How U.S. systemic racism plays out in Black lives

Published July 14, 2020

Inequality between white and Black Americans persists in almost every aspect of society and the economy. Such disadvantages have proven immune to decades of laws and policies meant to address them, leaving Black people with less education, less wealth, poorer health and shorter lifespans. Together, the disparities reflect what many have labeled systemic racism amid the mass protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis police officer in May.

There has been progress in recent decades. But wide gaps — rooted in the legacy of slavery, segregation and discrimination — have endured or widened in the years since the civil rights victories of the 1960s. Born from the enslavement of Africans in British colonies since the early 1600s, American inequality plays out over the course of a lifetime.


In every U.S. state, Black women are more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women, a gap that generally increases with the mother’s age. Black infants also die at about twice the rate of white infants. Out of every 1,000 live births in 2017, 11 infants born to Black mothers died before their first birthday, compared to five deaths of infants born to white mothers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sees the disparities as a complex problem. Maternal mortality decreases among women with higher education levels, but Black women with college degrees still have a mortality rate that is five times higher than college-educated white women. Disparities in access and quality of healthcare likely play a role, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

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