A personal observation of racism and relevant peer-reviewed literature

I have been personally involved in documenting an incident which devalued and risked the life of a friend (a high school student). The student’s mom, with the support of her community, is trying to work with the school system to improve policy, having met privately with the superintendent, staff, and school board members a number of times. The reason I share the story is that I feel it represents a personal, local (to me), example of systematic problems in our society, including racism, that we should all talk about, question more, and work to improve.


It may be complicated to hold individuals accountable, yet I believe it is not acceptable for the reality of racism and injustice in many forms to be swept under the rug simply because it is difficult to deal with. This local example, personal to me, is similar to the too numerous incidents when human lives are not equally valued. We can only hope for greater justice if we join the complicated and difficult conversation and process within our communities.

Again, the reason I share this personal story, though, its not to draw attention to the failures of individuals at one school in one terrible instance, but because I have observed and feel deeply that the student, and his mom, Susan, have experienced systematic unjust treatment, not least in the response to the student’s emergency at school. In this instance specifically, I was present when the school police officer said “it didn’t occur to him to accompany this student to the hospital.” No teacher or official from the school contacted her to follow-up or check on the student. I don’t believe the individual actions were done out of malice, but I do believe the series of wrongful actions reflect underlying biases and tendencies. I have seen and heard the emotional and physical toll and the frequent discouragement that Susan and her son face, as highlighted by the systematic failures in this instance.

This is what I am concerned with: Racism as defined as a systematic discrimination of people due to their race. Research has demonstrated such an effect in many domains health care, traffic stops, school promotion, and the death penalty (I have posted some citations below ). There are also numerous studies describing the role of subconscious biases which drive our behavior, even at the neurological level (see citations below). 

That is what is so problematic about racism is that the harmful effects can be so pervasive yet so difficult for us to identify and confront. If we refuse to consider that racism and injustice exists in our own communities (despite extensive legal and scientific evidence to the contrary), then we are complicit in the pernicious outcomes that are perpetuated.



Casteel, C. A. (1998). Teacher–student interactions and race in integrated classrooms. The Journal of Educational Research92(2), 115-120. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00220679809597583

McKown, C., & Weinstein, R. S. (2002). Modeling the role of child ethnicity and gender in children’s differential response to teacher expectations. Journal of Applied Social Psychology32(1), 159-184. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2002.tb01425.x/abstract

Health care and outcomes

Albain, K. S., Unger, J. M., Crowley, J. J., Coltman, C. A., & Hershman, D. L. (2009). Racial disparities in cancer survival among randomized clinical trials patients of the Southwest Oncology Group. Journal of the National Cancer Institutehttp://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2009/07/07/jnci.djp175.short

Mays, V. M., Cochran, S. D., & Barnes, N. W. (2007). Race, race-based discrimination, and health outcomes among African Americans. Annu. Rev. Psychol.58, 201-225. http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.psych.57.102904.190212

Paradies, Y. (2006). A systematic review of empirical research on self-reported racism and health. International journal of epidemiology35(4), 888-901. http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/4/888.short

Williams, D. R., & Mohammed, S. A. (2009). Discrimination and racial disparities in health: evidence and needed research. Journal of behavioral medicine32(1), 20-47. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10865-008-9185-0

Traffic stops (in NC):

Baumgartner, F. R., Epp, D. A., & Love, B. (2014). Police Searches of Black and White Motorists. http://www.unc.edu/~fbaum/papers/Baumgartner-Traffic-Stops-Statistics-1-Feb-2012.pdf

Death penalty:

Baldus, D. C., Woodworth, G., Zuckerman, D., & Weiner, N. A. (1997). Racial discrimination and the death penalty in the post-Furman era: An empirical and legal overview with recent findings from Philadelphia. Cornell L. Rev.83, 1638. http://heinonlinebackup.com/hol-cgi-bin/get_pdf.cgi?handle=hein.journals/clqv83&section=52

Psychology of Racism:

Kang, J. (2005). Trojan horses of race. Harvard Law Review, 1489-1593. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4093447

Kubota, J. T., Banaji, M. R., & Phelps, E. A. (2012). The neuroscience of race.Nature neuroscience15(7), 940-948. http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v15/n7/full/nn.3136.html

Racism, definition 2:

racism. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved September 06, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/racism


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