“Systemic racism” is a phrase that we have all heard recently, but what does it really mean? Does it mean “Everone is a racist,” or “You are a racist” or “I am a racist?”
No, that is not what it means. In fact, the phrase does not refer to individuals or their behavior. The phrase refers to the way our “system” works. Systemic racism operates under the radar of most of us.
For example, ownership of property is an American value. Owning land or a home is the way most white Americans are able to pass value down to the next generation while Americans of color are far less likely to be able to do so. Certain ZIP codes get labeled “higher risk” and banks charge higher interest rates and/or require larger down payments when they make loans for property in these areas. There is no determination of the borrowers’ race but because they want to purchase a house in a largely Black-inhabited ZIP code, it is more expensive and thus harder to do so. The U.S. Department of Agriculture refused until the late 1970s to make crop loans to Black farmers, which frequently meant that local banks were able to foreclose on these farms. As hard as it is for white farmers to make a living, the African American farmer has almost vanished.
These practices and so many more will continue until the majority of Americans understand that systemic racism and “white privilege” do not come from conscious acts of discrimination. They are part and parcel of the American way and will continue until we make a concerted effort to change them. Shall we try?