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Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf told "Axios on HBO" that there’s “absolutely not” any systemic racism in American policing, the latest white, male Trump administration official to dismiss persistent racism in the United States.

Why it matters: Recent polling shows a narrow plurality of Americans believe systemic racism is real and requires action, while data consistently shows how Black and Hispanic people suffer from built-in biases and systemic obstacles. This is becoming one of the major fault lines in American politics.

  • 46% of Americans believe racism is built in to U.S. policies and institutions, compared to 44% who believe racism is perpetrated by racist individuals, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from July.
  • 70% of Democrats call it systemic versus 66% of Republicans who attribute racism to individuals.
  • 65% of Black voters call it systemic; 48% of white voters say it's the result of individuals.

President Trump is on record acknowledging systemic racism: “I’d like to think there is not” systemic racism, he told the Wall Street Journal in June, “but unfortunately, there probably is some. I would also say it’s very substantially less than it used to be.”

Many in his orbit have dismissed its existence in today's America:

  • White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow: "I don't accept the view of systemic racism. I think there is racism in pockets of this country, but I do not believe it is systemic," Kudlow told Jonathan Swan in an interview for "Axios on HBO" that aired in June.
  • National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien: "No, I don't think there's systemic racism," he told CNN in May.
  • Attorney General Bill Barr: “I don’t agree there’s systemic racism in the police department, generally, in this country,” he told Congress in July.

Wolf told Mike Allen in the "Axios on HBO" interview that "this idea that we have systemic racism is not accurate, in my view."

  • "That means that we have designed a system that every law enforcement officer that goes through a law enforcement academy, a training facility, is somehow installed with racist views."
  • "Again, I'm not saying that there's not racist tendencies in some law enforcement officers. I think I wanna be clear about that. But again, what people mean by systemic racism is that we have designed an institution, a law enforcement institution, to be racist from the get-go. And I just — I don't subscribe to that. I don't believe in that."
  • Wolf said he is "all for calling out inappropriate behavior, inappropriate procedures. But the way to get at that is not to call for defunding the police. The way to do that is not to cut their budget by half."

The other side: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden told CBS News in June that there is "absolutely" systemic racism in policing.

  • "But it's not just in law enforcement. It's across the board. ... It's in housing, it's in education, and it's in everything we do. It's real. It's genuine. It's serious."

Go deeper

Nov 17, 2020 - Economy & Business

Corporate America's revolving door for Black employees

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Systemic racism is leading to a turnover problem in corporate America: Companies have a hard time holding on to Black employees.

Why it matters: Beyond affecting individual professionals and teams, a corporate culture that causes attrition can spread rot through entire companies.

Updated 14 hours ago - Technology

From Malcolm X to "Free Britney," new media shapes the justice system

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

True crime documentaries, podcasts and social media campaigns are bringing new attention to real-world legal proceedings — and are often affecting the outcome.

Why it matters: New media platforms can instantly put a national spotlight on cases that have long been forgotten or buried under red tape.

Updated 17 hours ago - Health

The next big bottleneck in the global vaccination effort

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The world still needs more coronavirus vaccines, but an additional bottleneck has emerged in many low-income countries: They need help getting shots in arms.

Why it matters: Increasing vaccination rates across the world is both a humanitarian necessity and the best way to prevent dangerous new variants from emerging, but it increasingly requires complex problem-solving.