Breaking the Pattern
Our current social climate has erupted with anger over the ruthless death of George Floyd at the hands of law enforcement. For the first time we are witnessing a unified global protest, and as a result we are being asked to change: to no longer ignore, negate, or challenge the fact that power and privilege are unequally distributed across racial and cultural divides. Freebird Yoga joins this cause by amplifying the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. Today’s post is dedicated to starting that uncomfortable conversation about white privilege and systemic racism.
There’s a concept in anthropology, it’s called a lens and it represents a subjective perception of reality. We all have a personal lens through which we view the world and it’s based on a very wide and hierarchical set of beliefs. The best way to visualize the complexity of a lens is to see it as a collection of beliefs that we’ve acquired through different interactions across the span of our life. We have beliefs we've acquired through our family and peers, than we have beliefs we gain through day to day interactions within our broader community, and beliefs we gained through interaction with societal and cultural structures.
We are in the midst of a giant societal shift, where the lens through which black and brown people see the world is finally being accepted as valid and real. We are finally seeing the term systemic racism be used by mass media. Just last week an anchor woman, Martha Raddatz, directly asked the secretary of homeland security, Chad Wolf, whether he believed systemic racism was alive in our country’s law enforcement. He said no, which is incorrect, but it made me think that maybe he didn’t know what systemic racism means.
I learned what systemic racism is through my Women Studies, Anthropology, and Sociology college courses. I remember how one professor approached the subject by saying, “racism is easy to identify, understanding systemic racism requires rethinking your day to day experience.” Approaching the topic of systemic racism means you’re no longer looking at whether or not an individual is racist, you’re trying to determine whether a societal system is racist. By societal system I mean things like education, healthcare, prison, housing, job market, law enforcement, etc...
When a pattern of injustice is "systemic" there are certain developmental markers. One, the effects of the pattern are broad reaching, like the amount of black people across the nation being killed by law enforcement. Also, in order for something to become systemic it requires time to grow, so there needs to be a history underpinning a systemic pattern of injustice. Do I even need to point out what the past 400 years have been like for black people? It’s suffice to say there is a strong history underpinning our current state of systemic racism.
The second part, and this is a little more confusing, but the way systemic racism operates is through accepted beliefs about what is “normal.” In order for a racist societal system to stay alive it has to veil or neutralize its inequality. Back track to 2017 when the "Me Too" movement erupted. This movement brought to light the staggering amount of sexual harassment against women by men in the work place. What fueled this pattern of injustice was the unchecked belief that it was normal for men to treat women as sex objects. The saying, “boys will be boys” is an idiom projecting our cultural acceptance of men objectifying women.
I know this is an over simplified example, but the key part to understand is that in order for our society to keep an unjust system alive it requires a very subtle but effective messaging system that normalizes or neutralizes the unequal division of privilege and power. The more subtle a message of inequality is, the higher the transmission. And our culture pumps out millions of “subtle” messages of inequality that we absorb and unconsciously allow to shape our lens.
Systemic racism and white privilege are two sides of the same coin. Our society favors white people in the sense that if you are white you are not subject to systemic racism. Here’s an example; if you are white you are not labeled as a ‘minority’. Using the word minority is a subtle, but effective way to message that white is the “majority”, giving a false impression that white lenses are the only lenses.
Hence, when black communities everywhere are shouting “Black Lives Matter” and there’s the response “All Lives Matter” we are seeing how white privilege influences someone's lens into not acknowledging systemic racism. Yes, all lives do matter, but not all lives are being severely impacted by systemic racism. The All Lives Matter quote is a subtle, but effective way to steer the conversation away from systemic racism and toward a very general and neutral humanitarian point of view that ultimately leads to no change.
So how do we counteract systemic racism? If you haven’t already, you need to acknowledge that systemic racism exists. That doesn’t mean you are racist, it means you live in a society that functions on racism. You need to understand that by not acknowledging the reality of systemic racism you’re essentially feeding this toxic system's livelihood. You need to know how systemic racism works so that you can prevent it from operating on you.
For example when we look at the violent riots and looting that have occurred it’s very easy from a privileged point of view to condemn the people that performed the crime. But here’s the thing... how would you feel? What if you were part of a society that treated you as though your life didn’t matter. What if your history was that of slavery, bigotry, and segregation? What if your child was unjustly shot down and killed by law enforcement and you were made to feel like your child’s death was just another flippant accident by cops?
The point is, if you are white than you don’t know, and you need to accept that. So when you look at the riots and looting connected to the death of George Floyd see a system that has pushed people to the point of breaking. I’m not supporting crime with this statement, I’m saying withhold judgement and think systemically. Stay focused on the issue of systemic racism because that is what fuels these riots. Learn to amplify the narrative of the BLM movement by taking time to listen. It’s the voices coming from black and brown communities who hold the knowledge of how our society can be repaired because they are ones who have experience.
So join us in our commitment to have the uncomfortable conversations, to self-educate, and widen the scope of our lenses.
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