What is “systemic racism”?

We are hearing more and more about the “systemic racism” inherent in this institution or that occupation or in America as a whole. But what does this mean?

If you ask for a definition, you might just be called part of the problem (and/or a racist, because of course). You might get some generalization, but specifics seem hard to come by.

Matthew Franck wrote an article about systemic racism that had some interesting thoughts on the subject, and gave me some ideas as well. That’s what this episode is about.

Mentioned links:

Racism Is Real. But Is “Systemic Racism”?

2 L.A. deputies shot in ‘ambush’ attack recovering after surgery

List of police reforms related to the George Floyd protests

Shooting of Breonna Taylor

Black Americans Want Police to Retain Local Presence

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Show transcript

We are told these days that the problem with America is “systemic racism”. But that phrase, “systemic racism”, is so broadly defined, or actually mostly undefined, that anything can be blamed on it. If you don’t like the outcome, blame “The System”. When people like George Floyd or Eric Garner die in police custody, blame The System for racism. Even if most of the cops involved are black and the victim is black, you can still blame “systemic racism” because, you see, it’s The System, regardless of who’s involved, that is to blame. And if The System is to blame, then everyone in The System is to blame.

What this leads to is the mantra behind the ACAB signs at Black Lives Matter protests; all cops are bast…er, bad. What this leads to is two cops getting shot while sitting in their cruiser by a gunman who just walked up and shot them. This leads to people cheering on the gunman. Because it’s The System, and those cops are part of the “systemic racism” even if they’ve never done anything racist.

I read an article this week (link is in the show notes) that really put this into perspective, comparing a racist system vs racist people or laws that are in a system. The author, Matthew Franck, lays it out by noting that “systemic” means that something (like racism) is a feature of a particular system. There is no person to blame, it was not designed that way. Instead the entire system is affected by it. He contrasts this with “systematic racism”. In this case, it refers to something that is being carried out according to a plan. Slavery was systematic racism. It was purposely designed to keep down a particular race and treat them like property. Jim Crow laws were systematic racism. They disadvantaged black people in various ways according to plan.

If you want to get rid of systematic racism, you know who to target. Those who created those laws, or perpetuated them, have to be removed in favor of those who wish to make positive changes. Those who have said racist words or done those actions should be called out. You don’t tear down the agricultural system to get rid of slavery.

If there is systemic racism, however, the entire system must be removed, according to its detractors. Policing does not exist to be racist (despite what some might claim), but if you claim that it has “systemic racism” you are freed from having to point to anyone or any standard operating procedure as the problem; you may instead consider anything and anyone related to the system to be part of the problem (a problem, as I said, you don’t need to define). Are there racists among police? Given how many of them there are, undoubtedly yes. But instead of dealing with those within the system that are racist, claiming “systemic racism” means that you can punish or re-educate or defund all of them. Or, at the extreme end, shoot them where they are, cheer that, and then block the entrance of the emergency room to try to keep them from getting help. That particular area of LA must be teeming with extremists. Hmmm.

Claiming “systemic racism” also means you can say that all white people are racist without having to prove that anyone has done anything to deserve that label. I’m old enough to remember when making a blanket statement about a particular race was the very definition of racism. Franck describes another problem with this type of thinking. There are people who have done racist things or had racist thoughts, but if you tell them that all whites are racist, then their particular words, actions, and ideas don’t seem that bad. “Hey, everyone does it, so they must all be like me. I must not be that bad after all.” Watering down the definition of racism doesn’t do anything to help get rid of it.

Speaking of not helping get rid of racism, neither does burning down minority communities help to stop racism, though polls suggest that it does create new Trump voters. In the meantime, there are peaceful protests going on all over and they are getting results. There’s a Wikipedia page dedicated just to a list of police reform legislation related to the George Floyd incident. It’s quite a long list. There are also bills that were introduced over the Breonna Taylor shooting. Things are indeed changing. You may or may not agree with the specifics of some of these initiatives, but the point is that government is taking action.

There seems to be a limit, though, to how much influence the government has over some of this. For example, welfare spending has been skyrocketing for a very long time but it has had little effect on the poverty rate. But as has been said before, the best anti-poverty program is a job, and before the pandemic, this country was doing just that for minorities and women with the lowest unemployment rate in history for these groups. Rather than handouts, the government stepping back and making these jobs easier to create is a much better idea. Democrats will tell you that your compassion for the poor is directly proportional to how much wealth you want directly transferred to them, and even if you have an idea that you think would get the job done better, well you’re just a racist. Because that’s their insult of last resort.

I’m with those peaceful protesters, and what they want done is getting done. And as I’ve said here many times, I think most of America agrees. So can we stop using this moment of unity to call all white people racists? Is that what the protests are for? Are the peaceful protesters in agreement with the rioters that all cops are bad and should be defunded? If not, then it is the rioters that are controlling the narrative and getting their agenda passed as well. A Gallup poll done last month found that 81% of blacks would like the same or more police presence in their neighborhood, so it sounds like the peaceful protesters need to make more noise, particularly against the rioters. In that respect, I am more on their side than ever.


Filed under: Race Issues