Letter: Systemic Racism

7

By Peter Chow

Racism = racial prejudice + social and institutional power
Racism = a system of advantage based on race
Racism = a system of oppression based on race
Racism = a white supremacy system

Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.

Most white people in the US and Canada are familiar with explicit racism or racism that is a conscious choice to actively hate or discriminate someone of another race.

Most white people associate explicit racism as the main form of racism and believe it has to be a conscious choice like joining the KKK, or using racial slurs at a non white person. Explicit racism is currently a growing problem in America, with White Supremacists emboldened by dog whistle approval from Donald Trump, but it is a small part of the actual racism that occurs, often unconsciously, in this country.

Today most people in the US and Canada negatively affected by racism are affected by systemic (also called institutional or structural) racism.

Systemic racism is forms of oppression and privilege that affects almost every aspect of our society, our laws, institutions, schools, justice system, media, culture, economy, housing and everyday interactions. This form of racism, although often more harmful in the long term than explicit racism, is less understood or even recognized by the white majority, who often preserve and perpetuate this racism unconsciously through Complicity and Complacency.

Racism Complicity:
To consciously or unconsciously support, contribute or benefit from racism or racist systems

Racism Complacency:
To support racism and racist systems by not challenging it

Systemic racism is about the way racism is built right into every level of our society. Many people point to what they see as decreased in-your-face racial hatred these days, compared to decades past, but as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. ”

“If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

While fewer people may consider themselves racist, systemic racism itself persists throughout our schools, offices, court system, police departments, and elsewhere. Think about it: when white people occupy most positions of decision-making power, people of colour have a difficult time getting a fair shake, let alone getting ahead.

It is death by a thousand little cuts every day – before you know it, you are bleeding to death. These little cuts are the racial micro-aggressions that people of colour endure and tolerate every day.

We have a lot of work to do.

The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when systemic racism is bigger than that. Systemic racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know it, or like it, or not.

Incidentally, all European immigrants did not and do not become white at the same time – eg. Irish, Italians, Jews. They each became assimilated as white at different times, like waves. Becoming white involved giving up parts of your original language and culture in order to get the advantages and privileges of belonging to the white group. This process continues today.

Systemic racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to affect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Hate is racism, but hate is just one manifestation.

Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another, and so on.

So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. It’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.

Systemic racism is pervasive throughout our society. Patterns of racial inequality permeate the criminal justice system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-European peoples around the world.

EXAMPLES OF SYSTEMIC RACISM

Police and Justice System
Non-white people are much more likely to get stopped by police, arrested, harmed, shot by officers that will be acquitted, more likely to get convicted and given vastly harsher sentences than white people.

Whitewashing Education and History
Education curriculum that whitewashes slavery, genocide, rape and racism in the US while glorifying the oppressors such as Confederate and Founding Fathers slave owners.

Confederate Monuments
Confederate monuments on public institutions being preserved by tax payers.

Access to Opportunities and Wealth
Unequal access to job opportunities, good schools, higher education and obscene wealth inequality for non-white people.

Conservative Political Narratives
Conservative political parties creating misleading narratives and policies that imply white people are victims at the cost of non-white civil rights.

Conservative Political Policies
Conservative political parties creating policies of mass Latino deportation, Muslim immigration ban, protecting police brutality against non-whites, voter suppression – in short, preserving systemic racism.

Churches
Religious institutions that approve and support conservative racists and White Supremacist, labeling them “Good Christians.”

Housing
Discriminatory real estate, banks, and government policies segregating communities and keeping non-white people in poorer areas.

USDA
Decades of racially biased laws and practices in the USDA that pushed non-white people off their land in the last century.

Media Bias
The majority of news, TV, radio and social media in the US push racial biases in our society including unfair stereotypes and fears towards non-white people.

Racial Disparities
To really understand systemic racism, read about the racial disparities in this country in Police Interactions, Criminal Justice/Courts, Prison (Mass Incarceration), War on Drugs, Education, Employment, Wealth Inequality, Workplace, Voting, Housing, Surveillance, Healthcare, Media Representation.

Take the example of housing. Today, a disproportionate number of people of colour are homeless or lack housing security in part due to the legacy of redlining. Black people make up nearly half of the homeless population, despite making up only 13% of the population.

Redlining refers to the system used by banks and the real estate industry in the 20th century to determine which neighborhoods would get loans to buy homes, and neighborhoods where people of colour lived — outlined in red ink — were deemed the riskiest to invest in.

Redlining basically meant it was fundamentally impossible for Black and brown people to get loans. It was an active way of enforcing segregation.

This practice prevented Black families from amassing and maintaining wealth in the same way that white families could, resulting in the growth of the racial wealth gap and housing insecurity which persists today.

