Rachel Maddow did a segment about a twenty-two-year-old woman who thought the definition of racism should be broadened to include references to the concept of systemic. The woman approached Merriman-Webster about altering its definition and to her amazement the publisher agreed and will be revising the definition of racism as well as that of several other words germane to the subject of race.
Earlier I had read a short article about the difference between Mitt Romney and Donald Trump’s background and the actions of their respective fathers. It mentioned that during George Romney’s time he had worked to improve the standard of living for blacks in Michigan. At the same time, Trump’s father Fred had been found in violation of federal law by denying blacks access to public housing in NYC. One son entered adulthood with a sense of empathy while the other made it to old age without.
Thinking about why the concept of systemic should be included in the definition of racism I can think of a couple of things I observed in life. I worked for a company in California that hired whites and Chicanos. If a black came into the front office and asked for a job application they would be given one and offered a chance to fill it out. Once they had and had exited the property, the office manager would fold the application into fours and toss it into the trash can. If it were a Latino the application would be added to a folder in a nearby file cabinet. I don’t know why such happened but that it did was systemic. It was part of the employment system and the product was, we had zero black employees.
In the twenty-six years that I taught in the Greenfield School System, I witnessed what may have been systemic racism. In all those years I can only think of four black employees and one was a young black man doing his student teaching from OU. Of the other three, one was a long-time member of the maintenance crew, one was a special education teacher who was only there for a year, and the third taught intermediate school and left after a couple of years. Given that the black population of the system was probably around ten percent and the school represented some of the best jobs in town, one has to wonder why ten-percent of the employees weren’t black?
As long as there is an automatic bias based on skin color rather than qualifications, that determines who gets what, there is systemic racism. Black Americans live their lives knowing this is the reality while too many white Americans spend too much of their lives trying to convince themselves that it isn’t true.
Maybe this is where the discussion about race should begin.