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Brown U. professor discusses systemic racism and its deep roots

todayMarch 1, 2024


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(NEW YORK) — Brown University professor Tricia Rose has spent decades studying race, gender, and class in America.

Her new book “Metaracism: How Systemic Racism Devastates Black Lives – and How We Break Free,” which will be released next week, provides an account of American inequality and what people can do to change it.

Rose spoke with ABC News’ Linsey Davis about her book and her research.

ABC NEWS LIVE: So in plain language, for us to explain what metaracism is.

TRICIA ROSE: Metaracism is the outcome of systems that produce effects that are greater than the sum of their parts. So if you are thinking about health care and how access to health care might have an impact on jobs and jobs might have an impact on schools and schools might have an impact on housing, those interactions and interconnections produce effects that are more powerful than if you had any one of these alone.

And so instead of just adding them, you have to think these are compounding effects. And that’s one of the things that my research has been able to reveal is that we can’t think as if these moments of discrimination in each individual place is, in fact, to be understood separately. When you see them together, that’s when you get the devastation.

ABC NEWS LIVE: And you’ve been doing this research now for more than a decade. Why did you decide now is the time that you were going to write a book about it?

ROSE: Well, I had been really looking for ways to think about how systems can produce consistent kinds of outcomes. And when I realized that no matter what the policies were, and I looked at over 100 of them in the last 25 or 30 years, and I wanted to see how they interacted and how they impacted Black people in particular. And I realized that across the board, almost 100% of them created containment, extracted resources and punished Black people disproportionately.

So it wasn’t just containment. It was containment and punishment. It wasn’t just punishment. It’d be punishment and extraction. And you start looking at these combinations, and that’s where the meta effects become clearer.

ABC NEWS LIVE: You picked several people in particular, like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, in order to be able to tell a very specific story, to explain the larger problem. How did you go about choosing the individuals?

ROSE: Yeah, that’s a great question. Systemic thinking, once you get the hang of it, it’s really quite intuitive. But it takes a minute because we tell stories in this country that talk about individual responsibility for racism, and we talk about individual people who want to harm or have, say something problematic. And we don’t have much energy and focus around the bigger picture.

So I’m going to retell these stories for you, and I’m going to say, let’s raise up the conversation from the intention of [George] Zimmerman or the “what was in Zimmerman’s heart,” or was he afraid to say, well, let’s look at the policing in the schools that Trayvon was in.

So, for example, in his high school, he should have never been suspended for the infractions that he was suspended for. When you look at the continuous form of containment, punishment and extraction that goes on where he left, at his mom’s house in my Miami Gardens, you see that the incident was not just about Trayvon when he got to Sanford, Florida, but was, in fact, about a system that puts many Trayvons in that kind of situation.

ABC NEWS LIVE: As you’re well aware, over the weekend, former President Trump made some comments that were deemed controversial. I want to get your take on it after we take a listen.

From Feb. 23, 2024, DONALD TRUMP:- And a lot of people said that that’s why the Black people like, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against. It’s been pretty amazing. But it possibly, I don’t know, maybe there’s something there, you know, who embraced it more than anybody else? The Black population, it’s incredible. You see Black people walking around with my mugshot, you know, they do shirts.

ABC NEWS LIVE: I interviewed a panel of Black conservatives after this. None of them said that those comments were racist. Your thoughts?

ROSE: I think when you trade in racial stereotyping that results from racist policy, right, mass incarceration was a policy of hyper-incarceration with lengthy sentences, with limited resources for poor people to defend themselves in court, that targeted African-Americans and other poor people as well…it absolutely disproportionately had a profound effect on Black people.

It began in the 1980s largely as a massive expansion of incarceration. So to make jokes about the affinity of people who’ve been subjected to that kind of system is really to reinforce the illusion that it’s like a cultural practice rather than the origin being society’s discrimination.

Who [Trump] is, whether he’s a racist, that’s not my business. That’s for him to worry about.

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