Understanding Systemic Racism Part 2 – by Joseph Nwoye, Sabah Holmes

Is this the beginning of a revolution that finally addresses racism honestly?

Part 2: The Present and A Way Forward

The continuum of violence against African Americans and the Black Community

What has happened in the past is not different from what continues to happen today because racism is generational.  Racists who have committed crimes use all the tools of systems of privilege built in their favor to avoid being held accountable. In doubtful circumstances, lawyers have changed venues for trial to predominantly White communities where their White accomplice juries can unconsciously and consciously exercise bias. 

The cases we highlighted in Part 1 as examples of racist practices and White Privilege are just a few of the many in America, and these speak only to recorded criminal instances; recognizing that many unrecorded daily injustices frequently occur. In addition to the Justice system and law enforcement; organisations, the health service and higher education have their own examples of systemic, biased, bigoted and segregated approaches rooted in history and continuing to impact the lives of the Black community and those of colour in covert and unrecorded ways even today.

The UK for example has its share of race riots in the 1960s, documented disparities within Healthcare and Higher Education sectors of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) group, the recent Windrush Scandal and Stephen Lawrence’s case which led to an enquiry and a review after 2 decades that demonstrated not much has changed in terms of racism within the UK and particularly the police force. Lived experiences of those working in police forces, workplaces various key sectors such as Higher Education and the civil service are often not captured widely because communities of color often do not feel they have the privilege of speaking up for fear of repercussions and backlash.

Similar instances exist within communities of color but present differently. In India, there have been several documented cases of Africans being beaten up by a mob after having been incorrectly accused of a crime they were found innocent of and experiences of daily racism by African students to an actress, Esha Gupta who mocked Alex Iwobi, an Arsenal football team player, calling him a “gorilla”, a “Neanderthal”, and someone “who evolution has stopped for” in a WhatsApp chat.

The common strain across these cases that span from the US to UK and India however, is the criminalization of those from the Black community which points towards a socialized and acculturated view of Black equating to bad and White equating to good – A myth that is perpetuated within many societies that prefer fairer skin to darker skin and equate these skin-deep differences to socially constricted binary definitions of what and who is acceptable versus unacceptable.

Of note is that the consequences for racists are never far reaching or equivalent in their impact as the profound disrespect of human rights that the racist themselves has caused.

Privilege and power have acted historically to deny the damage racism does, decry its profound impact and the traumatic consequences for those who are the victims of overt and covert racism, and as recently as 2020, of the denial of racism’s existence itself. Of note also are the statements by Candace Owens and Boris Johnson who believe that American and British societies respectively do not suffer from racism. Such narratives from influential individuals are hurtful and damaging.

When those in any administration employ language that equates civil rights protestors with thugs, they deflect the attention of a positive movement against racism by focusing on some bad actors or those who loot and burn down businesses. What they therefore ignore is the pain and suffering that has led so many to try and burn through the resistance to racism in order to make themselves heard. Such efforts dismiss, gaslight and diminish the pain that has been suffered by the Black community and communities of color for centuries and is counter-productive.

While violence is not to be condoned, it is apparent that critical players in positions of power, not just in America but around the world, do not recognize racism and the devastating current and historical impact that racism has on those who suffer it daily at work and in life.

Cause for hope?

Following the most recent incident and the brutality with which George Floyd was killed two weeks ago, so many have been galvanized to demonstrate their views against racism – Black, White and South Asian.

Enough is Enough is the message. Is it being heard however? There are still those in power that deny racism’s existence. Civil rights protesters in support of Black lives are still treated as and termed “thugs”.

Although people are seeing more, saying more and feel that this time is different and something meaningful can be done to upend overt and covert discriminatory practices, we remain unconvinced.

All these years, African Americans have gone through multiple anguishes, and each time, America purports to change, and while some want to see change, others, especially those at leadership levels, consistently shift chairs around and do little to indicate that any change would occur. And we go through the same process generation after generation while the reality remains unchanged.

Furthermore, when someone is brave enough to speak out, those in authority immediately deny, deflect, defend, and deny some more. As evidenced in the recent murder of so many African American by racist criminals in suits, police and vigilantes alike, it is hoped that this time something might change. We remain cautious observes because this is a systemic problem and therefore requires a systemic solution, which can only result if systemic issues and the reality of systemic inequalities, racism and discriminatory practice and behaviors are actually accepted by those in power.

We will just have to wait to see what those in power and politicians on the right and left do about the continued disadvantages, ill-treatment, pain and disproportionate death faced by African Americans and those in the Black community around the world in their respective spaces.

