Institutional racism alive and well

Op-Ed by Larry Yates

We should all welcome the recent decision by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to allow crack-cocaine sentences to be reduced retroactively. But we should also pause to recognize what it means. This decision is a clear statement about a social phenomenon that most Americans want to deny – institutional racism.

This decision is a recognition that thousands of our fellow citizens were given outrageous mandatory sentences on the basis of their race. While the current decision is welcome, most of these people – and their families – have already suffered irreparable damage. A climate of fear, despair and cynicism has been promoted in African-American communities. All this happened without the involvement of any Klansmen or “hate groups.” It was carried out by ordinary legislators, judges, prosecutors and law-enforcement personnel in full public view, mostly without ill intent.

It is this same type of racism that leads to disparate experiences in health care, employment, access to housing and education, and voting rights, and to other continuing denials of human rights to African-Americans. Until the white majority in particular recognizes that its actions and inactions, regardless of any conscious prejudice, continue to have these impacts, we cannot begin the next stage of our healing.

In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention joined other denominations in this process, when it “apologize(d) to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime,” and pledged to work to “eradicate racism” from their convention. I hope that all denominations, political leaders and anyone with a claim to leadership among whites in the USA will join and continue such efforts. Nothing is more critical to the improvement of our nation’s moral and civic values.


Larry Yates resides in Maurertown.

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