Letter: Racism is institutional
Since the Charleston, South Carolina, massacre of African Americans in their place of worship by a deranged white gunman, numerous commentators have expressed a variety of opinions about U.S. racial matters, some insightful, others off-base. To identify this brutality as an isolated racist event by a lone wolf is delusory and neglects proper understanding of the United States’ deeply racialized — indeed racist — history, which still operates on many levels, particularly structural levels (U.S. criminal justice system, housing, education), not just in the actions of unchecked racist rage, an outdated technique of old-school racism.
Despite claims that the U.S. is now a postracial, colorblind society, this country remains racially segregated between whites and people of color and structurally unequalized and fundamentally unjust along color lines that W.E.B. Du Bois so perceptively describes. One need not look far beyond the Roaring Fork Valley. Aspen, the exclusive enclave of the power elite, is lily white; in contrast, virtually every trailer park in the valley is inhabited by Latinos. Similarly, those enjoying Aspen’s glorious space and amenities are almost exclusively white, whereas Latinos comprise much of the workforce providing the necessary manual labor and long hours of work that keep Aspen so pristine a “fantasy island” for its white clientele. This is no slight to those hardworking, mostly if not all white real estate brokers who must carriage the wealthy around in their air-conditioned Range Rovers to find their targets’ next overpriced trophy home: I cannot image what that must be like!
The condition of systemic racism, which divides whites and people of color in U.S. society and other societies built on slavery and colonialism, is structural, deeply embedded in institutions and organizations of society, and while individuals, groups and social networks influence the structure, whites historically and presently hold rigged, disproportionate, asymmetrically arranged societal power.
As Stokley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton aptly note, “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation” (1967) was a response to exploits of white power and the white power structure founded on past and present stolen labor and lands of people of color. The inordinate amount of power that whites wield, which Carmichael and Hamilton observed in the late 1960s, persists. Consider, for example, where much contemporary U.S. power resides: the halls of Senate, corporate boardrooms and Aspen. Presently, 94 percent of U.S. senators and 95 percent of all Fortune 500 CEOs are white, similar to the 95 percent of whites privileged to live in Aspen, a city built on stolen land of the Utes and nicked labor of brown people, day in and day out.