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The Impact of Structural Racism and Institutional Inequality in Ferguson


Structural racism is defined based on the total ways in which societies can foster racial discrimination by mutual reinforcement of systems of employment, housing, benefits, education, media, criminal justice, healthcare, and credit. The practices and patterns then reinforce resource distribution, values, and beliefs (Bailey et al., 2017). In research, structural racism has been indicated as an invisible evil due to its pervasive nature, affecting various sectors and systems while also making people color-blind to white supremacy. This form of racism has been entrenched within the systems that define a society. Perpetrated by different people, including the liberals and people of color, who aim to reduce disparities. Understanding the various social structures and quantifying the long-term impacts is important so that the barriers of racism can be dismantled (Rothstein, 2014). The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, brought on the recognition of how white supremacy and enduring racial subjugation have existed all across the country based on the context of structural inequality (Shaw, 2015). It indicates that the civil rights policy of America has failed to address the inequalities, especially with the legacies of police violence, minority economic stagnation, political underrepresentation, and racism (Ellis, 2014). In this way, a de facto second-class society is fostered for people of color in Ferguson as they lack the economic advantages of navigating the system. In this way, the reality in Ferguson is that there is racial profiling where the Black population is discriminated against, and disproportionality is characterized through structural racism.

Governance System

Structural racism persists because of the systems and society that support it. If the authorities and members of society do not take the initiative to stop its persistence, it becomes the norm, and every generation embraces it. Ferguson is composed of a two-thirds Black and one-third white population. The mayor and five of the six city council members are white, and only three of the 53 police officers in Ferguson are Black (Fang, 2014). The city government poorly reflects the demographic makeup as the power structure is segregated due to the historically long racial tension. This clearly indicates that the Ferguson authorities cannot relate to the interests of the majority of the population, suggesting the failure of government resistance and competitive policies that focus on the people (Shaw, 2015). Michael Brown’s shooting brought into perspective the reality of how people of color in Ferguson suffer at the hands of the police based on the excessive use of force by police departments, racial profiling, and violence against Black boys and men. Ferguson’s Attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., gave public criticisms of the Police Department on March 4, 2015, for the “implicit and explicit racial bias” and “routinely violating the constitutional rights of its Black residents” (Chaney, 2015). These violations included the excessive use of force against the Black residents at 90%, poor municipal court practices harming Blacks with 68% less likely to have their cases dismissed by the court, and others lasting longer, with a high likelihood of at least 50% having their cases leading to arrest warrants (Matthews, 2016). In the Ferguson community, the structural system benefits the white while at the same time disadvantaging the Black people.

Poor Justice Practices

Structural racism leads to unjust court practices and processes. These are further exacerbated by a society that does not stand for its rights. The emergence of the Black Lives Matter Movement began as a result of social injustices experienced by Black people and the lack of court interventions or the court’s contribution to the exploitation of Black people. Despite the low income experienced among Black people, most of this income is spent on criminal justice unconstitutionally. More than 90% of Black people are arrested and tried in a court of law without committing the offense (Chaney, 2015). These arrests and trials attract fines that Black people are incapable of paying. This echoes the sentiments of the Attorney General, who noted that there is a high likelihood of Black people being arrested and fined based on the exploitation of the Black Police Department and their collusion with the courts. Moreover, more fines are imposed on them for failure to pay their charges. Thus, justice is constructed to foster law and order in society but to exploit the poor. The Ferguson police department is structured to maximize revenue rather than ensure law and order in society (Matthews, 2016). Consequently, the police major in arresting and imposing fine on the people rather than on the legitimacy of their crime. Hence, they are most likely to arrest and impose fines on innocent individuals to increase revenue.

