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The external causes of inequality

By Joe Pettit.  Dr. Pettit is an associate professor of religious studies at Morgan State University.  This Opinion-Editorial appeared in The Baltimore on September 1, 2016 – the first few paragraphs are reprinted with permission from the editor.

Whether the issue is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement, or criticisms of the use of force by police, thinking clearly about racial justice can be very difficult. In particular, the causes of racial inequality are complex and controversial.

Many people now insist that much present day racial inequality is caused by the poor decisions of individuals and not by laws and discrimination. As a result, they see demands for racial justice to be unnecessary and misplaced. However, this focus on bad decisions by individuals to explain away demands for racial justice is mistaken, and a quick thought experiment can explain why.

Imagine there are two towns — Town A and Town B. These towns are identical to each other in every possible respect. In both towns, the same number of people smoke. In both towns, people get lung disease at an identical rate. Not all of this lung disease is caused by smoking, but much of it is.


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