Protesters gather outside the Bangor Police Department on June 1, 2020, to protest George Floyd's death. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

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Lisa Padilla is CEO of Melba House Blessing Box and a public voices fellow through the OpEd Project. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.

Racism has saturated U.S. society for so long that some people — including representatives in public office — continue to deny its existence.

“Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, in response to President Joe Biden’s address to the nation on April 29. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, recently said he believes “racism does not exist in America.” And Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, declared there is not “systemic racism in America,” while affirming a recent “Confederate Heritage Month” in his state.

These statements reflect how unwilling some of our representatives are to recognize the truth that racism is present in almost every facet of this country, from health care and education to the justice system.

In 2019, after years of efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, 28.9 million younger U.S. residents were uninsured. Low income, people of color make up the majority of these uninsured.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted the health care access gap. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the infant mortality rate in some zip codes in the United States — mostly in Southern states — is close to 10.75 percent for Black babies. That means 10.75 percent of Black babies born today will die within a year, twice the rate for white babies.

In education, Black and brown students are far more likely to be disciplined or suspended than their white classmates. Also, their teachers are almost entirely white, as only 7 percent of public school teachers are Black, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Education. And the disparities don’t end with grade school: Once in college, the six-year graduation rate for white students is 25 percent higher than it is for Black students.

The criminal justice system is also rife with racism. Latinx and Black Americans are now committing fewer crimes, but there is a wider disparity in sentencing, according to a Council on Criminal Justice report. They are also spending more time in prison than white people when the same type of crime is committed.

Of course, George Floyd’s murder by a police officer on May 25, 2020, was not an isolated incident. Black people are killed by police every day. Since March 29, 2021, which was when testimony began in the Floyd case, at least 69 deaths have taken place at the hands of law enforcement, with half of those deaths being of Black or Brown people. Overall, the rate of Black people being killed by police officers is twice as high as that of white Americans.

In the face of daily evidence of U.S. racism over the long swath of history, it is ludicrous to deny that racism exists in this country. It is time to stop debating — we must address this issue straight on in the systems where it is pervasive and work toward creating an anti-racist society.

The president and the U.S. Congress has the opportunity to ensure that populations of color can live past their first birthday, get an education, access health care, and not spend a majority of their lives in the penal system.