Structural racism is the result of centuries of accumulated beliefs, policies, practices, and patterns of discrimination that assume the superiority of white people and consistently diminish and threaten the lives of people of color. The dramatic inequalities caused by racial oppression emerge from the long history of genocide, slavery, Jim Crow and mass incarceration, including past – and continuing – discrimination in housing, health, jobs, law enforcement and other areas of life. Structural racism, because its assumptions and practices are deeply woven into the fabric of US culture, perpetuates itself in all parts of the country, even when not visibly or blatantly displayed.
For example, the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) “redlining” policy intentionally kept African-American households from getting mortgages that were available to whites. This led to only 2% of FHA loans going to African-Americans between 1934 and 1968 when the Fair Housing Act officially banned redlining. The racial gap in home-ownership rates created by redlining has been a major contributor to the current vast differences (10:1 to 13:1, white:black) in household wealth.
Rooting out structural racism requires not only a change in attitudes and in legal roadblocks but a commitment, both short and long term, to repairing the damage that the inequities have created.
Rooting out structural racism requires undoing centuries of oppressive patterns and the damage these patterns have done. It involves not only a change in attitudes and in legal roadblocks but a commitment, both short and long term, to repairing the damage that the inequities have created. Yet most white people are unaware of the pervasiveness and destructiveness of structural racism since they do not directly experience its impacts and have little meaningful contact with those who do. Additionally, media presentations about racism are primarily designed by white people, who focus more on individuals rather than on systemic patterns.
Tompkins County, and its county seat, Ithaca, is located in the south end of Cayuga Lake in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The land was originally home to the Gayogohó:no’ (Cayuga) Nation, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy before it was violently taken by the United States during and after the Revolutionary War. With a university, a liberal arts college, and a community college all within the borders of Tompkins County, most white residents see themselves as part of a liberal, progressive community that values racial and economic justice. In spite of this perception, the conscious and unconscious biases of white people here generate the same patterns of racial disparities found across the country, and residents of color do not experience this place as a liberated utopia. The pervasive impacts of structural racism that show up here make it clear that white supremacy is still a dominant power dynamic of the county.
The TC Structural Racism Project
Tompkins County’s chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) “moves white people to act as part of a multiracial majority for justice, with accountability to people of color-led organizations locally and nationally.” Those local organizations include Black Lives Matter Ithaca, the Multicultural Resource Center and the Southside Community Center.
We intend for this effort to contribute to informed and constructive conversations as well as transformative local actions to undo white supremacy and the structures of oppression it has created and maintained over time. We recognize that race is a social construct, not a biological reality. We also recognize that it is a social construct with devastating impacts on people’s individual and collective experience. In addition, the language we use to describe racial groups in Tompkins County is, at best, imperfect. We acknowledge that not all members of any particular group agree on preferred language. We have chosen to use Black rather than African American, and Latinx rather than Hispanic or Latino/a based on our intention to prioritize inclusivity in both of those instances. Finally, we are aware that we offer this analysis through the singular lens of race, rather than a more comprehensive lens that would speak to the multiple, intersecting identities and oppressions that people experience simultaneously (e.g., race, sex, gender, sexuality, income, ability, and others). We recognize that structural racism impacts everyone, but has different and compounding effects, depending on their overlapping identities. We lack the specific data we would need to examine these different effects, but we acknowledge they exist. This analysis is meant to be an overview of the effects of structural racism in Tompkins County.
We welcome your input so we can update and improve this resource.
Overview of TC Structural Racism
For a visually appealing, printable, one-page overview of what we are trying to cover in this website that is already being used in a variety of educational settings, click here.
Local Action Steps
For a printable one-page collection of ways to combat structural racism in Tompkins County, the resources tab has a list of possible local action steps.