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We Need a Systemic Solution for Racism

Systemic racism requires a systemic solution. I am convinced that God cares about justice in a systemic and structural way.

The Human Body Is a System

I’ve been having foot pain recently on the bottom of my soles, which seems to flare up whenever I run on asphalt too many days in a row. The human body is a complex system, which layers of different muscles that interweave and support one another. When one muscle is weakened, the body compensates by exerting more strain on the muscles around it.

The root cause for muscle pain is often not the muscle itself, but a different area in the body entirely. In the case of my hurting soles, my physical therapist explained that the most probable explanation for my reoccurring pain was that I had weak calves. To compensate for weak calves, my body responded by contracting my feet (particularly my left foot) in a particular way that resulted in pain when accompanied by repeated impact against the ground.

Racism Is a System

I’ve come to understand that systemic racism is the same way. There is a root problem, nestled deep into the fibers of this nation, that surfaces pain in so many other “unrelated” areas. Police brutality is one such example.

I admit to a vivid memory of first being confronted with the Black Lives Matter movement after the shooting and death of Michael Brown. I remember being confounded, shocked, and horrifyingly drawn into the story: the autopsy reports, the contradictory witness accounts, the conviction of Darren Wilson…I was intent on getting to the truth: was Michael Brown fleeing or charging when he was shot? Was it justified self-defense, or was it manslaughter?

By focusing on that individual case though, I was missing the larger point of the Black Lives Matter movement: a movement to confront the continual, subversive, historical, and powerfully imbedded bias against black people in our country. Arguing about the altercation between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson was like focusing on the pain in the sole of my feet rather than trying to figure out where the problem actually came from.

Defining Racism as a System

What is a system? “Things working together, intentionally, for a purpose, and an intended outcome or common goal.”

Starting early on in American history, the intended outcome of systemic racism has always been the suppression of black African slaves in order to keep the power within the dominant European white. You see it with the Native Americans, you see it with the subsequent Asian immigrants, but you see it particularly with the African slaves because that was the intended outcome from the beginning.

And systems, when working, are meant to be invisible. The Q&A above points out that “you don’t notice a system until it breaks.” Think about it. No one ever gives a second thought to our highway systems until there is an accident, or a blockage, or construction.

You never pause to think about your nervous or circulatory system because… it just works.

For systemic racism, it isn’t talked about because for the majority of people in the United States, the system works for them. For people whom it doesn’t, it is painfully obvious.

Black people have a real, felt, lived experience of oppression in this nation ever since the very beginning. Mass incarceration, police brutality, and socioeconomic disparity are all individual symptoms to this root cause of oppression and racism.

A Systemic Solution

A systemic injustice has to be met with a systemic solution. We cannot tackle any of these issues in isolation. Such is the dilemma in our nation. We either get bogged down by the individual symptom (debating mass incarceration, focusing purely on socioeconomic disparities, arguing about redlining), or else we simply deny the existence of a centralized problem. Until we recognize and the root issue, we keep chasing symptoms instead of fixing the undergirding problem.

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One Comment

  1. […] The announcement of making Juneteenth an official US federal holiday might feel a lot like “too little, too late.” But as I’ve been processing through the past year, I think God cares a whole lot about justice. And justice is usually accompanied by systemic change. […]

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