Systemic Racism and You

The term systemic racism has come more frequently into use since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I recently read a breakdown of the meaning of systemic racism, also known as institutional racism and how the U.S. of A. was built on those institutions. It’s such a part of how we understand life in America that we take it fully for granted that life is meant to be this way if we are white, and anyone who isn’t white must simply exist in our racist society. 

From the founding of America, our forefathers have set up all of our institutions to favor white people, while others toiled in slavery or other types of servitude. This system and it’s institutional racism became cemented in the American consciousness for generations until our country’s most deadly war was fought over the issue of slavery and ownership of other humans.  

The Emancipation of slaves did not change the institutional racism that existed, only released the black people into the world where white people had held the advantage in every walk of life for generations and were not willing to change.  They were the ones who had to adapt and learn to live free without the advantages or privilege that whites had always known. In that and subsequent generations, the Jim Crow laws were enacted to keep white and black people separated even while “free”. 

Every institution was designed and operated to give whites the advantage and to keep black people disadvantaged. This continued through the 1960’s when even more laws were passed to elevate the black person’s status in society and give them access to the rights that we as whites all take for granted. Housing, education, economical benefits, healthcare, and one of the most precious of all, the right to vote, which black men had been granted in the 1860’s but were systematically deterred and discouraged from doing by KKK and other anti-black organizations.  

Keep in mind that while all of this changed life for the black person, our life really didn’t change. Those institutions that were built to give us the advantage were not torn down, taken apart, or overhauled in anyway. They are still there today, existing as they always have, to give white people the advantage always. It’s so pervasive that many will say it doesn’t exist. There’s not such a thing as institutional racism.  Nothing looks different to them because they’ve always lived under these institutions and systems that favor them. 

If you are one of those who cannot see systemic racism in your justice system, simply look at how many black people are incarcerated in your cities. Look at the statistics on POC (People of Color) killed by police officers before they are able to stand trial.  Look at the banking system and the disproportionate amount of loans denied for mortgages to POC. Look at the funding for public education in poor black neighborhoods. If you will take the time to look, you will find that institutional racism exists and it’s been under your nose all the time. 

Being aware and being informed is a great first step in understanding the crisis that black people are in today. Why there’s a “Black Lives Matter” movement. Why you don’t need a “White Lives Matter” movement. You’ve always had the advantage. You can now use it to stand in unity with your fellow citizens of color. Call out racism where it rears its ugly head, vote to change laws that strive to divide people. Recognize and admit that while you may not think you have lived a privileged life because maybe you had a hard life, the color of your skin was never an issue that kept you from benefitting from America’s bounty. Reach out and start a conversation with a person of color and you will learn a great deal.


About the Author:

Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships. As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters. The Couples Expert Podcast consists of weekly provocative conversations offering the perspectives and insight of experts from a variety of relationship related fields. Stuart also offers daily relationship video tips on The Couples Expert YouTube channel and by subscription in Stuart's Daily Notes. Stuart is happily married and a devoted father of 2 daughters. His office practice serves the greater Phoenix, Arizona area including the cities of Scottsdale, Chandler, Tempe, and Mesa.