Systems are made up of people, systemic racism is based in people

Hill Times June 29, 2020

Racism is harmful. Racism simply says there is no room for those who look different.

Anti-racism is a commitment to the value of equity and human rights. One must value the human rights of others, including others who are different, to be inclusive. One must uphold the principle of equity for all, not just those who look like me. And one must act on the values of equity and human rights.

Ottawa’s Parkdale United Church Rev. Anthony Bailey, pictured on June 5, 2020, at the anti-racism demonstration on Parliament Hill, which attracted an estimated 8,000 people. Systemic racism shows itself in any measure in which Indigenous peoples, or Black Canadians, or people of colour are doing worse than any other group. It is that simple, writes Rose LeMay. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Racism is acting on the belief that some do not have human rights, that equity is not available for all.

I have the right to be free from discrimination. It is a right recognized and upheld by the United Nations. When I experience blatant racism, when another individual blatantly acts or says something to demean me because of my race or culture, that individual is essentially saying that I have no rights, and that my identity is not worthy. Being followed in stores because of the assumption that I’m a thief or telling a youth that she should not expect to make good money because no ‘Indians’ are rich; these things are harmful.

Not all racism is blatant or glaring. Some racism is racism by omission, such as giving a lesser quality of service because of the individual’s race or culture; not getting served as often or at all in restaurants; being invisible in hospitals instead of being served as urgently as any other person in the emergency waiting room. This is dangerous.

Some racism is unconscious bias. Canadians have been brought up on the lies that Indigenous peoples need help, and they’re all just unemployed or unintelligent or poor or drunk. But these are stereotypes, lies told to maintain racism. When Canadians are immersed in them and reinforced through media which rarely highlights Indigenous successes, the lies become ingrained. And then quick decisions are made based on unconscious bias and with grave results. Hospital staff assume the Indigenous person’s stroke symptoms are instead about drunkenness. Police assume the Indigenous person’s clothing represents poverty rather than casualness. The conference assumes the Indigenous speaker’s silence is about lack of intelligence rather than thoughtful consideration. It’s painful.

Repeated experiences of racism, or consistent inclusion in society, might well be a fundamental determinant of well-being in Canada. Repeated racism might well have impacts like repeated trauma and it risks health and well-being.

Systemic racism is the sum of the majority of humans acting on conscious and unconscious bias. Systems are simply the sum of the majority’s values and beliefs in policy and procedure, and the void of the minority’s values and beliefs reflected in policy and procedure and perhaps just missing completely as people. Much of it is from unconscious bias so it is difficult to recognize, but it is glaringly obvious to those who are impacted negatively.

Systemic racism shows itself in any measure in which Indigenous peoples, or Black Canadians, or people of colour are doing worse than any other group. It is that simple. The overrepresentation of Indigenous Canadians in corrections is not a measure of Indigenous criminality—it is a stark measure of systemic racism in the corrections system. The overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples with disease is a measure of the systemic racism in health systems from funding and all the way through to accountability measures. The alarming overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples enduring brutality at the hands of police is a glaring measure of the systemic racism of police forces, leaders, and unions.

Systemic racism calls out both the acts of conscious and unconscious racism, and the silent majority who have done nothing and may continue to benefit from the system. Some leaders simply don’t want the trouble of making changes. Some individuals simply don’t want the status quo to change. The silent majority protects them all. Silence is support.

The spotlight is now focused on the darkness of racism. It is not the light’s fault.