I wouldn’t negate your point about the importance of personal choices. Decisions that individuals and families make have huge implications upon their lives. And people of every race make both good and bad decisions. However, the discrepancy comes into play when the repercussions of those decisions are unequal.
This is evident in the criminal justice system, where we see discrepancies in sentencing length and arrest rates regarding race. Statistics show that even though white and black people use drugs at roughly the same rates, black people are more likely to be arrested for drug use. And after they arrested, blacks serve longer sentences than whites — even though they are committing the same crime.
Now, this doesn’t mean that bad choices don’t matter. They do. But the price of these bad choices are bigger for black people. Serving more frequent, and longer jail sentences for the same crime is fundamentally unjust, but it also hurts black families in very real and material ways. According to National Research Council, “More than half of fathers in state prison report being the primary breadwinner in their family.”
But if they are in prison, the aren’t at work. And without that breadwinning income, the family suffers.
If you aggregate the additional time black people serve due to bias (20% according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission), you can see how structural racism in policing and judicial process exacerbate the problem of black poverty. Again, this is a result, not just a bad choices, but also of a bias system.
And continuing on the point of poverty, many people underestimate how historical structural racism continues to handicap blacks today.
For example, redlining prevented black people from acquiring homes and wealth from the 1930’s -70’s and it continues to handicap their socioeconomic status currently. As the Washington Post’s Emily Badger writes:
If your family was denied a mortgage in the 1930s, or the 1950s, or the 1970s, then you may not have the family wealth or down payment help to become a homeowner today.
And while redlining became illegal in 1970, Badger’s article, outlines how as late as 2010, banks in Milwaukee have redlined black people. Blacks weren’t and aren’t making bad personal decisions that make banks redline them. But, black people still have to pay the price by missing out on the benefits of homeownership. This again, exacerbates the problem of black poverty. These trends of bias aren’t unique to the housing and criminal justice. They persist in employment, and education too.
It is systemic racism that is chiefly responsible for shaping modern racial inequality — not the unique moral failings of black people.