The Corner

Politics & Policy

The Systemic Racism Canard’s Consequences

A worker takes a break while cleaning up a basketball court at Glasgow Middle School, a Fairfax County Public School, during deadline day for families and teachers countywide to decide between teaching/learning from home or in the classroom due to the coronavirus, in Falls Church, Va., July 15, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Over several decades “racial disparity” has subtly morphed into “racism” and “discrimination.” The process has accelerated in the months following the killing of George Floyd.

As noted, equating racial disparities with racism or discrimination has potentially dangerous ramifications for public policy; a misdiagnosed problem sometimes leads to unintended consequences, including consequences that may be as bad as the alleged problem itself.

One example is school discipline. Black and Hispanic students have markedly higher suspension and expulsion rates than whites and Asians. The Obama administration determined that these disparities needed to be remedied. Rather than address the possibility that the higher rates of suspensions and expulsions weren’t due to systemic racism but to the fact that blacks and Hispanics engaged in misconduct meriting such discipline at a higher rate than whites and Asians (e.g., in 2015, 12.6 percent of blacks engaged in a physical fight on school property versus 5.6 percent of white students), the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education and the Civil-Rights Division of the Department of Justice issued a guidance that, among other things, triggered federal investigations of schools whose suspension/expulsion rates differed materially by race. Such investigations can be extremely expensive and time-consuming for schools. So, quite magically, the year after the guidance was issued, the suspension/expulsion disparities disappeared; i.e., black and Hispanic students who engaged in behavior that previously would’ve resulted in suspension or expulsion remained in class.

For anyone with a grain of common sense, the results were predictable. Teachers who testified on the matter before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported classrooms out of control, even teachers being severely beaten. There also was a marked increase in the number of students who reported being bullied and a significant decrease in the number of students who felt safe on school grounds (resulting in an increase in the number of students who reported not attending school at least once in the preceding 30 days due to fear of violence). Vandalism, graffiti, and disruptive classroom behaviors rose as well. Overall academic performance declined when schools banned out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. Those disproportionately affected by the chaos were black students who wished to learn.

The “systemic racism” canard is a prescription for public-policy disasters in areas ranging from criminal justice to education to economic policy. Unfortunately, it’s a rhetorically powerful and politically useful tool. So media, academia, politicians, and woke corporations will continue to repeat it to the detriment of minorities in particular, and America as a whole.

Peter Kirsanow — Peter N. Kirsanow is an attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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