Explaining Systemic Racism to the Right, with Guns
Concepts make more sense with clear examples
“Systemic racism” is about systems. And a lot of the pushback I see about the concept of systemic racism from the right is because these systems are never clearly explained by the left. I think many of the people screaming about systemic racism couldn’t explain a system if it smacked them in the face at fifty miles an hour like a displaced yield sign during a category two hurricane. So the right thinks it’s bullshit, and I can understand why. But it’s not, and the best explainer I can imagine has to do with stuff people on the right hold dear. I think explaining this could be very positive not only for gun advocacy but for healing the culture war divide and reuniting our nation. Let’s start with a quick primer.
The whole idea behind “systemic racism” is that nested layers of government and socioeconomic systems can create differential racial outcomes even if none of the participants in the system are individually racially prejudiced. That’s the defining feature of the idea. And the best example of systemic racism inside the last decade is actually a system that most folks on the right can identify with and understand. It was rolled out by white Democrats in New York City, and supported by the rich elites driving gun control efforts nationwide.
Here’s how the system worked.
They passed a bunch of laws that made it more difficult to become gun owners. I won’t go into the details of exactly how egregiously difficult it is to be a gun owner in New York City, but trust me it’s insane. You basically have to hire a lawyer to negotiate the process, or be politically connected, or both. And that reduces legal gun ownership rates by a wide margin, and gun control advocates love it.
If it takes the privilege of a lawyer or political connections, or ample enough time and resources to approximate that privilege, to own a gun, then legal gun ownership is going to be concentrated in the higher echelons of society. The bands of society which are more socioeconomically disadvantaged will have a lower ratio of legal gun ownership. That’s just math.
This means that gun ownership which violates their egregious laws, which wouldn’t necessarily be illegal elsewhere, is more prevalent in the lower socioeconomic classes. Each step down in class strata, the ratio of illegal to legal gun ownership jumps, with the highest rate of illegal ownership at the bottom most rung of the class hierarchy. That too is just math.
Therefore, if you’re going to try and use an oppressive police structure to enforce your gun bans, you must target the lower socioeconomic classes with your enforcement mechanism. That too, on the other side of the systemic coin, is just math.
Now we fork the system for a moment and bring it back in the next step.
Black folks, for a laundry list of potential reasons, are disproportionately concentrated in the socioeconomic classes further down the list. This is really torturously complicated math, but still math.
It is easier for an enforcement officer to visually identify a black male than it is to visually identify someone from a lower socioeconomic class. That’s just common sense.
These three effects, the disproportionate nonlegal ownership by lower classes, the racial class differential, and the ease of identification of class by visual race cue, mean the cop who nabs the most illegal guns is going to be the cop that throws the most black men ages sixteen to twenty-four up against a wall.
Even if that cop wasn’t individually racially prejudiced.
Even if that cop was black.
And New York City Stop and Frisk Policy was born, the plainest and most obvious example of systemic racism in the last decade, still highly touted and defended by the elites behind gun control. And even though it was ruled unconstitutional, they’re still doing it. That’s how true and pure systemic racism works. It’s not pervasive unconscious racial bias of the participants that drives it, it’s just a system that’s set up the wrong way, by people who are irresponsibly wielding the power of government without thinking about its impact on marginalized communities due to the system at large. There may be some pervasive unconscious racial bias, or there may not be, but the “systemic racism” would take place even if the subconscious bias didn’t exist.
The way to fix this problem is not at Step 6, cop behavior, because the cops are literally doing their actual jobs when they do this. The perfect way would be to fix Step 5A, the socioeconomic differential between the black community and other communities, though that’s a decadal project with too many moving parts to enumerate here. But this specific example of systemic racism could be solved with no more than the stroke of a pen up at Step 1. Get rid of the egregious gun laws.
When I explain this to rank and file anti-gun liberals their heads explode. But when I explain it to the progressives who are truly spending the time to think about systems analysis, they get it. They start to understand. And they take a step closer towards the gun rights case. And when I explain it to conservatives skeptical of the systemic racism narrative, they start to get it too. And they take a step towards understanding other instances of systemic racism, such as the New York cigarette taxes which led to the slaying of Eric Garner, and thence the formation of the original iteration of Black Lives Matter.
I have a dream, that the bridge that cements the great cultural divide in the 2021 United States of America might be that we come to an agreement about guns. And I think this argument may be a cornerstone in the masonry of that bridge.
Congratulations All! This was one of the lesser trafficked posts in HWFO Substack history but blew the lid off on "most commented on." Pat yourselves on the back!
Illuminating as always, if not quite persuasive
You didn't give any space to the many floating definitions of racism. What use is there in discussing unconsciuos bias if "All White People Are Racist"? This is the plurality of the confusion.
The system you lay out isn't racist. You use the phrase "different racial outcomes;" the legal term is "disparate impact." This is not racism.
I have a system for you:
Imagine that a certain trait, like long-leggedness, affected a runner's performance in a footrace. Imagine that this trait was disproportionately prevalent in population B. Individuals in B would disproportionaly win footraces. In your imagination, is something "Systemically Racist" here?
If you havent grokked it, blacks have longer limbs than whites. There are other physical differences which further explain why East Africans dominate distance running, and why there will never be an East African Michael Phelps. If you were told otherwise, you were lied to. We all have to grow up at some point.
If someone is discriminating unjustly, that is racism. If they're hidden behind an institution and passing laws to hurt blacks, that's institutional (systemic) racism. Otherwise, it's not racism.
And disparate impacts don't have to be intentional to be unjust: too much inequality, regardless of the source, is bad. But progressive taxation isn't antiracist.
If all inequality is racism, nature appears to be pretty racist.