The United States History of Systemic Racism: A Primer for Latin Americans, and Some Parallels

Naomi Roht-Arriaza*

Versión en español aquí.

Juneteenth, June 19, commemorates the day in 1865 that the last US slaves were freed. The holiday was celebrated across the United States this year with marches calling for defunding the police and tackling continuing systemic racism, continuing weeks of protests after the police killing of George Floyd and others. These demands for radical change might at first seem unnecessary and extreme – after all, the US recently had a Black president, and slavery ended long ago – but they reflect the way government action throughout the 20th century until today created and supported institutionalized racism.  With the disproportionate effects of both COVID-19 and unemployment on the Black community, these patterns have become obvious.  In particular, the protests respond to the failure of decades of reform efforts to stop the police killing of unarmed black people across the country, a failure rooted in the isolation and control of Black and Latinx communities and the defunding of services to these communities.  The US experience provides an illuminating window into the persistence of racism and racist policing elsewhere in the Americas, as well as some intriguing pathways forward.

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