Systemic Racism Video: Infant Mortality

In the last video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains infant mortality in this short (1:01) video:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that even though America’s infant mortality rate has gone way down in the last 50 years, Black babies are still almost 2.5 times more likely to die before reaching their 1st birthday? Did you know that Black mothers are 3 three times as likely to die during childbirth, that Black and Hispanic mothers are more than twice as likely not to receive proper prenatal care and Native American mothers are more than 3 times less likely to receive proper care?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several  sources for this short video. There is also a longer, and very good, video on the connection between systemic racism and infant mortality called, “When the Bough Breaks.”   Compared to the other areas covered in the series, the link between infant mortality and systemic racism is a more recent area of research – the last twenty years or so – but there is a growing literature here. If you’d like to dive deeper on this topic, see the titles listed below.

  • Collins Jr, James W., Richard J. David, Arden Handler, Stephen Wall, and Steven Andes. “Very low birthweight in African American infants: the role of maternal exposure to interpersonal racial discrimination.” American journal of public health 94, no. 12 (2004): 2132-2138. Abstract: Objectives. We determined whether African American women’s lifetime exposure to interpersonal racial discrimination is associated with pregnancy outcomes. Methods. We performed a case–control study among 104 African American women who delivered very low birthweight (<1500 g) preterm (<37 weeks) infants and 208 African American women who delivered non–low-birthweight (>2500g) term infants in Chicago, Ill. Results. The unadjusted and adjusted odds ratio of very low birthweight infants for maternal lifetime exposure to interpersonal racism in 3 or more domains equaled 3.2 (95% confidence intervals=1.5, 6.6) and 2.6 (1.2, 5.3), respectively. This association tended to persist across maternal sociodemographic, biomedical, and behavioral characteristics. Conclusions. The lifelong accumulated experiences of racial discrimination by African American women constitute an independent risk factor for preterm delivery. (OA)
  • David, Richard J., and James W. Collins Jr. “Bad outcomes in black babies: race or racism?.” Ethnicity & disease 1, no. 3 (1990): 236-244. Abstract: The gap between black and white infant death rates in the United States has grown over the last three decades. Epidemiologic and medical studies by investigators seeking to understand and reverse this adverse trend have been unsuccessful. Researchers have looked in vain for the combination of social and environmental risk factors that are more common among blacks and would therefore explain this group’s poor reproductive outcomes. The implicit alternate hypothesis is genetic differences between blacks and whites. In fact, there is more of a gap between black and white mothers of higher socioeconomic position than between overall black and white rates without socioeconomic stratification. An alternative to the genetic theory explains these results, however, on the basis of social risk factors that, because of the presence of widespread discrimination in the society under study, apply only to blacks. Such factors are the effects of racism, not race per se. Several lines of research are needed to investigate the effects of racism on perinatal outcomes, including studies on psychophysiological reactions to racial discrimination and on ethnic group differences in coping mechanisms, social supports, and physical environment. Analysis of trends over the past 37 years indicates that improvements in white (and total US) infant mortality rates cannot be anticipated until the racial gap is closed. (locked) 
  • Dominguez, Tyan Parker. “Race, racism, and racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes.” Clinical obstetrics and gynecology 51, no. 2 (2008): 360-370. Abstract: While the biologic authenticity of race remains a contentious issue, the social significance of race is indisputable. The chronic stress of racism and the social inequality it engenders may be underlying social determinants of persistent racial disparities in health, including infant mortality, preterm delivery, and low birth weight. This article describes the problem of racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes; outlines the multidimensional nature of racism and the pathways by which it may adversely affect health; and discusses the implications for clinical practice. (OA) 
  • Giscombé, Cheryl L., and Marci Lobel. “Explaining disproportionately high rates of adverse birth outcomes among African Americans: the impact of stress, racism, and related factors in pregnancy.” Psychological bulletin 131, no. 5 (2005): 662. Abstract: Compared with European Americans, African American infants experience disproportionately high rates of low birth weight and preterm delivery and are more than twice as likely to die during their 1st year of life. The authors examine 5 explanations for these differences in rates of adverse birth outcomes: (a) ethnic differences in health behaviors and socioeconomic status; (b) higher levels of stress in African American women; (c) greater susceptibility to stress in African Americans; (d) the impact of racism acting either as a contributor to stress or as a factor that exacerbates stress effects; and (e) ethnic differences in stress-related neuroendocrine, vascular, and immunological processes. The review of literature indicates that each explanation has some merit, although none is sufficient to explain ethnic disparities in adverse birth outcomes. There is a lack of studies examining the impact of such factors jointly and interactively. Recommendations and cautions for future research are offered. (OA)
Roberts, Killing the Black Body -  book cover

