Institutionalized Racism in the US

Friday August 24, 2012

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker

One of the ongoing debates in American politics is the degree to which racism is still a systemic problem in the US. Most people of color will not deny that they experience some form of racism in their daily lives, whether in the form of racist remarks cast in their direction or having to endure racially-inspired stereotypes in popular culture. The practice of racial profiling in police departments has led to the aphorism DWB, driving while black (or brown). Conservatives bemoaned affirmative-action programs which they claimed led to reverse racism to the point where they were banned in some states through constitutional amendments (including California). The prevailing "wisdom" is that the strides made in recent decades since the civil rights movement have leveled the playing field for everyone with no one having an unfair advantage based on race.

The conservative's anti-affirmative action fire was further stoked after America elected its first African-American president. If a black man could be president, then surely racism in America is officially dead. Meanwhile, under Obama's watch Arizona passed the racially charged anti-immigration bill SB 1070, and passed legislation banning ethnic studies programs, in which dozens of books were banned from school libraries, including classics in the canon of Native American studies. Anything remotely critical of American history was deemed un-American and constituted hatemongering, so the logic goes.

Never mind the actual truth behind the scholarship of those books, which often paints a much different picture about the phenomenon of racism as a systemic problem in the US. Systemic racism against indigenous Americans, both Native Americans and Native Hawaiians, is deeply entrenched in the legal system of federal Indian law in a host of legal mechanisms like the doctrine of discovery, the trust doctrine and the plenary power doctrine. The doctrine of discovery has been historically so bad for indigenous peoples worldwide that it is now being taken up in the United Nations in serious inquiry, thanks in part to the passage of the United Nations Declaration On the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). To understand what the doctrine of discovery is and how it institutionalized racism against American Indians read this week's article at my About.com's Native American history page.

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