American Experiment: Systemic Racism

I prefer to read versus watch the news…less repetition, and reduces the chance that I will hear the ramblings of the current occupant of the Office of President of the United States. I made an exception to watch Rachel Maddow’s interview with Mary L. Trump, author of “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” and the niece of said occupant.

I actually recorded the it with a plan to watch it later on the night it aired. But before I had a chance to tune in, I saw that the “breaking news” from the interview was that the 45th president of these United States has used racial slurs. I found it a curious revelation that the use of the N-word by a man who has overtly and consistently demonstrated his racism since he came to the national consciousness, would be considered news.

So when I watched the interview, I was interested in, even fascinated by Maddow’s insistent questioning about whether Trump, the author, had witnessed specific instances of Trump, the president, using racial slurs.

The author’s affirmation was not surprising or breaking or even more troubling than any other racist thing the occupant has done. I have no expectation that those who still stubbornly support him will suddenly see the light…or in his case, the darkness and divisiveness.

What was troubling was the focus on the words and the individual.

This emphasis on individual actions as the primary evidence of racism negates the systemic nature of America’s original sin. Because racism is more than individual acts of bias, prejudice or discrimination. Racism is when the full authority of institutions, like the criminal justice system, support the racist behavior of individuals. Racism is imbedded in every system in the United States and every system in the United States maintains the status quo of racial inequality through processes that give advantages to Whites.

On the same day George Floyd was asphyxiated by the full weight of the criminal justice system on his neck, Amy Cooper sought to use that same system to punish an unarmed Black man for having the audacity to ask her to follow the rules. That these White people were motivated by their bias against Black people is obvious; their lack of compassion for another human is chilling. But that they both acted with the full knowledge they were being recorded, clearly reflect their understanding of America’s racial hierarchy and their belief there would be little to no consequences for their action. They both believed the criminal justice system would protect their criminal behavior because that is how systemic racism operates in this country.

Back to the president. We already knew…and apparently many of us are okay, even good with his personal prejudices. But his bias comes with the highest authority in the land and seems unencumbered by the constitutionally created balances that should keep him in check. And that is a danger to every American, regardless of race.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

American Experiment: Never Have I Ever

I have never been brutalized by the police. Most of the police encounters I’ve had have been the result of my tendency to drive too fast, especially on the open road.

I shared this in response to a question from a young activist who asked a group of young activists, mostly millennials, to share their brutal encounters with the Chicago police.

I was the oldest person there and the only one to not have a story of police abuse.

So I listened to their hard-to-hear stories and marveled at their resilience and their willingness to risk additional mistreatment in protest of the state-sanctioned brutality against black and brown bodies.

I don’t have to experience the trauma to be able to empathize with those who have been traumatized. I don’t have to witness the brutalization to be able to see the devastation created. I don’t have to feel the particular confusion of unexpectedly being accused of wrong doing by someone with the state-sanctioned power to kill me to understand the disorientation and mental anguish of those who have.

I can bear witness. I can be a safe, soft landing space for those who seek to alleviate their suffering by sharing their pain. I can amplify their stories in the spaces I occupy.

Most importantly, I can accept their truth as true for them. And I can refrain from voicing doubt or even denying their experience just because it wasn’t MY experience.

“I ain’t going nowhere. If you brave enough to live it, the least I can do is listen.” ~ Cynthia Bond, Ruby

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked