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Day 4: 21 Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

Welcome to Day 4.  Missing something?  Please be sure to read about the challenge here before posting comments.  Day 3 - yesterday.

Watch this short video (4 minutes long) that explains “the four levels of racism.”

  • Where do you see examples of internalized and interpersonal racism in the media or your own life?  
  • Have you seen examples of systematic racism being acknowledged?  
  • When someone states (written in the comments) that focusing on racism is the problem and systemic racism is just focusing on the past and creating more of the problem, how do you feel?
  • From your perspective and work, what if anything is being done to address these levels? 

To post your responses in the comments section, please register as a user on the website (it's free and easy)  We encourage you to share on Facebook and/or Twitter, too, with hashtag #IDPEquityChallenge.

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Systemic Racism

I struggle with systemic racism. I struggle to see where systemic racism exists but not because I do not think it is there but more the opposite - I never knew it was there and am blind to it. When I was taught history in school slavery and KKK felt like a blip ..something that was no longer relevant and I thought racism and bias were behind us in the past and we just needed to all get along. POC's were just being angry and sensitive. (Such shame at how I used to think these things) I am embarrassed to say that I was one of those people that used to say "I don't see color, I only see the people" -- of course I see color and I am white and have all the privilege in the world so that is just a ridiculous thing to say because I don't know what it feels like to not be part of the dominant culture.

I struggle to see and know when systemic racism and bias at are play because I have had the advantage my entire life of these systems. How do I learn about racism and how it impacts my view? I wanted to learn from a POC. I wanted someone to sit me down and just explain to me all the things that I needed to know about how I was a racist (or just misguided...took me awhile to understand really that I am a racist) until I was reminded how it felt to "educate" men on how to not be a misogynist. Being the object and the teacher is a painful expectation of the dominant culture.

So how do I learn? I read different voices and different views. I read specifically about the systems that institutionalize racism. I talk to other white people, like this blog and other groups, about how to unwind my privilege and view. I try to participate in the change through social justice and volunteering. I try to listen when I have the opportunity to hear and speak with a POC about a specific topic on how I can help them rather than white'splaining the answer to them.

I am often caught off-guard about things that have wound up in my life without realizing the impact. A young woman that worked for me asked me to not use the word ghetto and I immediately apologized and realized how inappropriate this word was and I used it for lazy slang when I wanted to use a word that meant putting a temporary solution in that I thought was probably a poor solution. I now use the word McGyver...or just state clearly what I mean.

It was painful to realize how systemic my individual racism is and to try to understand equality and equity at an institutional cultural level is so much bigger and harder to grasp the level of entrenchment. To me, if feels critical that I continue to work on this and talk with my fellow white people to help uncover the myths that I used to believe were truths and the truths I believed that are actually myths.

Jay Smooth’s effective videos

Jay Smooth’s effective videos help clarify the importance of paying attention to systemic racism. To quote: “We cannot have real talk about any of the biggest issues that affect us all as individuals if we are not thinking about the systems involved.” Educating ourselves about individual racism—internalized and interpersonal—is an important first step, but without understanding institutional and structural racism, our efforts may be limited to shaming or correcting ourselves and others. I appreciate the emphasis on how the media avoids or downplays systemic issues affecting racism. It’s a serious challenge to educate ourselves in a culture, reinforced by the media, that personalizes “success” and “failure.”

This morning, a plumber came to my home to fix a defective faucet. He said that he didn’t pay much attention to politics but that we couldn’t take four more years of Obama. He complained about young adults not working, about too much welfare support, about high taxes (his biggest beef), He didn’t mention race or immigration issues, but I wonder if they were under the surface. I hope that what my wife and I said to him will coax him to rethink his views, but I doubt it. (Yes, I'm being a bit arrogant thinking that I am "educating" him, rather than him "educating" me, but I don't want to be so open minded that everything falls out.)

People (like me) reading the IDP blog will benefit personally in our understanding of racism (including, perhaps, our unconscious roles in perpetuating it) and in developing strategies to oppose it, but the people who could most benefit from changes in attitude and practice will never see the blog. I guess an important part of our responsibility is to have difficult conversations with people who are not members of the choir, people we may not meet regularly or whom we consciously avoid. But we also need to address the structural issues and help change the institutions and culture that promote racism. Pick a social or economic problem—incarceration rates, the achievement gap, voter suppression, food deserts, youth unemployment, health care disparities, immigration policies, wealth inequities, unequal education, etc.—and race will be a component. Lots to do, but we can’t get overwhelmed into paralysis.

New perspective

This may seem slightly off-topic but a thought occurred to me as I read this. I am no fan of "The Donald". I think if some of our worst fears are realized, he might just be the worst thing to happen to our country in my lifetime. Thankfully, our system itself makes it unlikely things will become that extreme.

What occurred to me (and this does sort of tie back to the topic at hand) is that I will only know in hindsight whether or not my opinion is more accurate than that of one of his supporters. We're all so sure that we're "right" and those on the other side are "wrong" that each is busy trying to change the mind of the other. As you put it, trying to educate each other. And yet no one is truly listening to alternate viewpoints.

This seems to be one of the problems in race relations as well. I know I'm guilty of it. Just this week I was called to task for defending how far our society has come in terms of racial equity. I freely admit we have more to do but pointed out that lynchings were a regular thing in my parents' lifetimes. Archie Bunker was one of the most popular characters on TV in my lifetime. Both are repugnant to us now.

So, as a privileged white male, it's easy for me to see the progress that's been made and want to "educate" others to maintain perspective. At the same time, someone who has grown up under the yoke of discrimination might try equally hard to "educate" me how wrong I am.

Perhaps a better answer is that we're both right. Yes we have made progress, but just because I'm right in that doesn't mean there is no longer a problem. It also doesn't make those who point out the injustices that continue to exist any less right. It's like me saying "look how much of the house we've cleaned up already" and someone else saying "but the house is still messy". Both views can be simultaneously right.

The more I get into this topic, learn about, think about and engage with others around it, the more expansive my thoughts become.


I really appreciated your comparison to a messy house. What a perfect way to show how both sides can be right but be talking about it from two different perspectives.

General but useful

Even as a broad overview, I found the video useful. Actually, this whole conversation has been opening my eyes to new aspects of inequality that I had been blissfully unaware of before. I guess that's really the point of this whole exercise; to bring about greater awareness and sensitivity.

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