The term “systemic racism” has been used frequently in recent months. What do we mean by that?

Breanca Merritt, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor who studies inclusion and social policy at the Indiana University Public Policy Institute, explains that systemic racism is discrimination that is rooted in society’s systems, such as institutions, housing, government, education, policy, etc. The ramifications of systemic racism impact neighborhoods and communities across the country.

Take redlining for example. This was a term mortgage lenders used for many decades to identify and reference less desirable areas of a town. As a result, there was less public and private investment in these areas. This video from the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana does a great job explaining redlining after private investments in these areas.

Dr. Merritt points out that while redlining and other policies that led to systemic racism happened in the past, the harsh effects are still felt widely today. In fact, a study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition revealed that the vast majority of neighborhoods marked “hazardous” in red ink on maps drawn by the federal Homeowners’ Loan Corp. from 1935 to 1939 are more likely to comprise lower-income, minority residents today.

Systemic racism results in different opportunities for white families and families of color. For persons of color systemic racism can mean:

  • Difficulty accessing healthcare
  • Less school funding
  • Fewer high-quality teachers
  • Overcrowded classrooms
  • Lack of tutors or extracurricular activities
  • Less private and public investment
  • Less access to bank loans
  • Lower college acceptance rates and scholarships
  • Fewer job opportunities
  • Higher incarceration rates
  • Lower political representation

Awareness, advocacy and intentional action bring change

Each of us at FSSA are part of a system that impacts people. Dr. Merritt encourages everyone to:

  • Check your own biases
  • Educate yourself about systemic racism
  • Learn about, and listen to, the experiences of people of color
  • Advocate to change practices that unfairly disadvantage certain groups
  • Look for ways you can support system changes that increase opportunities for all

Sources: Krieger N. Discrimination and health. Social Epidemiology. 2000;1:36-75.
Lukachko A, Hatzenbuehler ML, Keyes KM. Structural racism and myocardial infarction in the United States. Soc Sci Med. 2014;103:42–50.

About Social Structures

Social structures can dictate the systems and rules we all live under. And when inequity or implicit bias exists in these systems, it can have negative ramifications. The impact can be broad as well as personal, directly effecting our neighborhoods and communities, as well as the overall health and well-being of individuals. Examples of this can be seen in health care, education, the legal system and judicial process, and even social classes. When bias exists within these systems, it can be difficult to ensure a just outcome for all.