Systemic Racism Part 1: Definition and History
The mission of the Racial Justice Ministry is to “raise awareness and understanding of and engagement with racial identity and racism, including our individual and collective opportunities to achieve racial justice.” This document is intended to raise awareness and understanding of systemic racism by providing a collection of print and video resources.The resources are divided into three groups: (1) what is systemic racism, (2) the history of systemic racism, and (3) overcoming systemic racism. As you consider the issue of systemic racism, consider these questions:
- What does the term “systemic racism” refer to?
- How is systemic racism different than individual racism?
- What is the history of systemic racism in the US?
- How has systemic racism evolved over time?
- As an individual, what can I do to reduce systemic racism?
A dictionary definition of racism is a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race (note 1). Racism takes two related forms: (1) Individual racism refers to explicit individual acts by Whites against individual Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. (2) Systemic (institutional or structural) racism refers to actions, both explicit and implicit, acts by the white community against the communities of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
As a more formal definition, systemic (institutional or structural) racism refers to the oppressive racist realities that have been institutionalized and manifest in all of society’s parts including the economy, politics, education, religion, family, etc. It includes (1) exploitative and discriminatory white practices targeting people of color, (2) institutionalized economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, and (3) dominant racial frame generated to rationalize white privilege and dominance. (note 2)
Note 1: Merriam Webster Online Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism
Note 2: Joe R. Feagin (2010). The white racial frame: Centuries of racial framing and counter-framing, p. viii.)
Important characteristics of systemic racism
- It can be either intentional or unintentional. Because of this, racist acts are best defined by their impact rather than their intent.
- It is one way. One group with political, economic, and social power uses that power to its own advantage and to disadvantage another group that has limited or no political, economic, and social power.
- It is systematic and pervasive throughout a society’s institutions. And it is actively and regularly maintained by individual and collective actions.
- It mutates over time. Its form changes but its goal remains unchanged: maintaining the power and advantage of one group over another.
What is systemic racism?
- acttv (2019). Systemic racism explained (animated video – 4:23). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ
- Ben & Jerry’s (n.d.) 7 ways we know systemic racism is real (website). https://www.benjerry.com/whats-new/2016/systemic-racism-is-real
- Rose, Tricia (2015). How structural racism works (video – 1:01:19). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KT1vsOJctMk
- Structural discrimination: The unequal opportunity race (2016, animated video – 3:40). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_A1JKJ506o
- Wilkerson, Isabel (2020). America’s enduring caste system. The New York Times Magazine, July 5, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/01/magazine/isabel-wilkerson-caste.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap
The history of systemic racism
- Alexander, Michelle (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (revised edition). New York: The New Press.
- Anderson, Carol (2016). White rage: The unspoken truth of our racial divide. New York: Bloomsbury.
- Bouie, Jamell (n.d.). The Enlightment’s dark side: How the Enlightenment created modern race thinking, and why we should confront it. Pocket. https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-enlightenment-s-dark-side
- Gill, Jill (2020). Why Idaho’s Racist History Matters: Part 1. Idaho Matters interview by Gemma Gaudette. Boise State Public Radio. https://www.boisestatepublicradio.org/post/why-idahos-racist-history-matters-part-1#stream/0
- Gill, Jill (2020). Why Idaho’s Racist History Matters: Part 2. Idaho Matters interview by Gemma Gaudette. Boise State Public Radio. https://www.boisestatepublicradio.org/post/why-idahos-racist-history-matters-part-2#stream/0
- Katznelson, Ira (2005). When affirmative action was white: An untold history of racial inequality in 20th century America. New York: W. W. Norton.
- Kendi, Ibram X. (2016). Stamped from the beginning: The definitive history of racist ideas in America. New York: Nation Books.
- Lockshin, Ben (2020). Richard Rothstein lays out the reality of government-mandated segregation in “Color of Law.” Greater Greater Washington, May 24, 2020. https://ggwash.org/view/77589/richard-rothstein-lays-out-the-reality-of-government-mandated-segregation-in-color-of-law
- Robinson, Jeffery (n.d.). Five truths about Black history. ACLU 100 years. https://www.aclu.org/issues/racial-justice/five-truths-about-black-history
Audio and Video Resources
- Bainbridge, Danielle (2018). The origin of race in the USA (video – 10:15). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVxAlmAPHec
- Battalora, Jacqueline (2014). Birth of a white nation (video – 36:46). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM6ehzu3p4c
- Charles, Mark (2019). We the People: the 3 most misunderstood words in US history (video – 17:48). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOktqY5wY4A
- Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America (2020). PBS documentary (video, 1:55). https://www.pbs.org/video/driving-while-black-race-space-and-mobility-in-america-achvfr/
- Farley, Reynolds (2008). The Kerner Commission report plus four decades: What has changed? What has not? Report 08-656. Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. https://www.psc.isr.umich.edu/pubs/abs/5632
- Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. (2016). Black America since MLK: And still I rise. PBS, 4-hour video series. https://www.pbs.org/show/black-america-mlk-and-still-i-rise/
- Hall, Alvin & Woods, Janee Woods (2020). Driving the Green Book Podcast. MacMillan Publishers. 7-episodes. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/driving-the-green-book/id1519839250
- Hip Hughes (2016). Jim Crow explained. (video – 17:44). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_gOtZ–4WE
- Mendieta, Eduardo (2015). Race and racist institutions (video – 7:04). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXdXw-7Q82o
Overcoming systemic racism
- Ogunrinola, Dele & Newton, Nisha Jae (2020). How Black Lives Matter allies can help fight for justice. Idaho Statesman Guest Editorial, July 12, 2020. https://www.idahostatesman.com/article244030442.html
- Higgins, Maeve (2020). Trying to be “one of the good ones. The New York Times Opinion, June 21, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/19/opinion/sunday/antiracism-white-people.html
- Urban Institute (2019). 4 strategies to eliminate the harmful effects of systemic racism. Colorlines. https://next50.urban.org/question/structural-racism#structural-racism-promising-solutions