Systemic Racism: What is it really?
Today, some League of Women Voters members on First Hill viewed a program with Tricia Brown and Samuel Rosen discussing systemic racism. I composed some of my thoughts on this prior to the meeting, but I’m putting them in this blog post today. This would be a good chance for you to practice your commenting skills!
Most League members in Seattle and King County live in majority White neighborhoods, even here on First Hill. If we consider our neighborhoods diverse, it is likely that we have more Asian or Hispanic neighbors than Black neighbors. For our August meeting, we will spend an hour listening to Brown University Professor Tricia Rose discuss familiar facts of racial disparities in the US. Yet her focus on neighborhood segregation will challenge all of us to think of how we came to live where we do, and how our individual decisions have impacted Black lives in America.
As a child, as soon as I was old enough to answer the phone, I had to learn to say the words, “No, mam, we don’t rent to colored.” My dad owned several rentals, so when one was vacant we would get calls about them. Usually, I was spared the need to say these words. Black people who called, usually women, would simply ask straight away, “Do you rent to colored?” I would only have to say, “No.” I hated it. Somehow, I knew at a young age that this was wrong, but I was never able to seriously challenge my dad until I was in high school.
Even with this background, I have lived my entire adult life in White neighborhoods. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some amazing Black colleagues, but I don’t currently have close Black friends. Many of us don’t. And here I am, living the rest of my life at Horizon House, a predominately White retirement home in predominately White Seattle.
When I first learned of Horizon House, my nickname for it was “the Happy House of White Privilege.” Let’s imagine how we would react if the racial mix of Horizon House or First Hill in general were to shift over the coming years. I suspect we would be slow to grow uncomfortable if more Asians moved in, but at some point we’d start thinking about the shift. But how many new Black residents would it take before we start to become just a little anxious. Will they change the culture in good ways or bad? Will they affect our financial stability? Will having more Black people visible to “shoppers” affect the desire of White people to move in?
Professor Rose and her colleague Samuel Rosen provide academic background on structural racism, then take a fascinating dive into the Trayvon Martin case. Rosen focuses not on the specifics of his death, but on the history of both Martin and Zimmerman and the neighborhood in which his killing took place. They encourage us to challenge the narrative of individual responsibility for events like this and prompt discussion of broader factors at play.
Rose’s views are not universally accepted, even in the Black community. Another Brown Professor, Glenn Loury quibbles with structural racism as the explanation for every instance of Black misfortune in this thorough interview with Glen Yu. Loury is but one of many Black intellectuals who are concerned about the recent intense focus on structural racism. Others include John McWhorter, Chloe Valdary, Coleman Hughes, Kmele Foster, Thomas Chatterton Williams, and… many more. Be strong, and listen to a dissenting voice.
This is a digression, but I wonder if white women aren’t better able to perceive structural racism than white men. Because of the experience of sexism. What woman hasn’t entered a male-dominated room without feeling that just by virtue of being female she sticks out —doesn’t belong. And/or being painfully aware when she dares speak that her female voice is conspicuous and discordant with the general tenor of the meeting. I’m not saying that experiencing sexism is as bad as experiencing racism, but it provides a window into being instantly judged and negatively stereotyped by your immutable physical
Good point. It’s hard to compare sexism and racism, but being half the population helps. I remember attending a hearing about something or other in Skagit County. Big room, full of men. County Commissioners (two men, one woman) listening. I was overwhelmed by the testosterone in the room and unable to speak. So, yes, I think we can “get it” more easily than men. And perhaps we are more introspective.