Having a black friend or making cookies for a black person (a.k.a. “love”) is not going to end systemic racism and systemic injustice. Systemic problems require system solutions. I asked my friend Joseph Harris (his “Boiling Points” poem is featured here) for some wisdom from an African American perspective on systemic solutions to racism. Below Joseph’s ideas are some practical ideas of my own.
From Joseph, paraphrased: (My thoughts in italics)
- Racism is problematic because it’s so normal. It’s woven into the everyday fabric of our society and because of its normalcy, it’s hard to actually recognize it unless it is blatant. So racism has become stereotyped as “southern hick hillbilly”—making it hard to recognize when it’s in more subtle ways. So part of changing society is starting to notice not only the OVERT racism, but the thousands of micro aggressions that happen on a daily basis.
- White people should talk about these issues with other white people, in white spaces. –Talk to audiences who would instantly dismiss a black person as bias, playing “the race card,” an exaggerator or a liar, but they might listen to you.
- There is a strong belief among scholars of color that the system will refuse to change on its own… that issues surrounding race do not become priorities until it is in the interests of THE SYSTEM to make them priorities. (You see this all the time with social issues. The NFL didn’t start cracking down on domestic violence until the Ray Rice case was caught on video for all to see. Once it was exposed, companies started threatening to pull their high-priced sponsorships. After years and years of turning a blind eye to these cases, the NFL instantly became champions against domestic violence with anti-violence commercials featuring prominent players, as well as never-before-seen harsh penalties and suspensions for players in question. Sadly, economics are much more powerful to bring change than morality is. William Wilberforce was finally able to abolish the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in England not through moral or Christian argument (which was his personal motivation), but by convincing the British Parliament that their slave trade was economically benefiting their political enemies, the French.)
- For example, there have been years and years and years of issues in the Ferguson community. They have been speaking out against aggressive policing and aggressive tactics for years. After the first set of riots the mayor and chief of police said they wanted to get training from the Department of Justice to learn how to regain the trust of the community. Well that didn’t happen because one day they had an epiphany. It happened because their city was burning, they had national attention and the feds were breathing down their necks. It was now IN THEIR INTEREST to engage with the community…when before it wasn’t.
A lot of what I describe here is about understanding how we got where we are (which most whites, like myself a few years ago, have no idea about) and how becoming integrated as a society would be a major step forward:
- Understand what white privilege is. There is a list of 50 of statements created by Dr. Peggy McIntosh entitled “On the Invisibility of Privilege” that you should check out. Then understand you can take your privilege and use it to do something to remedy the system, rather than to continue to perpetuate the system. If you think about it, those are your only two options: remedy or perpetuate.
- Understand how we got here. Learn about the laws our nation was founded on that gave whites supremacy over all other skin colors and how this created a systemically racist society that we still live in. If you don’t understand this, you’ll continue to lean on “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” sorts of answers to racial inequity, having no acknowledgement of why white bootstraps are waaaay longer than black ones.
- Understand how affluent white suburbs and poor black ghettos were intentionally formed by our white government. And then understand all of the many ripple effects of this today.
- Live in a neighborhood that is not all-white
- Attend a multiracial church
- Challenge your church leadership to hire racially diverse leadership and staff
- Challenge your church to preach and teach about the sins of systemic racism and the many Bible verses that address this (Ephesians 2:14-16; 1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 12:12-27; John 17:20-21; Revelation 7:9; Amos 5:21-24)
- Be supportive of efforts such as Affirmative Action. No, this is not a perfect solution, but it is progress and directly attacks a systemic problem with a systemic solution.
- Be supportive of efforts such as the United Negro College Fund and other efforts that help get people of color into higher education
- In a church setting, create scholarships for people of color to attend Bible college or seminary
- Publicly speak out against systemic racism when you see it
- Lobby for reform in our justice system to help protect minorities who do not have the white privileges we have. Lobby for police departments to require cameras on all of their police officers. Lobby for grand jury indictment processes involving police brutality to be decided by federal or third party prosecutors, not local prosecutors who work side by side with the police on a daily basis. Note: these steps will help protect all involved, including the police, the grand jurors and local prosecutors. If you didn’t know, this is the main thing being protested in the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford and Tamir Rice cases: none of the white police officers who shot and killed these unarmed men even went to trial. The protests are over a legal system that communicates that police officers can essentially do whatever they want without ever having a real possibility of going to trial for their actions.
- Participate in peaceful protesting when these injustices happen.
- Listen to people of color. Learn from them. Do not draw your opinions on race from your own white experience. This makes as much sense as me thinking I know everything about China when I have never been there, but I’ve eaten at a few Chinese restaurants. And when you listen to people of color and allow them to teach you, do so with humility and believe them. Do not be suspicious of people playing “the race card.” This suspicion closes down any chance for productive dialogue.
Please feel free to contribute your thoughts on more systemic solutions to systemic racism.
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