Roberts, Killing the Black Body (1997)

  • Roberts, Dorothy E. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty. New York: Pantheon Book (1997). Abstract:Roberts gives a powerful and authoritative account of the on-going assault – both figurative and literal – waged by the American government and our society on the reproductive rights of Black women. While not entirely focused on infant mortality, it offers invaluable context for this persistent health disparity. (locked)
  • Williams, David R. “Race, socioeconomic status, and health the added effects of racism and discrimination.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences896, no. 1 (1999): 173-188. Abstract: Higher disease rates for blacks (or African Americans) compared to whites are pervasive and persistent over time, with the racial gap in mortality widening in recent years for multiple causes of death. Other racial/ethnic minority populations also have elevated disease risk for some health conditions. This paper considers the complex ways in which race and socioeconomic status (SES) combine to affect health. SES accounts for much of the observed racial disparities in health. Nonetheless, racial differences often persist even at “equivalent” levels of SES. Racism is an added burden for nondominant populations. Individual and institutional discrimination, along with the stigma of inferiority, can adversely affect health by restricting socioeconomic opportunities and mobility. Racism can also directly affect health in multiple ways. Residence in poor neighborhoods, racial bias in medical care, the stress of experiences of discrimination and the acceptance of the societal stigma of inferiority can have deleterious consequences for health. (OA) 

That’s the end of the video series on systemic racism.

Systemic Racism Video: Immigration Policy

In the next installment in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains immigration policy in this short (1:00) video:

The text of the video reads:

Have you ever wondered why, even though undocumented people come to the US  from all over the world, the face of undocumented persons is always assumed to be from Central America or South America? And our heavy-handed enforcement policies, that ruin lives and tear families apart every day, are focused almost entirely on the Southern US border, and the Hispanic people of color who cross that border?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources for the video. There is also an extensive body of research about the way that systemic racism shapes immigration policy.

  • Golash-Boza, Tanya, and Douglas A. Parker. “Human Rights in a Globalizing World: Who Pays the Human Cost of Migration? 1.” The Journal of Latino-Latin American Studies 2, no. 4 (2007): 34-46.  Abstract: This paper examines the relationship between globalization and immigration, and makes the case that current foreign policies and immigration regulations in the United States and France result in the violation of the human rights of migrants. In the United States, the House and Senate proposals presented in 2005 and 2006 to stem the tide of immigrants and thereby fix the immigration “problem” either criminalize undocumented workers or transform them into temporary workers. In France, the “selected immigration” bill introduced by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, and passed in 2006, makes it easier for skilled workers to enter and remain in France and harder for less skilled workers to do so. These proposals and bills fail to see immigrants as human beings with dignity and fundamental rights to a livelihood, a family, and a community, and fail to take into account the receiving countries. complicity in producing emigration. Designed to maximize profits for corporations, and minimize the prices of consumer goods for customers in the Global North, these policies and regulations have a high human cost. This paper explains how temporary worker programs are designed to extract labor from immigrants while preventing them from becoming full and equal members of the communities in which they work and live, and how the criminalization of undocumented immigrants transforms migrants into second-class citizens. From a human rights perspective, all human beings should have the right to food security, to decent health care, to safe working conditions, to an education, to a family, to their cultural identity, and to fight and organize for their rights. Temporary worker programs that permit workers to come to a country only to work for low wages and no benefits, and do not permit them to bring their families, to send their children to school, and to form communities are a violation of these workers. human rights. (OA)


