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Rap isn’t the problem, racism is

It would be easy for some to dismiss the racial dynamics of a Hamtramck-bar incident. But the racial politics of Southeastern Michigan are entrenched. When someone suggests rap music and Hennessey aren’t allowed, it is undoubtedly code for Black people aren’t welcome. Increasingly, in this supposed post-racial environment, comments or actions that are disparaging or alienating to Black people are disguised and denied. In another time, the sign would have read: Whites only. Today, nuance rules the day and all too often the flamethrowers get to sidestep responsibility — claiming everyone else is playing the race card.

The front page story by Phreddy Wischusen “No rap, no Hennessey allowed” is not about singling out one person, but ultimately about showing the subtle ways in which systemic racism continues. Therefore, it is more important to address what structural racism means and how this system privileges some to create the codes, language and actions that bolster institutional racism. In this case, it is “no rap and no Hennessey.”

Yet, as Detroit is benefitting from an influx of newcomers, it is heartening to see many of them engaged in dismantling and calling out what ultimately harms us all. It is meaningful to discuss systems and how we are all impacted because this is ultimately about more than the subtle or nuanced codes racist language takes on. It is about the structures it reinforces.

Annually, reports and surveys highlight structural racism in reports of the increasing gap in socio-economic quality of life between African Americans and whites.

The National Urban League’s 38th annual State of Black America report, released in April 2014, reports Black median household income is $33,764 compared to $56,565 for whites, a discrepancy that has increased over the past decade. The wealth gap between white and Black families is even more extreme: The median net worth of white households is $265,000, compared with $28,500 for Black households.

Evidence of institutionalized racism persist in the fields of education and healthcare as well.  In an article which appeared in the Michigan Citizen in November 2013, writer Jazelle Hunt explores the issue of microaggression, which David Zhou, founder of, defines as “the subtle interactions that convey hostile language. Or, subtle expressions of what some would call bigotry or prejudice that express power in a social setting.”

“Over time,” Hunt writes, “these racialized slights incubate and fester into alarming health ramifications, ranging from higher rates of depression, more severe cases of high blood pressure, and even mortality rate disparities.”

A 2013 W. K. Kellogg Foundation report, titled, “The Business Case for Racial Equity,” found “if the average incomes of minorities were raised to the average incomes of whites, total U.S. earnings would increase by 12 percent, representing nearly $1 trillion today. By closing the earnings gap through higher productivity, gross domestic product (GDP) would increase by a comparable percentage, for an increase of $1.9 trillion today. The earnings gain would translate into $180 billion in additional corporate profits, $290 billion in additional federal tax revenues, and a potential reduction in the federal deficit of $350 billion, or 2.3 percent of GDP.”

The report goes on to show additional monies lost to the American economy — totaling hundreds of billions — each year due to disparities in health costs and loss of productivity.

Discrimination and racism negatively impact us all.


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