Racism Is Systemic: What Exactly Does That Mean?

Racism is systemic. What exactly does that mean?

Racism is more than conscious hate. Racism is a complex system set up generations ago to oppress black and brown people, while elevating white people. Whether one is aware or not, we are all born into this existing system. 

Systemic racism is racism that infects the very structure of our society. Systemic racism persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, military and elsewhere. White people occupy most positions of decision-making power so people of color have a difficult time achieving social and political equality. For example, reducing racist police behavior to a few bad cops who need to be removed, rather than seeing it exists in police departments all over the United States, neglects the systemic cause. Even when Black athletes, such as former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, peacefully protest, there is a refusal to see police brutality as part of a system, and that the system needs to change.

Institutionalized racism is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. It is a pattern of differential access to material resources and power by race, which advantages one sector of the population while disadvantaging another. It’s not only about racist attitudes or prejudice, but the ways in which rights and resources are distributed. Institutionalized racism disrupts marginalized communities’ access to quality education, healthcare, living wages, a respectable quality of living and other resources. For example, in Michigan, the Flint water, racial and poverty crisis allowed contaminated water into Flint homes for years and still counting. Politicians knowingly poisoned black and brown children in Flint Michigan because “profits reign supreme.”

Racism = Social + Institutional Power + Race Prejudice

Each individual either benefits (white people) or is oppressed (black and brown people) by the racist system we are all born into. Anti-blackness lies invisibly in the back of the mind. Most people are taught not to see it, not in your actions or inaction, words or silence. White people are socialized to identify as white and internalize the messages that white is the norm and superior race. 

Reflecting on your anti-Blackness is an intense process of examining and unlearning. Anti-Blackness isn't limited to white people. Non-Black people of color can perpetuate anti-blackness too. Everyone has to look at how they may be perpetuating anti-Blackness in their everyday life. 

Can you identify how you may have internalized anti-Blackness? If so, what steps can you take towards undoing and unlearning those beliefs?

1 comment

  • I see my anti-blackness in many actions and omissions. Choosing to live in a predominantly white neighborhood was an act of anti-blackness; no matter how much I tried to convince myself that it was the good schools that brought me there. I saw the school stats, but in the same website I saw the ethnicity breakdown, so it was a choice. As an extension, not seeing black people in my street makes “Black” be an instant defining feature whereas being white would require more information like clothes and hair color…Being in a white neighborhood also means that I have to make an effort to look for, find, learn about those underserved schools that I tried to avoid. This is just one reason why I see my anti-blackness. What I can do to help? A ton. Recognizing it is just the first step. In my case, as an educator, I will create and anti-racist curriculum for the next school year. One that includes black artists, that encourages self-reflection, provides opportunity for activism through the arts as well as for social involvement. There is so much to do…

    Marian de la Torre-Easthope

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