Letter to the Editor: Is anything not systemic racism?

To the editor:

Sociology is supposed to be a science but, alas, large chunks of it have migrated to activism.  N.C. State Sociologist Michael Schwalbe’s article attacking cigarette companies for marketing “mentholated tobacco products to the Black community” is an example.   

Selective marketing apparently amounts to “institutional racism,” of which we now have an epidemic rivaling covid-19.  This makes no scientific sense. Are lingerie companies “sexist” for marketing to women? Are sunscreen vendors “racist” for marketing to Whites?  Racism, individual or institutional, involves discrimination because of race, not because of buying habits or political preference.  Apparently, Black smokers have “a slight preference” for menthol cigarettes so, surprise! surprise! cigarette companies may favor them with ads. That’s not racism, institutional, systemic, structural or inter-galactic — it’s just normal business practice.

Prof. Schwalbe claims that “about 45,000 Black Americans die from tobacco-related diseases every year.” This figure is a fantasy. If someone dies of a heart attack, say, and he is a smoker, chances are smoking will appear as a cause of death on the death certificate.  Did smoking really cause the heart attack?  In most cases we simply don’t know.  And of course, there are counter-examples, like African-American Richard Overton: “At age 111, America’s oldest veteran is still smoking cigars, drinking whiskey and loving life” said the Dallas Morning news in 2017.


John Staddon
Durham, NC