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.
To consciously or unconsciously support, contribute or benefit from racism or racist systems
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 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.
Religious institutions that approve and support conservative racists and White Supremacist, labeling them “Good Christians.”
Discriminatory real estate, banks, and government policies segregating communities and keeping non-white people in poorer areas.
Decades of racially biased laws and practices in the USDA that pushed non-white people off their land in the last century.
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.
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
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