  • Golash‐Boza, Tanya. “The immigration industrial complex: why we enforce immigration policies destined to fail.” Sociology Compass 3, no. 2 (2009): 295-309. Abstract: This article provides a genealogy of the idea of an immigration industrial complex. The immigration industrial complex is the confluence of public and private sector interests in the criminalization of undocumented migration, immigration law enforcement, and the promotion of ‘anti-illegal’ rhetoric. This concept is based on ideas developed with regard to the prison and military industrial complexes. These three complexes share three major features: (a) a rhetoric of fear; (b) the convergence of powerful interests; and (c) a discourse of other-ization. This article explores why Congress has not passed viable legislation to deal with undocumented migration, and instead has passed laws destined to fail, and has appropriated billions of dollars to the Department of Homeland Security to implement these laws. This has been exacerbated in the context of the War on Terror, now that national security has been conflated with immigration law enforcement. This is the first in a two-part series on the immigration industrial complex. (locked)
Immigration Nation - book cover

Immigration Nation (2012)

  • Golash-Boza, Tanya Maria. Immigration nation: Raids, detentions, and deportations in post-9/11 America. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2012. Abstract: This book provides a critical analysis of the impact that U.S. immigration policy has on human rights. In the wake of 9/11, the Department of Homeland Security was founded to protect America from the threat of terrorist attacks. However, along with dramatic increases in immigration law enforcement ― raids, detentions, and deportations have increased six-fold in the past decade ― American citizens, families, and communities have ultimately borne the cost. Although family reunification is officially a core component of U.S. immigration policy, these same policies often tear families apart. Pundits and politicians nearly always frame this debate in terms of security and economic needs, but here, Tanya Maria Golash-Boza addresses the debate with the human rights of migrants and their families at the center of her analyses. (locked) 


  • Provine, Doris Marie, and Roxanne Lynn Doty. “The criminalization of immigrants as a racial project.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 27, no. 3 (2011): 261-277. Abstract: Contemporary policy responses to unauthorized immigration, we argue, reinforce racialized anxieties by (a) focusing attention on physically distinctive and economically marginalized minorities who are defined as the nation’s immigration“threat,” (b) creating new spaces of enforcement within which racial anxieties flourish and become institutionalized; and thereby (c) racializing immigrant bodies. We examine three federal enforcement policies: (a) the physical border buildup that began in the 1990s, (b) partnerships with local police, and (c) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiatives to enhance interior enforcement. The result has been the construction of a landscape of institutionalized racial violence embedded in our current immigration regime. (locked)
March to Close the Tacoma Detention Center (2009)

March to Close the Tacoma Detention Center (2009)

  • Provine, Doris Marie. “Institutional Racism in Enforcing Immigration Law.” Norteamérica, Revista Académica del CISAN-UNAM 8 (2013). Abstract: The United States is committed to aggressive efforts to remove unauthorized immigrants while honoring its commitment to race neutrality. Yet immigration enforcement has disproportionately targeted Mexicans and Central Americans. The racial bias can be found at both the federal and local levels, where local police are becoming increasingly involved in locating unauthorized immigrants. The local example featured here is Arizona because of its historical relationship with Mexico and its enthusiasm for immigration enforcement. I find that the current mix of federal and local enforcement discriminates racially through profiling, hyper-surveillance, abusive stops, problematic searches, and unwarranted detention. (OA)


  • Silverstein, Paul A. “Immigrant racialization and the new savage slot: race, migration, and immigration in the new Europe.” Annual. Review of Anthropology 34 (2005): 363-384. Abstract: This review explores contemporary processes through which immigrants are categorized into shifting racial landscapes in the new Europe. Tracing the racial genealogy of the immigrant through European and Europeanist migration studies, the successive construction of overlapping tropes of the nomad, the laborer, the uprooted victim, the hybrid cosmopolite, and the (Muslim) transmigrant are examined. This history points to the perduring problematization of the immigrant as the object of national integration. If migration studies have effectively tended to racialize migrants into a new savage slot, recent ethnographies of the immigrant experience in Europe point to ways in which immigrant and diasporic groups cross racial frontiers and enact solidarity across class and cultural lines. (OA)


Next, and last, in this series: infant mortality.