Structural racism breaks the trust every group of people has in authority. Every group expects equal and fair treatment from the government and authority. If the government and authorities discriminate against a group based on race, then the trust that the government is equally protective of its people through its proceedings and practices breaks. Ferguson’s deepest problem with its members lies in the entrenched practices and priorities incompatible with lawful and effective policing destroying the community trust. Reports by the ACLU indicated that racial profiling in the United States had been based on the disproportionate targeting of minority youth due to their race leading to their tragic deaths (Choudhury, 2014). In their survival, minority youth are disproportionately incarcerated, with a 1 in 10 chance of Black males compared to their white counterparts (Chaney, 2015). As much as all members of the marginalized group can be subjected to institutional and individual racism, Black and poor individuals are highly likely to perceive the police as threats to their safety or as victims of police violence due to their race (Reilly, 2015). Therefore, instead of relying on the police for protection from harm and promoting fairness and justice in the communities, the youth live in fear as the whole Black community is the case as suspect because of their race.

Exploitation and Segregation of Minority Groups

Structural racism leads to the exploitation of minority groups, hindering development in such communities. Racism operates at a societal level, and the power used by the dominant group in providing the members of the group with various disadvantages as it disadvantages the non-dominant group. The system not only takes resources from the minority group but also hinders the minority group from accessing resources that could benefit them. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted, a large population of Blacks in the U.S. are still disenfranchised and marginalized by public institutions and public policies (Blessett, 2015). Those living in residentially segregated communities tend to have various economic, political, social, and environmental factors that negatively affect their lives and communities. This leads to diminishing quality of life aspects like educational attainment, limited employment opportunities, disparaging health outcomes, and stifling of political participation. In the mid-twentieth century, when urban development occurred, millions of dollars flowing in and out of communities depended on the economic, social, and political powers that determined public policy benefits leading to the perpetuation of inequality based on class and race (Alkadry & Blesset, 2010). The strategies led to many burdens placed on the communities because of the segregation, getting the least resources and thus remaining unable to alter their realities, increasing inequalities.

Economic Distress

The structural racism in Ferguson can also be attributed to the economic distress of the population. The economic challenges of the population of the county have shown increased suburban poverty, with unemployment rates of up to 13% and about 1 in every person living in Ferguson below the federal poverty line (Blesset & Littleton, 2017). As such, the practices, policies, and norms developed to maintain white supremacy are also viewed as forms of structural racism. The economic distress manifests in American inequality, where minorities are criminalized and persistently segregated, and the communities of color are impoverished. For instance, poor educational systems and segregation have caused barriers to upward mobility and wealth accumulation and led to the lack of health insurance.

Chetty (2014) found that less racial segregation is a predictor of upward economic mobility. This has been seen in the people of color who are engaged in job sectors that do not provide good health benefits, such as farm workers, domestic workers, or small businesses. This is similar to the Jim Crow laws and Black Codes that restricted the opportunities and freedoms of Black people, limiting them to occupations of domestic service and farming and forcing them into annual employment contracts that were burdensome (Solomon, Maxwell & Castro, 2019). Hence, racial inequality was exacerbated through the occupational segregation of these laws, and the occupations devalued. The same racial stereotypes have dominated the workforce in America, with Black workers making up 13% of the workforce, but claims of racial discrimination reach 26% with the EEOC and the partner agencies (Jameel & Yerardi, 2019). This leaves them vulnerable and thus fail to afford healthcare because of the discriminatory values and resource distribution systems. In a similar context, Black families have been excluded from federal housing practices, policies, and opportunities for building home equity and accumulating wealth. This has created general effects where white families receive federal interventions and investments for homeownership expansion and affordable housing while Black families are left in ‘redlined’ neighborhoods where they are denied capital investment and access to mortgages (Mitchell & Franco, 2018). The same approaches can be found in the communities in Ferguson, where the whites are given priority in accessing job opportunities and better housing plans, leaving out the Black population to get the undesirable and low-income jobs and poor housing facilities within the housing projects.

