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The time has arrived when I can no longer tolerate accusations of systemic racism without speaking out against it. It is one of the most hateful, absurd, and propagandistic concepts being spread all over the world. And for some reason, many white people have embraced their supposed hatred of people of color and claim they are guilty of this detestable belief.
I’m here to tell you that I am not only not a part of this misguided theory, but it is a theory that has been created to attack white Americans for the indefinite future and have them begging for forgiveness.
I am going to limit my examination of systemic racism to what I know and my own experience, rather than discuss the lies that have been perpetrated, mixed with a few facts, to discount our Founders and the birth of our nation. I have read some of them myself, and they are so irrational and distorted that I know their trashing of our history is not to be taken seriously. Instead, I am going to look at systemic racism through my own personal prism: my history, my belief system, my self-reflection, and my self-knowledge.
I grew up in mainly white Orange County, California. Now and then I would come across black people, and of course they looked different than most of the people I encountered. By different, I mean the kinds of things we notice about others: unusual hairstyles; friends who limped from experiencing polio as a child; people with scars from tragic accidents; all of them looked different, which made them unique.
Once I went to college at California State University, Long Beach, I encountered more black and Asian students. I was a loner, so I wasn’t much friendly with anyone.
My Belief System
My folks never made judgments about other races or religions. We didn’t have meaningful discussions over the dinner table. It’s just not what we did. I can say that they had many black artists that they loved, Sammy Davis Jr. and Harry Belafonte for two, but their color was never mentioned.
But once I stepped into the big bad world and I grew up in the ’60s in Southern California, racism was front and center. I was close enough to the Rodney King Riots that I could see smoke drifting in the air. But I never drew conclusions about blacks as a group. Besides, every race was represented in the violence and looting.
I was called a “dirty Jew” as a child a couple of times, but never as an adult. And other people may have disliked, even hated me, because I was a Jew, but they never said so. I did date an anti-Semite for a very brief time (I dated him because I was curious about his thinking), but eventually he stopped asking me out. I suspect he found me repulsive. So be it.
I’ve reflected on my beliefs about the races. I’ve actually had a lot of interaction with people from Asian cultures and their race didn’t matter to me (nor mine to them). I’ve worked with Latinos and we all did just fine; I remember one fascinating discussion with a group of supervisors who were Latinos and were bilingual. I asked them if they spoke English or Spanish at home and it was a great discussion. (They spoke English to their siblings but sometimes Spanish to their parents.) I have made a few friends who are black, and lost a very dear friend a couple of years ago. We would talk about racism, but not about my own beliefs on race.
* * * * *
So let me digress for a moment to offer a definition of systemic racism :
Systemic racism is both a theoretical concept and a reality. As a theory, it is premised on the research-supported claim that the United States was founded as a racist society, that racism is thus embedded in all social institutions, structures, and social relations within our society. Rooted in a racist foundation, systemic racism today is composed of intersecting, overlapping, and codependent racist institutions, policies, practices, ideas, and behaviors that give an unjust amount of resources, rights, and power to White people while denying them to people of color.
First, I reject the premise that America was founded as a racist country. It is factually and culturally not true. The racism that was so virulent in our early years as a country has been addressed at all levels of society—culturally, legally, governmentally—and I believe that although it still exists, it is far from being systemic.
What I find especially egregious is that parts of the community accuse every white person in this country of being a part of a belief system that they invented from scratch. And they are prepared to declare that white people are pathetic creatures, victimized by this hateful and pervasive doctrine. They are claiming that we have been indoctrinated by this damaging system that is impossible to escape. (I’ve never heard an explanation for those people who are not purely white, but come from the mixture of many races, but I’m not much interested either.)
The most important point I want to make is that people who embrace the systemic racism theory assume that they know me better than I know myself. That is absurd.
They don’t know my favorite ice cream, the kinds of books I read, my hobbies or my education history, and lots more. In fact, most people don’t know anything about me. But they assume because they believe this is a racist country, and because there have been times, blatant and subtle where they have experienced racism, that every white person must be racist and behave in the same way.
They are wrong.
More than that, I have another news flash. I believe that people have the right to believe anything they wish, no matter how misguided and hateful. I have a liberal friend who likes to say that if people have hateful thoughts, they will act on them.
If I get angry at you, I may have the impulse to strike at you. But I am a human being with a brain. I can choose not to hit you and take responsibility for my anger. I may be angry at you for a long time. But my feelings are my business, not yours. I am the one who gets to decide how I feel about all aspects of my life, from chocolate chip ice cream to white supremacy. And whatever my feelings are, they are none of your business.
Even if I hate you.
For a person who believes in systemic racism to say that in spite of their not knowing anything about me, they know the feelings and beliefs that I hold in the deepest recesses of my mind is beyond ridiculous. I am not a victim of my environment; instead, I am a mature, curious, loving person who can decide what I believe in my life.
One of the biggest problems with “systemic racism” is that it ignores agency. That means I have choices in my life about what to believe, how to feel, what to learn and how to act. It is an amazing gift that every human being receives. And as a result, I can choose how I want to feel about anything or anyone.
That choice is mine and mine alone.
No proponent of systemic racism can tell me otherwise.Published in