollars, better schools and employment opportunities.  In contrast poor communities became ghetto’s lacking resources and trapping residents in a cycle of deprivation.

Institutional racism also happens at work. There have been many reports of race and gender related discrimination that keeps people from having access to equal pay, hiring and promotional opportunities.

This is the “glass ceiling” in action.  You can’t move up in these situations no matter how well qualified you might be.    People facing systemic oppression in the workplace are often passed over for hiring, and promotion.  Unequal pay is a common problem. Women often earn less money than men in the exact same role, with the same seniority.

“In 2016, women working full time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid,” according to an article written by the American Association Of University Women.

It is also challenging to prove that this kind of discrimination is happening. The glass ceiling is a metaphor, but the struggle that it causes is not.

No matter what form it takes, systemic racism and oppression are wrong.  Every human being deserves equal access to education, housing, community programs, career advancement and unbiased justice.  It is up to us to talk about this problem and take steps to stop it from continuing. The first step is calling it what it really is, instead of justifying it.  Systemic oppression is real. What are you going to do about it?