Whenever I do something, I do it small.
Every month, I make one significant change of my life to add a new beneficial habit or to undo an unhealthy habit. These healthy habits stay with me after the month ends, and I’m onto the next one.
This month of June, 2020, I am putting in effort to notice when I perpetuate racism. And when I notice it, I am taking responsibility to stop it.
I am wearing a rubber band when I go out. Whenever I judge someone unfairly based on their race, then I will snap the rubber band against my wrist. The pain associated with the previous action trains me to not do the previous thing. I am training myself to not be racist.
When I make this judgment on race, I restrict the opportunity for others to prove their character. This is unfair. If many people do this a few times every day, then this is systemic racism.
Human behavior is complex. There are many other factors that contribute to differences in outcomes, such as wealth or attractiveness. Wealthier people and more attractive people have more opportunities and are more successful. But these topics are beside the present issue, which is race: the color of your skin should not dictate your opportunity because that’s how our country is supposed to work.
We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater; to say that we cannot solve all injustices and so we shouldn’t solve any. Rather, we can start with one: race.
It is constitutionally unfair that our country is designed to give all Americans equal opportunity, but in practice, this doesn’t happen to different races. If black Americans face more barriers to opportunities for justice and education and competition based on their race, whereas I am privileged to get the most opportunities because I am white, then our system is not working as designed and it needs to change.
There’s a difference between unfair outcomes and unfair opportunities. If two students take the same test in the same school and get different scores on a test, this is a difference in outcome. But if possession of drugs is a crime in one zip code and therapy in another zip code, this difference of outcome is likely pointing to a difference in opportunity.
Furthermore, if there has been overt racism in policies that restrict opportunities by race, then getting rid of a racist policy doesn’t mean the racism is gone forever. It could be written into our inner lives from our past. For example, historical Minneapolis housing covenants specifically restricted housing opportunities by race. The neighborhoods that formed as a result have not instantly changed in less than a century. Thus, this injustice could be playing out in individual interactions (or lack of) on a daily basis.
I am a vehicle of cultural systems. The ideas from culture flow through me. Most ideas are positive. But many are negative, such as racism. Even if I am not a racist (which is not guaranteed) and thus I do not come up with my own racist thoughts, it’s still my responsibility to stop systemic racism from flowing through me into my thoughts and behaviors.