The segregationist actions of the government have continued to determine the patterns of racial segregation, including zoning rules classifying white neighborhoods as residential while the Black neighborhoods as industrial or commercial, conditioning of federal subsidies for suburban development of exclusion of Blacks, and segregating the public housing projects to replace integrated areas of low-income earners (Rothstein, 2014). There are also aspects of tax favoritism for private institutions practicing segregation, requirements for and enforcement of neighborhood agreements and property deeds prohibiting white-owned property from being resold to Black people, and having boundary lines that separate the white neighborhoods from the Black ones, denying them the required services. This leaves the Black residents of Ferguson struggling to survive, especially with the ever-increasing living costs. Moreover, there have been accounts of the way Black people in Ferguson were left when the white people escaped the poor schools through “white flight,” with more of the Black people getting to Ferguson because of the prejudicial approaches of real estate agents who steered the Black homebuyers away from the white suburbs which were mostly composed of white, upper-middle-class single-family homes that were too expensive (Rothstein, 2014). The desire of the suburbans and the private prejudice for homogenous affluence within their environments may have contributed to the structural racism within Ferguson with the intention of the state, federal, and local governments to create metropolises with racial segregation.

Poor Health Care and Increased Mortality

Structural racism is also constructed on historical racial injustices against Black communities, which have led to significant levels of poverty, poor health care, poor housing, and increased mortality rates. Black communities in America have borne the physical burdens of historical injustice, white supremacy violence, and toxic exposures. The burdens have torn at their bodies and cut lives short, while others fail to start because of structural racism (Phelan & Link, 2015). Research by Krieger et al. (2014) indicates that structural racism legacies seen in different contemporary and historical forms create circumstances in which the mortality rate of Black babies is high while the unequal access to quality healthcare resulted in a prevalence of health-related stressors and risks gong beyond genetic issues or individual behaviors. This aspect has led to adverse health outcomes among the Black communities in Ferguson, with most of them remaining uninsured, even with the Affordable Care Act and increased coverage gains. Moreover, unlike their white counterparts who receive better quality healthcare because of their insurance status, age, income, and severity of conditions, the people of color within Ferguson tend to receive lower-quality healthcare.

The stress that occurs because of structural racism also leads to significant rates of premature deaths and diseases. This is because chronic exposure o unfair treatment and racism is linked to higher mortality and morbidity rates. Since discrimination is regarded as a social determinant of health, people of color in Ferguson are at higher risk of diseases like Covid-19, stroke, kidney disease, cancer, and Type 2 diabetes (Cockerham, Hamby & Oates, 2017). Additionally, there is a 75% more likelihood of Black people living closer to facilities producing hazardous waste, exposing them to pollution. This has been attributed to the lack of investments in trees and green spaces, especially within the historically redlined neighborhoods that make them have higher temperatures, exposing the Black communities to environmental diseases.


Structural racism has been evident in Ferguson, with the government and social policies, practices, rules, and laws embedding the societal norms and cultural and economic system. These have been driven by racism, where the larger population of Blacks within the county has been racialized and redlined through residential segregation, racial profiling by the Police Department, police violence and mass incarceration, unequal medical care and housing, and poor employment rates. These aspects are based on the foundational characteristics of racial and cultural tropes, prejudice, and discrimination, moving across generations of Black families. The Ferguson authorities cannot relate to the interests of the majority of the population, suggesting the failure of government resistance and competitive policies that focus on the people. This has been noted in the excessive use of force against the Black boys and men in the community, collusion with the courts to incarcerate them, and high rates of police killings of Black youth. The racial profiles and segregation has influenced disadvantages for the Blacks where public and private institutions go against them, especially since the governance is white-dominated. The segregation policies in insurance, healthcare, banking, and real estate have led to structural racism, while the governmental policies have implemented employment policies that deny Blacks access to suitable jobs, widening the wealth gap and leaving them in poverty. The state and federal governments need to develop more practical regulatory strategies and programs that address the issues of the Black communities in Ferguson, helping them to move to modest levels of living with better protections from the police and the law and address the obstacles of racial progress.


ACLU. Racial Profiling.

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