It’s Not Personal

I posted recently on Facebook this statement:

500 years of white domination, and people say, “Who, me?”
Racism is systemic, not personal.

Obviousy, racism gets very personal. What I meant is that systemic racism is very real and deeply embedded in every facet of our national life in the U.S., regardless of how individuals may personally feel about people of color.

This nation was built on the myth of individual responsibility, which is both a “grand narrative” people live by and a fundamentally flawed idea that each person is free to pursue their dreams regardless of what happens to them. This myth blames people, especiallly people of color and people who are poor, for their “choices” and their “laziness.” Stereotypes of Black and Indigenous people have been particularly brutal and self-defeating when accepted by the people themselves.

The familiar words of John Donne – “no man is an island” – rings true as we work to change the narrative. Racism is systemic. North America, in particular, has had 500 years of oppression and injustice at the heart of its existence, including slavery and genocide, brutal treatment of children and families enforced by law, legal restrictions of where people could live and what they could do that dehumanized people of color, and denial of human rights under the law.

Personal choices and individual “freedom” were never granted – and still are not – to people of color in the same way they were to white people. Those of us who are “white” cannot now blame non-white people for their situation in life after 500 years of intergenerational trauma caused by us. It is not just personal. It is systemic.

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