By Mark Naison
That is a great question. I teach a senior seminar on Affirmative Action where we deal with the doctrine of “disparate impact” which has been substantially weakened by the Supreme Court since the court affirmed it in the 1971 case Griggs v Duke Power. Once the doctrine of “disparate impact” is weakened, and you have to prove discriminatory intent in order to declare a practice discriminatory, huge racial disparaties in law enforcement can be tolerated if they are are the result of policies which are “race neutral” in how they are written, even though their implementation is anything but. Michelle Alexander, in The New Jim Crow provides incredible examples of this in enforcement of drug laws where in some states drug incarceration rates are astronomically higher among blacks than whites even though drug usage among the two groups is roughly similar. She notes similar disparaties in the imposition of the death penalty to Blacks and whites. What we have, Alexander suggests, is a two tier justice system, with dramatically different outcomes for blacks and whites, which the Supreme Court allows because the laws under which these practices are color blind.
Which leads me to my second point, one articulated brilliantly in one of the books I use in my course, Eduardo Bonilla Silva’s Racism without Racists: Color Blind Racism and the Persistence of Inequality in the U.S. Bonilla-Silva argues that in American society today, huge disparities in race in terms of income, wealth, educational attainment, incarceration rates, vulnerability to intrusive police practices are actually increasing at a time when most people avoid open displays of racial hostility. Their “racism:” is reflected, not in grand gestures, but in refusal to do anything to challenge institutionalized white advantage in the distribution of resources. In addition, their underlying aversion to people of color is not reflected in vicious attacks, but countless small “microagressions” many of whose damaging implact they are only dimly aware of
In short, racism as a practice which institutionalizes differences in power and opportunity between whites and people of color is alive well and thriving, but in a new form whose consequences are masked and often denied. How else can a 20-1 white/black wealth gap persist in a society which most white regard as “post racial” or “color blind”