Many white folks don’t understand the definition of institutional or systemic racism, and that’s got to change.
Institutional racism (also known as institutionalized racism) is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions, as distinct from racism by individuals or informal social groups.
Over the past 10 years I have had countless discussions, debates and arguments with white folks (white men in particular) about systemic injustice. These conversations have occurred in person, via social media, email, and in the comment sections of numerous articles. The outcome is usually the same. I’m talking about institutional and systemic racial injustice and they are talking about individual prejudice. The reason me and my fellow white compatriots cannot come to a common understanding is my inability to convey my argument effectively and their inability to move beyond the dominant white narrative. Moving beyond this particular narrative requires hard work. Not that white folks don’t believe in hard work (it’s part of our manifesto), rather it’s a type of hard work many of us are unfamiliar with. It requires listening, humility and being able to flip the script.
The history of whiteness in the United States is a long and troubling tale. What has come out of this yarn is an individual mindset that has been reinforced by our national origin story and the subsequent whitewashed history that followed. It’s an echo chamber where hearing is the only requirement and listening is an option most ignore. Breaking through such propaganda requires some risk to our own personal narratives. Many cannot fathom the enormous lies spun for us, let alone risk our very identity in the process. So instead we continue to toe the line of the dominant narrative we call the status quo. We do so because the status quo reinforces everything we believe. In other words, we don’t have to know the definition of systemic because we are systemic.
It’s easy for us to say, “I’m not a racist, therefore racism is over-exaggerated and mostly a byproduct of the past. It’s difficult to look closer at the fabric that has been woven over centuries and then make connections between our past and present. It requires humility and hard work hard work. Not just the kind where we mindlessly hammer away despite challenges, but rather using our experiences, observations and empathy to come to logical and rational conclusions. Instead we remain lazy, stubborn and use the standard talking points created for us by our white supremacist systemic past and present.
Our dysfunctional loyalty to our narrative leaves us in a state of obliviousness in regards to racial strife and tension. We would rather point fingers and use a false narrative to justify our train of thought. We would rather defend our demographic, line of work, educational background, nation, and living arrangement than navigate through the absurd narrative that has been handed to us without question or challenge. We would rather move on and we would appreciate it if you would to.
What would help immensely is if we were able to flip the script on our collective dominant narrative. If we were able to figuratively place ourselves in the shoes of others we may gain some insight. This requires not only imagination but listening skills. The kind of skills that absorb what’s being said by those harmed by our narrative instead of waiting our turn to talk so we can counter what’s being said. If we could concentrate on what other folks are feeling instead of reinforcing our own point of view we would be shocked at what we could learn.
Systemic understanding means you’ve put in some hard work. It also means you have been willing to take risks and it means you thirsted for not just intelligence … but wisdom. It means you’ve developed empathy which did not come out of thin air but came from the connections you made. Systemic understanding is what is required of a thinking people, a feeling people, a people in touch with their humanity. After all, race may only be a social construct but what it’s built is a white populace that has never faced its racial past. This inexcusable and in my humble opinion, unforgivable.