By Edward Shaw
I'm is a 78-year-old writer, corporate and political speechwriter, and a politics junkie for 60 years.
RACISTS ARE made, not born. Racism’s not genetic. Racism is learned. It’s passed down — in word and deed — from grandfather to father, and father to son, and mother to daughter, and so on and so forth, from generation to generation, from time immemorial. From the first breath they take, racists are scripted by their racist parents, indoctrinated by their racist communities, instructed by their (hypocritically) racist churches, and (nowadays) encouraged by their racist “friends” online. But while racism is not per segenetic, it’s as indelible as if it were. Because for all practical purposes, racism isimmutable. I think that embracing this doctrine must fulfill some sort of neurotic need in the racist’s psyche — to feel superior, to feel in control, to project repressed anger, to fit in? But whatever its psychic function, racism is wholly inaccessible to reason or to logical discourse. To paraphrase the comedian, Ron White: “You can’t fix racism!”
So we must accept the reality that, until we can stop racist parents from breeding racist children, there will be racists among us for a very, very long time. Racism’s not going away, and racism can’t be fixed. What canbe fixed, however, in both the public and private sectors, is every law, statute, ordinance, practice, policy, procedure, and regulation that — by its intent or in its effect— discriminates against, disadvantages, or denigrates anygroup or race or nationality or culture in the country. Let us remember that it’s peoplewho pass those laws and statutes and ordinances; it’s peoplewho institute those practices, policies, procedures, and regulations; and it’s people— as members of the judiciary — who stamp all of those laws and policies and practices as kosher. When these people are racist, then any law, statute, ordinance, practice, policy, procedure, or regulation (etc.) they create will most likely be racist. “Racism is what racism does,”to paraphrase Mr. Gump; and racist people pass racist laws (etc.). So even if we can’t fix racism per se, we can certainly fix what racism does.
“Systemic Racism.” Is racism in America widespread? You bet it is! Is racism in America pervasive? Yes; there’s hardly a sector of American society that’s immune from it. Is racism in America historic? Provably: It dates back (for Black Americans) to c.1620 — and for Native Americans, to Hernando de Soto’s massacre of Florida’s Napituca people in 1539. But is racism in America systemic[sy-stem-ic, adj., “of or relating to a system”]? If so, then to what particular system(s)does the word refer? The economic system? The political system? The governmental system? The judicial system? The communications system? The transportation system? The educational system? The banking system? The ‘corporate’ system? All of the above? And ifall of the above, then how does the term help us better understand, or more effectually come to grips with, the realities of racism in America as we find them on-the-ground today? I don’t believe that it does. The phrase “systemic racism” is just a synonym for widespread racismor for pervasive racismor for historicracism. It is nothing more than a hollow buzzword, which is almost always invoked, these days, as a covert (and erroneous) substitute for systematicracism, with all that phrase’s sinister connotations of intractability and its subtle echoes of Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.
The truth is that all the above-referenced “systems” are really, as I’ve said, nothing more than people— real, living, breathing people going about their jobs day to day. No “system” in and of itself is racist. The racism of systems (“systemic racism”) resides only within the hearts of the people who design and run these systems. If we’re to “fix” these systems — reconfigure them so that they no longer produce racist outcomes — then we’ll have to replace the racists who design and run and regulate those systems. We can do this, of course, most effectually at the ballot box — and through our vote, ultimately, in the halls of Congress. But current events have shown (once again) that we ordinary citizens, bonded by a common cause, can also effectuate meaningful change by the many decisions we make as consumers. The rebranding campaigns announced recently by the makers of Aunt Jemima pancakes, Uncle Ben’s rice, Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup and others — while inarguably long overdue — are testimony to the power of an idea whose time has come.