In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, the Black Lives Matter movement has shone a spotlight on police brutality in America. It has also sparked protests and debate in many other countries. Racial inequality manifests in different financial, health and educational outcomes for black and white people. The following charts focus on racial inequality in the US and UK, although similar issues are present across the EU. These charts are merely a snapshot of a complex and far-reaching problem.
There is a chasm between the wealth of white and black families in America. Median white family wealth of $171,000 in 2016 is almost ten times greater than median black family wealth of $17,409, according to data from the Urban Institute and the Survey of Consumer Finances.
Racial wealth inequality has actually got worse over the last few decades. In 1998 median white family wealth was 6.2 times greater than black family wealth, the lowest in the last 60 years of available data. But that has since increased to 9.8 times in 2016, partly due to the uneven impact of the financial crisis.
The wealth gap is only partly accounted for by wage inequality, which is compounded by unequal opportunities and incarceration rates . A key contributing factor is inheritance.
Americans vastly underestimate the wealth gap between blacks and whites.
Michael Kraus and a team of psychologists at Yale conducted an experiment that compared Americans’ estimates of the wealth gap since 1963 with the actual data.
The psychologists asked participants to estimate the wealth of a typical black family if the wealth of a typical white family is $100.
For 2016, the average estimate of black wealth was $90 if white wealth is $100. The actual figure was $10.
Kraus et al. write:
“Americans of all races and economic circumstances falsely believe that there has been substantial progress in closing racial economic gaps over the past 50 years or so.”
“Americans engage in motivated cognition to remain willfully ignorant of racial inequality in general and racial economic inequality in particular, in service of our prevailing narrative of racial progress.”
The psychologists suggest that correcting this misperception is crucial because it fosters and justifies inaction and inertia among policy makers.
There is a vast racial disparity in the use of stop and search powers by the police in the UK. Black people were 9.5 times likelier than white people to be stopped and searched by police in the year to March 2019. Asian people were 2.75 times likelier to be stopped and searched than white people, according to data from the Ministry of Justice.
In some regions the disparity is even starker. Police in Dorset, for example, were 25 times more likely to stop and search black people than white people.
A Home Office report claimed the disparity is due to “availability”- that it disappears when you look at stop-and-search as a proportion of who is actually available on the street to be stopped.
However, the Equality and Human Rights commission, a government regulatory body, has dismissed this explanation, noting:
“being black increases the likelihood that a person will be stopped regardless of the demographic and lifestyle variables that make them ‘available’ to be stopped.”
The report adds: “the measure is self-reinforcing: police decisions about where and when to target stops and searches will affect the characteristics of the ‘available’ population.”
Similar racial disparities in the use of police stops have been noted in France and America. In a recent sample of data from LA, for example, black drivers were five times more likely than white drivers to be stopped, even though white drivers were more likely to be found with drugs or contraband.
Between 2012 and 2018, police in the US were responsible for roughly 8% of all homicides for adult males, according to a study by Cornell researcher Frank Edwards. The study estimates that police kill 1.9 to 2.4 black men per 100,000 per year in America, compared with 0.8-1.2 Latino men and 0.6-0.7 white men. That indicates black men are more than three times likelier than white men to be killed by police.
Racial bias pervades the US law enforcement system at all levels. This study concluded, for example, that bail judges are racially biased against black defendants. It found “suggestive evidence that this racial bias is driven by bail judges relying on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of releasing black defendants.”
Police body cam footage is now providing fertile ground for research into racial bias in policing in the US. This study by Stanford linguist Rob Voigt and a team of researchers analysed body cam footage and found that, “Police officers speak significantly less respectfully to black than to white community members in everyday traffic stops.”
The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the depth of racial inequality in health outcomes in the US and UK.
The racial disparity in COVID-19 deaths in America has been striking. Adjusted for age, mortality rates for black people are 3.7 times higher than for white people, according to data from APM Research Lab.
Racial health disparities in America have always been a problem, driven in part by socio-economic factors and differential healthcare access.
However, in recent years there has been a growing awareness of the role of implicit bias in healthcare discrepancies.
Implicit bias refers to unconscious processes of prejudice and stereotyping that can influence thought processes and behaviours.
A research review by social psychologist Colin Zestcott at the University of Arizona concluded:
“Three converging lines of evidence make it difficult to dismiss provider bias as playing some role in creating or maintaining health disparities. First, ethnic/racial differences in care have been observed even after economic, educational, and access differences were accounted for, leading some to conclude that bias must be at work.”
“Second, careful examinations of providers’ perceptions of actual patients showed that African American patients were perceived in more negative terms than white patients.”
“Finally, controlled experiments have found that providers’ perceptions and treatment recommendations for hypothetical Black patients differed significantly from those made for hypothetical White patients with the exact same symptoms.”
Racial disparity in COVID-19 mortality rates has also been striking in the UK. Mortality rates up to the end of May were more than two times higher for black people compared with white people, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
Adjusting for socio-economic factors only “partly explains the increased risk,”according to Nick Stripe, head of life events at the ONS.
“The ONS will continue to research this unexplained increased risk of death, examining the impact of other health conditions,” he adds.