The net worth of a typical white family ($171,000) is nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150), according to the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances.

Redlining was banned in 1968, but the areas deemed “hazardous” by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corp. from 1935 to 1939 are still much more likely than other areas to be home to lower-income, minority residents.

Michael Bloomberg blamed the ending of ‘redlining’ for the 2008 housing collapse

Areas that were redlined also didn’t have the tax base to support robust public schools, health care systems or transportation, leading to issues of public safety and thus overpolicing.

The system is set up in that way structurally to drive a continuous outcome of disinvestment and therefore disproportionate outcomes. And at its worst, these most heinous outcomes of over-policing result ultimately in the loss of life.

This is just one example and this type of analysis could be applied to issues of voting rights, employment and health care disparities as well.

How can systemic racism be addressed?

There are three steps people can take to address systemic racism.

First, we must acknowledge that systemic racism actually exists and identify it where it does exist.

Second, we must get involved with organizations that are fighting it.

Finally, we must elect leaders and policy makers who won’t reinforce or support structurally racist policies and instead will work at eradicating systemic racialism.

Systemic racism should not be a partisan issue, and the country needs to stop making it a partisan issue.

It’s a question of morality.

Structural Racism – Racial Equity Tools
https://www.racialequitytools.org/…/Definitions-of%20Racism…

Unconscious racism is pervasive, starts early and can be …
https://aeon.co/…/unconscious-racism-is-pervasive-starts-ea…

Systemic racism: What does it mean and how can you help …
https://www.usatoday.com/…/systemic-racism-what…/5343549002/
15 Jun 2020

What is Systemic Racism? [VIDEOS] | Race Forward
https://www.raceforward.org/videos/systemic-racism

Systemic Racism Is Real | Ben & Jerry’s
https://www.benjerry.com/whats-new/…/systemic-racism-is-real

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. How about these definitions of racism:
    Racism = Anything that doesn’t bow to the radical narrative of the day.
    Racism = Anything that emphasizes truth.
    Racism = Anything that calls out evil and wrongdoing, and demands personal responsibility.
    Racism = Whatever can be used to justify more free money for the lazy, the incompetent, and the envious.

  2. IT’S NOT JUST AMERICA – RACISM IN CANADA

    Racism has played a foundational role in the development and maintenance of the Canadian nation.

    The colonization of Indigenous lands and peoples was fuelled by racist beliefs and ideas about Indigenous peoples, values, ways of knowing and being, customs and practices. These race-based beliefs served to justify acts of racial discrimination, including violence, physical and cultural genocide, legislated segregation, appropriation of lands, and social and economic oppression enacted through such policies as the Gradual Civilization Act and the Indian Act.

    Policies and practices emerging from colonial ideologies have been extremely destructive to the health and well-being of Indigenous peoples, cutting across the broad spectrum of social determinants of health, impacting access to education, housing, food security, employment and health care, and permeating societal systems and institutions that have profoundly impacted the lives and well-being of Indigenous peoples including the child welfare and criminal justice systems.

    The discriminatory treatment of Indigenous peoples within these systems is evidenced on one hand, in the grotesque overrepresentation of Indigenous children and youth in the care of child welfare agencies and Indigenous youth and adults in the custody of detention centres and federal prisons, and on the other hand, in the lack of political and societal response to the ever growing number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.

    The publication of photos showing Justin Trudeau in blackface, his personal racism there for the world to see, was something that rightly caused many Canadians a great deal of discomfort.

    It might be more palatable to point to racist laws and policies as the core of the problem, but the Liberal leader’s past actions remind us of an uneasy truth: racism is perpetuated by individual human beings working within and upholding systems – people making decisions to act in a racist manner.

    This is hard to discuss and confront as a society, but we must.

    Every segment in society has had a hand in killing Indigenous peoples – from colonial governments offering bounties to settlers for native scalps, to those who operated residential schools, to those of us who harbour disparaging images of Indigenous people to this day.

    While governments create the conditions of life that lead to the premature deaths of Indigenous peoples, there are many in society killing Indigenous peoples today and they include police officers, corrections officers, doctors and average Canadians.

    It is simply normalized in some communities for Indigenous people to encounter racial profiling on a daily basis ranging from being denied service or provided inferior levels of service, to being unfairly targeted, harassed, and humiliated.

    Indigenous peoples experience racial profiling in policing, child welfare, health care, education, retail and private businesses, government and social services and housing. They described being followed, watched, singled out for scrutiny and treated as if they were a risk to others because of their ancestry or race.

    Some of the most comprehensive public inquiries and commissions in Canadian history, such as the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the residential school system and the most recent, the 2019 National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), have pointed to a deep-seated racism and hatred towards Indigenous peoples in Canada. This racism is both systemic, found in Canada’s laws and policies, but also personal, (violence and discrimination carried out by individuals).

