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What Is Institutional Racism And How Do We Know It Exists?

by Sara Kalet-Schwartz June 19, 2020

black lives matter poster

Institutional racism is racism expressed through political and social institutions. Let's start by discussing the wealth gap. According to a study released by the Federal Reserve, white families hold 90% of the nation's wealth and account for 77% of the population. Black families hold 2.6% of the nation's wealth and account for 13% of the population. This shows an extremely disproportionate wealth gap based on race in America. In order to understand the wealth gap, it’s crucial to learn about employment. It is difficult to accumulate wealth if employers are discriminating against black people. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with white sounding names get called back around 50% more than those with black sounding names. You may instinctively argue that higher education could increase their employment opportunities, but black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed. Education should be a way for all people to free themselves from poverty, however black students are targeted at a young age restricting them from that privilege. Black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students for identical infractions. Similarly black children are treated more harshly than white children when arrested for crimes. They are 18% more likely to be sentenced as an adult than white children. This completely strips them of an equal education and limits their abilities to succeed at a young age. After learning that, it should not surprise you that 40% of our prison population is black. This is not because black people are committing more crimes, rather they are targeted and surveilled by store employees, bystanders and police officers at a higher rate. Additionally, a felony conviction in many states results in the stripping of one's right to vote, which is a way to limit black voters. 

These practices are so ingrained in our system that those who do not suffer from it have internalized it as being normal. In the 1930s the government sought to make mortgages more affordable, but due to redlining black people were excluded from this dream. While this was officially outlawed in the 60s, the practice lingered, just as other racist practices and ideals have in our institutions. Now let’s review, black people account for 13% of the population, 2.6% of the nation's wealth and  40% of the population of prisoners. As you can see this creates a never ending cycle of poverty and oppression. Institutional racism is a destructive and widespread issue in our society, that we need to do a better job at speaking out against. 

To my fellow white people/white passing people, today more than ever silence is dangerous. Avoiding to speak out about the racial injustice in our country exposes your inability to acknowledge the injustice surrounding us. It is a privilege to stay silent because you are protected by the color of your skin and can afford to be mute. To those who have been vocal, it is important to maintain that momentum because this will not be solved overnight. This is not the time to defend or justify someone's behavior, rather listen to the voices of black, indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) that have been trying to educate us for decades. It is important to understand that racism is so internalized in our minds that we can not recognize our actions as racist, but they most likely are. Lastly, take the time to educate yourself with readings, movies and TedTalks. 


Bertrand, Marianne, and Sendhil Mullainathan. “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than 

Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination.” NBER, 28 July 2003,

Bruenig, Matt. “The Top 10 Percent of White Families Own Almost Everything.” The American 

Prospect, 8 Sept. 2014,


“7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real.” Https://,

Sara Kalet-Schwartz
Sara Kalet-Schwartz


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