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White Privilege And Institutional Racism

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Perhaps the most odious form of Western (American) racism happens when biased and stereotypical assumptions about race are intertwined, interwoven and structured into the socio-economic and political institutions of the nation's society. Thus, no one can doubt that the main reason for the pervasive nature of racism today is because it is so very difficult to decouple this odious system from its historical moorings.

And the triumphalist chest-thumping of many Blacks, though justifiably proud at the historic election of a Black man to the United States presidency, obfuscates a curious phenomenon: Blacks are worse off today than any time since the New Deal. For example, although a lot of the damage to Black economic progress cannot be placed at the president's door, the stone cold truth of the matter is that under his administration 18 years of Black economic progress has now disappeared.

This is the result of a set of continuing economic policies that favor whites and place already disadvantaged Blacks further down the disadvantage ladder. Today, Black unemployment is almost twice that of whites. And black unemployment rate is abysmal, with recent reports indicating that the unemployment rate increased almost half a point, leaping from 12.6 to a high of 13.0 percent. Nowadays, homeownership for Blacks fell from 50 percent to 40 percent -- it's lowest since 1995.

I'm sure it's easy to throw up your hands and say well, Blacks have not applied themselves and that it's just the bad economy. But, while some of that may be true, it still can't fully explain the fact that the Black population of just 27 million was hit disproportionately harder, has taken far longer to recover, and faces challenges that whites do not and have not faced since this new recession.

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Popular television personality Travis Smiley says that "Black people will have lost ground in every single economic indicator' under Obama." He's got a point and I don't always agree with Mr. Smiley and his drama-queen criticisms of the president. I think that he did not go far enough to explain why this is so. Had he done so he would have concluded that there is an instiutionalized system of racism that has consciously aided and abetted the president -- through no fault of his own -- in making the lot of Black people worse then any time in modern history. Still, we've only to look at just a few examples and the nature and pervasiveness of racism will be unmasked. For a start, let's take a look at healthcare.

There can be no denying that good health is of paramount importance to all people. It therefore stands to reason that without good health money, education, status or prestige are all of no consequence and basically meaningless. For over a century Black people have not only been deprived of quality healthcare -- a situation that persists up to today -- but have been violated and used in ways that have violated their very human rights and dignity.

Lest we forget that in 20th century America, institutionalized racism was not exempt from medicine. The medical industry, healthcare professionals, and the white-dominated political status quo came together, deliberately, and with callous disregard for the rights of Black people launched programs that sterilized Black, Puerto Rican and Native Americans without their consent to conduct experiments on the effects of syphilis then a dangerous killer.

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Thousands of Black and Brown people died as a consequence of this research and the fact that they were, in many, many cases, unaware of the government's experiment. Whey did the U.S. government not use white test subjects? Institutionalized racism.

This attitude and behavior of white medical doctors was buttressed and supported by a set of racist laws that made it illegal for Blacks to be treated at white hospitals and other medical institutions. In many cases white doctors would not treat Blacks whom they considered barely above the status of pack animals with many dying for easily cured diseases.

In the 20th century, untold numbers of Black women endured such life-altering experiences in part because of medical racism. Along with Native American and Puerto Rican women they were sterilized without their consent after undergoing routine medical procedures or, ironically, after giving birth. Such racism is still in play today, though we would like to think that this is not the case.

In 21st century America racism continues to play a role in health care, with studies finding that doctors often harbor racial biases that influence their treatment of minority and Black patients. The fact is that many have been the wrongs that have been perpetuated against Black and Brown people because of medical racism, even as there have been, admittedly, some racial progress in medicine.

So the legacy of these hateful acts is that Black people still distrust members of the medical profession. They still believe that doctors, especially white ones, may be in league with the government. This is particularly true for Black men with accompanying poor health outcomes. While this distrust is slowly eroding it harkens back to 1932 when the United States government used poor, Black men, sharecroppers, in the infamous Tuskegee Experiment. At that time there were no cures for many sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis.

Medical researchers launched a project called the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male." The vast majority of the test subjects where poor Black men compelled to take part in the "study" with promises of free health care and other services.

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It was a brass-faced lie and one of the most odious acts of targeted overt racism ever perpetuated on Blacks. Outside of the fact that Blacks were used like disposable and expendable guinea pigs, can you imagine them bringing this deadly disease -- akin to AIDS in those days -- back to their women, wives and girlfriends? You see, laws against intermarriage between Blacks and whites -- illegal in most states at the time - and rigid racial segregation guaranteed that this disease would ONLY be devastating to the Black community. The white community therefore had very little to fear about its spread because the races were so completely separate so as to make that nearly impossible.

This, of course, could only have been possible because of the complete unison of the white institutions acting in concert to perpetuate a brutal act of racism against a defenseless and vulnerable population. And the particular banal character of this "experiment" was that when penicillin became available and was widely used to treat syphilis, the researchers deliberately withheld it and refused to offer this treatment to the Tuskegee test subjects.

This led most of them to needlessly die horrible deaths, not to mention pass on their illness to their family members and loved ones. But U.S. institutionalized racism was not limited only to the U.S. mainland. In Guatemala, the U.S. government paid for similar research to be conducted there on vulnerable people such as mental patients and prison inmates. While the Tuskegee test subjects eventually received a settlement, no compensation has been awarded to the victims of the Guatemala Syphilis Study.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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