    For example, the Indian Act is federal legislation, enacted back in 1876. It has discriminated against First Nation women on the basis of race and sex ever since. Those parliamentarians chose to support legislation based on their own racist and sexist views about First Nation women. These unchecked racist and sexist views by individuals in government are drawn from the larger society, but also copied and mirrored back to society.

    That is why First Nation women and girls are the number one target of human traffickers. It is why there are thousands of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls and why police agencies have acted, if at all, with disdain and neglect in investigating these cases.

    Despite the many human rights laws and protections on the books in Canada, it is the acts and omissions of government officials, governments agencies and individuals in society that have continued to commit grave acts of violence against Indigenous peoples – because of their deep-seated racist views.

    The Indian Act authorized the federal government to create residential schools for First Nations children. However, it was the individual teachers, priests, nuns and others in positions of power in those schools whose deeply racist and sexist views formed the justifications for the horrific acts of sexualized violence and torture committed in those schools.

    Racism in the justice system is the root cause of wrongful prosecutions and the grotesque over-representation of Indigenous peoples in prison today. The commissioner of the RCMP has openly admitted to the pervasive systemic racism in her police force.

    The justice system has failed Indigenous peoples on a massive scale. But, ultimately, it is the racist and sexist beliefs of individual police, judges and corrections officials that allow this broken system to flourish.

    Individual racism is overt and carried out by police because they believe they can do it. It is also why, in addition to sexual assaults, Indigenous peoples suffer the highest rates of police-involved deaths in the country. Racism results in Indigenous peoples, especially Indigenous women and girls, as being considered expendable, exploitable and less worthy.

    Ontario’s Ipperwash Inquiry in 2007 on the shooting death of unarmed Dudley George found the Ontario Provincial Police were infected with “widespread racism” against Indigenous peoples, countering the myth of a few bad apples.

    The suffering and death associated with racism against Indigenous peoples is so normalized, it hasn’t generated the same type of outrage as Trudeau in blackface. How will we confront the ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples generally and against Indigenous women and girls specifically? What’s required is a review of laws, policies and economic systems, but more importantly, an exposure and weeding out of racist cops, politicians, judges, doctors, teachers and social workers.

    This isn’t about a Liberal, Conservative, NDP, Green or another political persuasion – all levels of government and their political parties have contributed to and maintain genocide against Indigenous peoples. All parties have failed to treat the MMIWG national inquiry’s finding of genocide as a national public safety crisis and none of them has made it a priority.

    This is how racism is allowed to continue unabated. The only hope we have of ending racism is to make it as visible as Trudeau’s blackface and take the radical steps needed to undo the entire system that allows individuals to get away with it.

  3. Canada is not a racist country, all you have to do is look at hospitals, schools, government, police, and everywhere you look.. All of our institutions are pretty well multi cultural,. Canada is a very welcoming bunch of people! I do find it a sad situation when you let people into your country with open arms, that are the ones screaming racism. Everyone in this country has the right to improve themselves and do something with their life no matter what color you are! The only racism I see lately is against white people! Sorry, but Canada, was and is traditionally white people, just as Japan is Japanese people, just as Sweden has swedish people, just as China has Chinese people, just as Africa has African people, we are what we are, and born that way! I am a white person who has had to work minimum wage jobs all my life I dont feel privileged, my son cannot find a job right now, and may have to move back home despite college education, and not being able to get jobs segregated to “others”. My manager, who has worked all her life, is in row housing while new people are in townhouses beside them. The racism that is happening is being created by the division that the Gov’t is creating! People that have lived in Canada all their lives are going to the backburner, while others are getting more… and more ahead, this creates the tension and the material for any racism that is directed to certain people. It would be like having a new baby, but you forget about all your other children. This is what is creating the racism today in Canada, and I blame the Gov’t for this atmosphere.

  4. What a load of crap !!! Mr Chow spouts an opinion on anything.. Racism is the hot topic at the moment so lets get on the bandwagon.. A MAN was killed by a BAD COP… End of story.. The guy wasn’t a saint, just an ordinary guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.. The more it gets pumped up, the worse it will become..The cops were charged and they will get crucified. Let it go, there are other things happening in the world.. Media coverage on stuff like this just adds to the problem, every reporter wants to get points..Sad world we live in today….

      • Zgreat, you ever gonna move out of your moms basement and get a real job??? Over a 75 year period I have worked with people of all races and religions and have never had a problem, just treated others as they treated me.. Now I have a problem with people from other countries that were granted sanctuary in our country telling my friend she shouldn’t sit outside in short shorts on her own damn deck…Reverse racism is a bigger problem in this world…

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