Create a contextual roadmap

Change in approach: We cannot change the historical and current belief system that continues to drive racist acts towards African Americans and others if we address it as we always have. Non-traditional and lived experience-based approaches need to be employed.  Under-represented groups must be protected and do not suffer negative consequences as a result of sharing the honest truths about their interactions with various societal systems across sectors, whether at work or in daily life within their community.

Understanding and accepting the complexity of intersectionality and embedding this at the heart of solutions designed to tackle racism  is critical because all identities that attract discrimination and fear are interconnected. Ethnicity or the social construct of race is inextricably interlinked with every other identity like gender and sexual orientation, age, disability, socio-economic, marital and parental statuses. Therefore, having honest conversations around race and racism inevitably unravels challenges of other layers of difference in which people of color, especially the Black community, suffer systemic inequalities.

Acceptance, a Beginning: We believe that in order to begin to address racism and tackle racist behaviors, the first step is to accept the fact that racism, discrimination and marginalization of African American people is indisputable in every spectrum of our culture, in America and the world; i.e. it is real. Upon accepting that this is real, the next step is to understand and identify the ethnic hierarchy of discrimination in the context of each society, culture and country. Solutions produced will therefore be relevant to the context.

It is evident that in America, other countries in the world and former colonies, that not enough has been purposefully done across industries and sectors to authentically commit to actions that create equity of all, and grant fair access to opportunity to those most disadvantaged. There has not been  recognition of barriers as they exist and are experienced by those living discriminatory experiences and not as judged by those in positions of power or from their White privilege.

Voice, Ending Suppression: There must be acknowledgement of the protection of organizational reputations by the following: demonization of Blackness and non-white color, weaponization of Whiteness against the Black community and communities of color, dismissiveness of lived experiences, gaslighting, microaggressions, tokenism, or suppression of voice. Patronizing and telling approaches by White peers to communities of color are unhelpful, destructive and divisive practices that need to be acknowledged as taking place and then come to an end. That these exist across all industries and across various cultures and communities, especially in White communities, must be accepted if any meaningful progress is to be made.

Understanding Whiteness: White fragility, White privilege and Whiteness as a color and ethnicity must be understood better by the White community and their impact on others as a result must be understood where they move past their guilt, shame and resistance to change. For too long the focus has been on Black and communities of color as under constant scrutiny. It is time that the scales are balanced so that an equal footing can be achieved and this can only happen when White culture works towards defining itself with value systems that go beyond words on pages or in regulation and present themselves in action that creates positive experiences for the Black community with priority and for communities of color to follow.

Comprehensive Review, Forego Selective views: America, like the UK, has regularly selected aspects of equality, diversity and inclusion they want or accept, that change with changing administrations, can be undone or changed due to partisan preferences or due to covert power plays by unscrupulous politicians and lobbyists who exploit and manipulate aspects they like or dislike based on their selfish interests.

Defining and Analyzing Belief Systems: Our individual and collective belief systems inform and define all we do. How we are conditioned from birth and how our parents were before us, define what aspects of acceptance and resistance to newness we adopt. Establishing and examining belief systems that are operating in shared environments and doing so comprehensively and honestly is a must for even the smallest level of change to occur on the journey to tackle racism and systemic inequalities.

These steps are critical parts of a more detailed roadmap that needs to be contextually created for each organization or system,  analyzed with the purpose creating systemic behavioral changes.

Awareness and consciousness of someone else’s lived reality, rather than an assumed perception from a place of privilege, is fundamental to tackling systemic racism. Such an approach creates learning without demonizing the learners and creating a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ narrative or being limited by past pain and anger which while valid, hampers individual and collective progress. Belief formation must be understood, accepted without being assigned good vs. bad labels. Belief transformation can only be created slowly and over the long term because forcing change and new belief systems on any community can evoke resistance and temporary or surface-level change. No learning can occur without accepting the need to change, realizing that one doesn’t know better than someone else, and considering the giver of knowledge from an under-represented group as a worthy equal.

For now, as the world looks, talks and writes about George Floyd’s case. The families of Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Botham J were all in attendance at Floyd’s funeral as if to induct Floyd’s loved ones into a tragic fraternity of black victims of racism and police violence. George Floyd’s brother testifies to the United States Congress while protests continue in America and in various parts of the world, joined by White allies and resisted by many. We learn more about law enforcement and the differing responses seen towards Blackness against a White backdrop. We learn of what is demonized by some in power and society versus what is accepted, even as in the UK, far right activists fill streets and colonial era statues are protected over and above the constant lived struggles and sentiments of the Black community who have already endured generational trauma of slavery and colonization.

It is not just Mr. Floyd but the families of Black people who are dying just because of the color of their skin. They stand united by the commonality of their pain and anguish stemming yet again from their shared experiences of death and suffering discrimination throughout their life. They plead for change. They beg to be heard.

CLICK for Part 1

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