What is Structural Racism, and How Has it Affected the #Philly Region?

Time estimate:  75 minutes

Personal Reflection:

Think about the systems and structures you have encountered in your lifetime (education, healthcare, housing, public spaces).  How have your experiences within these systems and structures been shaped by your racial identity?  Time yourself for a ten-minute free-write on this question.

Why This Matters:

Nothing in this world happens outside of the context of groups of people othering different groups of people.  This othering always includes a hierarchy of race.  Any issue of importance (i.e. environmental sustainability, healthcare, education, etc.) must be viewed within the context of racial bias and discrimination if we are to make any progress on equity and global citizenship.

Diving in, Part 1: Defining and Understanding Structural Racism

As an internationally-respected entity dedicated to a free, just, and equitable society, The Aspen Institute has developed resources on structural racism and community building, including a glossary for dismantling structural racism and promoting racial equity. The Aspen Institute defines structural racism as:

A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.

But how, specifically, does this occur? How do systems and culture work to re-enforce privileges and exclusions, even as individuals may be consciously anti-racist and inclusive? Check out Contemporary Effects of Redlining in Philadelphia, a story map that draws on Adam Ruins Everything’s Disturbing History of the Suburbs. Start with the 6-minute video clip:

Now plunge into the map and explore the Contemporary Effects of Redlining in Philadelphia. The maps contained within that website overlay racial demographics, racist history, and opportunities for wealth accumulation. Those same patterns have a profound impact on life expectancy in the region.

As reported in Generocity, “in North Philly’s 19132 ZIP code, average life expectancy is 65.7 years. In Society Hill (19106), life expectancy is 82.9 years… Taking human dignity seriously, one must ask why comparatively similar people (people are people are people) have such radically different outcomes. In the U.S. and around the world, a huge part of this differential is raced.” The two articles below examine many of the particulars of how overt racism has intersected with neighborhood and schooling exclusion, contributing to and expanding embedded structural racism throughout the region.

Diving In, Part 2: Overt and Structural Racism in the #Philly Region

Take 20 minutes to read:

Reflection Question:

Consider our understandings of structural violence and structural racism.  Think about one of the major issues discussed in the Race and Exclusion articles (or an issue of particular importance to you that isn’t mentioned).  Set a timer for 10 minutes and write about how this issue (and its intersections with race and exclusion) might impact your work in Philadelphia.  What do you know for sure?  What questions do you have?  What are you hoping to learn?

Page Completion – Outcomes:

Now that you have completed this page and the readings, videos, and activities within it, you should have strengthened your understanding of: 

  • Structural racism
  • The difference between individual racist actions or beliefs and structural racism
  • The ways in which structural racism may accumulate and perpetuate through and around white and non-white people who do not engage in explicitly racist acts
  • Specific intersections of overt and structural racism in the fabric of the Philadelphia region
  • The relevance of structural racism to social and environmental challenges today

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Citation for this page: Keene, S., & Hartman, E. (2020). What is structural racism, and how has it affected the #Philly region? In E. Hartman (Ed.). Interdependence: Global Solidarity and Local Actions. The Community-based Global Learning Collaborative. Retrieved from http://globalsolidaritylocalaction.sites.haverford.edu/structural-racism-philly-region/


ArcGIS StoryMaps. (n.d.). Contemporary Effects of Redlining in Philadelphia. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=77cf1ae6ffe6420abd80080765ec8c9a

Hartman, E. (2019, March 7). The radical act of thinking globally — at home. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://generocity.org/philly/2019/03/07/the-radical-act-of-thinking-globally-at-home-eric-hartman-haverford-college-burbs/

Hartman, E., & Keene, S. (2019, March 27). Race and exclusion in Philadelphia: Snapshots from the past 100 years. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://generocity.org/philly/2019/03/27/race-and-exclusion-in-philadelphia-snapshots-from-the-past-100-years/

Keene, S., & Hartman, E. (2019, April 10). Race and exclusion in Philadelphia: Snapshots from the last 100 years – Part II. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://generocity.org/philly/2019/04/10/race-and-exclusion-in-philadelphia-snapshots-from-the-last-100-years-part-ii/

The Aspen Institute. (n.d.). Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://assets.aspeninstitute.org/content/uploads/files/content/docs/rcc/RCC-Structural-Racism-Glossary.pdf?_ga=2.28340543.221227697.1588429082-806320850.1588429082

The Aspen Institute. (2004). Structural Racism and Community Building. Retrieved May 14, 2020, from https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/aspeninst3.pdf

Videos and pieces cited within the videos:

truTV. (2017, October 13). Adam Ruins Everything – The Disturbing History of the Suburbs | truTV [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e68CoE70Mk8&feature=emb_logo