Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Example of Systemic Racism in Modern America By Jessie

Did you know that low-income communities of color have 50 percent fewer grocery stores within the radius of their neighborhoods than their higher income, predominately white counterparts (Treuhaft &Karpyn, 2011)? Or that in low-income supermarkets there is 20 percent less produce available, and what is available is 30 percent more expensive (CCPHA, 2008)? Finally, are you aware that adults who live more than a mile away from a supermarket are 25 to 46 percent less likely to have a diet rich in nutrients, leading to an increased risk for developing diabetes, liver disease and heart disease (Treuhaft & Karpyn, 2011)? If you are like me, then your answer is probably no, you did not realize that this was the case.

The lack of food access in low-income, minority neighborhoods is an example of systemic racism. According to Marsiglia and Kulis (2009), systemic racism is a form of discrimination that has been adopted into the systems of our society and become commonplace. It seems fair to assert that most people who live outside urban areas do not realize that food access is even an issue: it is so ordinary that we don’t even consider the inequality behind it. Therefore, we are playing into systemic racism and we don’t even know it.

When we do gain awareness of the issue however, it can be tempting to find ways to rationalize it. For example, we may argue that cities have a lot less land to develop grocery stores on, that the stores really aren’t that much further apart, or that there are likely other reasons behind the poor health members of low-income minority neighborhoods face. By doing this, we are engaging in another form of racism: naturalization. Naturalization is a “frame to normalize events that could otherwise be interpreted as racially motivated” (Bonilla-Silvia, 2001, p. 134). When we are grabbing for excuses to explain why things are the way they are, we are attempting to naturalize the issue as opposed to trying to raise the awareness of it and fix it.

Systemic racism and naturalization are both on a slippery slope. Before we realize it, we may be engaging in one or the other. They are particularly tricky concepts because they are so subconscious that we usually aren’t aware when we are doing them. The best thing we can do is try to be as aware as possible, and make changes based on what is illuminated to us.

1. Treuhaft, S. & Karpyn A. (2011). The grocery gap: who has access to healthy food and why it matters. Downloaded on February 11, 2011.
2. California Center for Public Health Advocacy (2008). Designed for disease: the link between local food environments and obesity and diabetes. Davis, CA. Retrieved from
3. Marsiglia, F. F., & Kulis, S. (2009). Diversity, oppression and change: Culturally grounded social work. Chicago, IL: Lyceum Books, Inc.
4. Bonilla-Silva, E. (2001). Color-blind racism. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.


  1. Jessie-

    Great post about a painfully true issue that most people are not aware is happening. In my Race, Class, and Gender class we discussed this aspect of systemic racism. We as a society are almost blind to what is taking place around us especially when it involves low-income minority neighborhoods.

    From what I was taught, it is easier and cheaper for the stores in these low-income communities to keep the high in fat, processed foods with little nutritional value because that is what the people can afford. Fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive, so these food groups are not realistic options. Instead as a society we have decided that these groups of individuals really don't care about nutritious foods and wouldn't buy these products if even given the chance. This is our rationalization about the problem in the neighborhoods that we don't really like to acknowledge. We don't want to accept the bigger picture that people in these communities don't have the opportunities to drive to the suburbs to get the fresh foods that we all take for granted. Instead we deny the truth, make excuses like you point out, and rationalize the issues and consequences.

    There is a reason why fast food restaurants are located close to the off ramps into these low-income neighborhoods. The food is cheap and these families can feed everyone for a lot less than if they try at their neighborhood grocery stores. Here again we justify that these low- income groups want these fast and cheap alternatives and then argue that this food does not contribute to these individuals high diabetes and obesity rates

    We can all sit back and ignore what is taking place around us, (very close to some of us actually) and pretend that these communities are happy with what they have and don't care about change. Doing this makes us just as guilty as the public leaders that don't take action for the low-income minority neighborhoods. Everyone deserves the chance to access foods that promote good health and not more types of racism.


  2. Jessie-

    This was such an interesting example you provided to bring a concept to life! Systemic Racism is a complicated issue as you point out, because it is so easy to look the other way or rationalize it. Awareness is a solution but one that takes work for all Americans.

    When I traveled abroad I was fascinated by the difference in prices of food. In France, for example, healthy food options were, for the most part, cheaper than the unhealthy options. Soda pop was substantially more expensive than water and juice so I rarely drank it when I was there. Though I did not travel to poverty stricken areas, I asked the guide if this was normal throughout France and she said it was the standard throughout the country. When I came back to America and looked through the grocery stores I was shocked with the prices of fresh produce, even in my suburban store.

    With the health trend hitting American, awareness has been an element in each one; whether the awareness involves calories/diet or exercise, its a key element to change in many fitness programs. Hopefully with the concept of awareness applicable to other areas of life, the awareness can spread to systemic racism.


  3. Hi Jessie!

    Wow! Thanks for all of those interesting yet startling facts about individuals and grocery store placements! I would have never become aware of those statistics if you had not included them into your blog. I among many other individuals was not aware of this food issue and it was shocking for me to find out that I may be playing a role into society's systemic racism because of where I reside.
    I think that you picked really great topics to talk about. Systemic racism and naturalization is clearly occuring within our society today. I hope that more and more people will be able to become aware of how much it is affecting people not living in urban neighborhoods.
    I feel you brought up a great point on how individuals may make excuses or argue that the fact that the cities or whatever location it may be, doesnt have many choices on where they can locate grocery stores. I found the term and explination of Naturalization to be very helpful. It allowed me to realize how often naturalization occurs within our society today!
    Thanks for sharing a really great issue with us!