Not so long ago, white people turned aside and said, “Racism? I don’t see it.”

Now, almost everybody understands that we have systemic racism in America.

“Systemic” means it’s part of a pattern; it affects the root and branch as well as the leaf.

American systemic racism extends 400 years from slavery and cotton-capitalism through a failed Reconstruction, Jim Crow, incarceration, and police harassment and brutality. These are the roots and branches of the poison tree of slavery.

Since we’re all living in the midst of this, it’s hard to ignore.

The effects of the poison tree have been devastating to Black people. They have been shut out from the wealth created by their free labor during slavery. Policies such as redlining, secret covenants and segregated neighborhoods have reduced Black housing wealth for generations.

Less Black wealth has meant less tax money for public schools. Schools are still largely segregated, so this means fewer resources for Black students, with thousands fewer dollars per student.

Black neighborhoods are also segregated due to racist housing policies and are often isolated from healthy food supplies and medical care, making their inhabitants more susceptible to COVID-19. Further, these are the neighborhoods where pollution and toxic dumping have occurred at high rates.

Poverty creates underlying medical problems, and Black people often do not receive as much medical attention as whites due to unconscious biases and stereotypes.

And there’s a great need for more Black doctors; only 3% of doctors are black, and the medical establishment has long held racist beliefs that have barred blacks

On the brighter side, the members of the Black community who I know are resilient, forward-looking and optimistic, looking for America to live up to its ideals.

The policing problems are urgent. The culture must change from a warrior culture to a helping culture. Every police call is not a nail waiting for a hammer.

Close interactions between the community and the police force are key.

Fortunately, our community has a very active Police Advisory Board under the leadership of Deacon Jeffrey Wilson.

Another systemic feature of America is American capitalism, which exists alongside systemic racism.

But first, let us turn to Confucius, who is reported to have said there are two things about money: you must have some and you must use it wisely.

Capitalism seems to generate wealth, but it contains no mechanism for using it wisely.

This all depends on wise legislators. And critics have called American capitalism “brutal “ or “low-road” capitalism. It has a desperate, stingy quality that prevents Americans from spending in the most useful and humane ways.

It’s going to take considerable investment to fix America’s racial problems. We need to improve segregated neighborhoods and provide government mortgage aid for Black people, who have long been written out.

We need to federally ensure that Black schools are funded equally with white schools.

This is a vital investment in the future; it would provide hope. It might help more Black children to find their way into medical school. And there should be government scholarship aid when they get there.

Will these repairs cost a lot of money? Sure, but it would be money wisely spent. It will cost the country more to ignore these problems, both in capital and human capital.

As it is, we are increasing a yawning income gap between haves and have nots.

We need fewer billionaires and fewer food-insecure children.

We need better national health statistics. We need fair housing.

We need to spend our money wisely, as Confucius suggests. And most important, we need to vote for candidates sympathetic to these goals and then hold them to their promises.

We need to be vigilant to prevent voting interference, such as making polling places unavailable in minority communities, as has already occurred, or interfering with mail-in ballots in this time of dangerous COVID-19.

Charles Clifton is a University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown professor emeritus and a member of the Johnstown NAACP Executive Committee.

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