Systemic Racism Video: Drug Arrests

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains drug arrests in this short (:52) clip:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that over 40% of drug arrests are not for selling any drugs but just for possession of marijuana? And that White and Black Americans are about equally likely to use marijuana, but Blacks are 3.7 more likely to be arrested for it? And that even if they don’t get convicted of a crime that arrest can stay on their record and affect their chances at good jobs, housing and bank loans for the rest of their lives?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources (a New York Times story and this website). In addition, there’s a vast array of resources at The New York Times on this subject, particularly around racial disparity in marijuana arrests, all driving home the point that although white and black people use marijuana at comparable rates, it’s black folks who end up arrested for simple possession, as illustrated in this graphic:

Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests, map and bar graph

Racial Disparity in Marijuana Arrests, Image source: NYTimes Data source: ACLU

There’s also a huge amount of academic research behind this, if you want to dig a little deeper.

  • Beckett, Katherine, Kris Nyrop, and Lori Pfingst. “Race, Drugs, And Policing: Understanding Disparities In Drug Delivery Arrests*.” Criminology 44, no. 1 (2006): 105-137. Abstract:This article draws on several unique data sources to assess and explain racial disparity in Seattle’s drug delivery arrests. Evidence regarding the racial and ethnic composition of those who deliver any of five serious drugs in that city is compared with the racial and ethnic composition of those arrested for this offense. Our findings indicate that blacks are significantly overrepresented among Seattle’s drug delivery arrestees. Several organizational practices explain racial disparity in these arrests: law enforcement’s focus on crack offenders, the priority placed on outdoor drug venues, and the geographic concentration of police resources in racially heterogeneous areas. The available evidence further indicates that these practices are not determined by race-neutral factors such as crime rates or community complaints. Our findings thus indicate that race shapes perceptions of who and what constitutes Seattle’s drug problem, as well as the organizational response to that problem.  (locked)
  • Donohue III, John J., and Steven D. Levitt. “The Impact of Race on Policing and Arrests*Journal of Law and Economics 44, no. 2 (2001): 367-394. Abstract: Race has long been recognized as playing a critical role in policing. In spite of this awareness, there has been little previous research that attempt to quantitatively analyze the impact of officer race on tangible outcomes. In this paper, we examine the relationship between the racial composition of a city’s police force and the racial patterns of arrests. Increases in the number of minority police are associated with significant increases in arrests of whites but have little impact on arrests of nonwhites. Similarly, more white police increase the number of arrests of nonwhites but do not systematically affect the number of white arrests. These patterns are particularly striking for minor offenses. Understanding the reasons for this empirical regularity and the consequent impact on crime is an important subject for future research.  (locked)
  • Levine, Harry G., and Deborah Peterson Small. Marijuana Arrest Crusade: Racial Bias and Police Policy in New York City 1997-2007. New York Civil Liberties Union, 2008. Abstract: From 1997 to 2006, the New York City Police Department arrested and jailed more than 353,000 people simply for possessing small amounts of marijuana. This was eleven times more marijuana arrests than in the previous decade, and ten times more than in the decade before that. (OA)

  • Levine, Harry Gene, Jon B. Gettman, and Loren Siegel. Targeting Blacks for Marijuana: Possession Arrests of African Americans in California, 2004-08. Drug Policy Alliance, 2010. Abstract: The study found that in every one of the 25 largest California counties, Blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at double, triple, or even quadruple the rate of Whites; however, U.S. Government studies have consistently found that young Blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young Whites. These racially biased arrests are system-wide, occurring in every county and nearly every police jurisdiction in California. This suggests that the pattern of over-representation of Blacks in arrests for marijuana possession is not due to the bias of individual officers, but rather to a general policy of resource allocation among law enforcement agencies. These marijuana possession arrests have serious consequences. They create permanent “drug arrest” records that can be easily found on the Internet by employers, landlords, schools, credit agencies, licensing boards, and banks. The stigma of a criminal record for marijuana possession can create barriers to employment and education for anyone; however, criminal records for marijuana possession severely limit the chances for employment and related economic advancement among the poor and the young, particularly young Blacks and Latinos. (locked)


