I have a tendency to see the world in terms of the big picture on an extremely macro-level. To me, we absolutely cannot divorce anything we think or do from its socio-historical context, including science, including religion, and including beliefs that we tell ourselves are “personal.”
That said, I feel like I shouldn’t have to write this, but I’m angry. I’m angry at the system. I’m angry at all the white people I know who casually ignore systemic injustice. So, here goes.
Institutional or systemic racism is racism expressed and performed in social and political practices.
This is different from an individual or clearly defined social group (like the KKK) being racist.
Many white people seem to not be aware that systemic racism exists. Or they don’t care. Lack of awareness and lack of caring comes with privilege. Just because you don’t put on a white hood does not mean you don’t participate in racist practices. That’s what systemic racism means.
The origins of the United States as a country are grounded on racist practices–i.e., slavery/the slave trade and genocide of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. “We the People” did not apply to every human living on U.S. soil. It referred to males of European descent with a certain amount of wealth–obviously, or else we wouldn’t have needed the 15th, 19th, and 24th Amendments.
This history still matters, because the existence of Amendments doesn’t change deeply rooted attitudes and prejudices.
Here are some examples of systemic racism:
“Data from the Department of Justice (2001), itself, indicate that Black suspects are approximately five times more likely than White suspects, per capita, to die at the hands of a police officer.” [source]
“Proponents of racial profiling often argue that it is an effective tool for finding individuals or groups engaged in criminal activity. Yet relying on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or other inherent/immutable characteristics has proven time and again to be an ineffective, and often costly, tactic. Empirical data from across the United States proves this point.” [source]
“African Americans are incarcerated in state prisons across the country at more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states.” [source]
Here are fourteen more examples of racism in the criminal justice system: [link]
Are you a statistics person? Here is a multi-level Bayesian analysis of racial bias in police shootings at the county level in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014: [link]
I still see people denying that incarceration rates are grounded in socio-economic inequality or denying that police brutality is plagued by systemic racism. Of course, white people are shot and killed by police, too, but bare numbers don’t give you the full story. Statistics are fine, but context matters.
What was the race of the officer vs. the race of the victim? What are the demographics of the police force vs. the demographic of their district? Was the victim armed? Was the victim in the act of committing or attempting to commit a crime? Was the victim presenting a clear and present danger? Was the victim shooting at police? Did police try any other tactics to apprehend the suspect? Are there any relevant patterns of behavior by the particular officer(s) involved?
There are numerous cases where an armed white suspect has been apprehended instead of being shot [source] for doing things similar to actions that have gotten black men killed. That is a disparity that needs to be examined.
If armed suspects can be apprehended by police, then why aren’t they? And why are some suspects (or people pulled over for “routine” traffic violations) killed when they are clearly unarmed? (And if your answer is “better police training” and not “because the suspect was black,” then that’s also something that needs to be examined.)
Any time anyone responds to any kind of plea for social justice with an “all” or “not all” or “but…” statement, they are missing the point entirely.
Institutional racism, institutional sexism, institutional xenophobia, institutional homophobia, and institutional classism are practices and policies and discourses that don’t bean count. They are so pervasive that you probably aren’t aware of them unless you fall in the group being discriminated against.
Not convinced yet? Here is a set of resources for white people to use to educate themselves about race and racism: [link]
It doesn’t matter that “not all cops” would murder an unarmed black man on a routine traffic stop. It matters that it happens at all, full stop.