  • Levine, Harry G., Jon B. Gettman, Craig Reinarman, and Deborah Peterson Small. “Drug Arrests and DNA: building Jim Crow’s Database.” GeneWatch (2008). Abstract: DNA databases are increasingly including samples from people with misdemeanor offenses. Expanding the use of DNA databases to include more drug offenses, particularly the large number of drug possession misdemeanors, will add ever greater numbers of Blacks and Latinos to these databases. (OA)


  • Parker, Karen F., and Scott R. Maggard. “Structural theories and race-specific drug arrests: What structural factors account for the rise in race-specific drug arrests over time?.” Crime & Delinquency 51, no. 4 (2005): 521-547. Abstract: Studies examining the structural correlates of urban crime have generated a large body of research; however, few studies have linked the structural conditions to race-specific drug arrests. In this study, the authors examine the impact of urban disadvantage, social disorganization, and racial threat indicators on the rise in race-specific drug arrests from 1980 to 1990. They find these theoretical perspectives contribute to an understanding of the change in race-specific drug arrests. Findings indicate that shifts in the urban economy significantly affected Black drug arrests, while having no effect on the change in White drug arrests. In addition, the shift away from manufacturing jobs significantly affected Black arrests for drug possession. Consistent with the theory, social disorganization measures proved equally significant for Whites and Blacks, whereas mixed support was found for racial threat arguments. The importance of a theoretically grounded exploration into the rise in racial disparities in drug arrests is highlighted.(OA)

Next up, immigration policy.

Systemic Racism Video: Incarceration

In the next video in the systemic racism video series, Jay Smooth explains incarceration in this short (1:01) clip:

The text of the video reads:

Did you know that back in the 80s there were less than half a million people in the US prison system, but now, thanks to the war on drugs, there are more than 2 million? That out of every 100,000 Americans about 700 are incarcerated, but out of every 100,000 Black men over 4,000 are incarcerated? And one of the many effects of that trend is that combined with felony disenfranchisement laws, it means 13% of Black American men are denied their right to vote?

Race Forward, the producers of the video series, lists several sources including one from The Atlantic, which features this graph:

Incarceration rate, bar graph

Incarceration Rate, per 100,000 Data source: International Center for Prison Studies (2010). Image source: The Atlantic (2014).

This topic, like the others covered in the series, is a well-researched aspect of systemic racism in the U.S. The conversation-changer recently has been Alexander’s book, but the analysis of the prison-industrial complex predates her work, there is some critique of her work (e.g., Forman). If you’d like to read some of the scholarship about this topic, you should see these:

  • Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press (2011). Legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that “we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a “call to action.” (locked)
The New Jim Crow, book cover

The New Jim Crow

  • Davis, Angela. The Prison-Industrial Complex. New York: The New Press (2000). Abstract: Over the last generation, the U.S. prison systems have grown at a rate unparalleled in history, creating what many call a Prison Industrial Complex. Angela Davis explains what happens to our legal system when we lock up more people for longer sentences, which industries are a part of the Prison Industrial Complex, and how to stop or slow prison growth.  (locked)
  • Davis, Angela. Are Prisons Obsolete? New York: Seven Stories Press.  (2003). Abstract: In this book, Davis puts forward the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly,the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable. In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for “decarceration”, and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole. (OA)
  • Forman Jr, James. “Racial critiques of mass incarceration: Beyond the new Jim Crow.” NYUL Rev. 87 (2012): 21. (OA)
  • Glasser, Ira. “American Drug Laws: The New Jim Crow.” Alb. L. Rev. 63 (1999): 703. No abstract available. (locked)
  • López, Ian F. Haney. “Post-racial racism: Racial stratification and mass incarceration in the age of Obama.” California Law Review (2010): 1023-1074. No abstract available.  (OA)

Next up, drug arrests.