Yes, We Have Institutional Racism. But This Feels Different

by | Jun 14, 2020 | Politics, Culture

Dr. King only became truly dangerous when he started to speak about world-wide institutional racism structures designed to protect the entrenched power, when he talked about empowering the working poor... Two months later he was assassinated.

This feels different.

In the past, strides have been made by various Civil Rights initiatives, protests, sit-ins, marches, legislation, etc., etc., but at the end of the day, the demand for change encountered invisible brick walls: institutional racism. For example, Civil Rights legislation was passed in 1965, including voting rights, but when people in the south went to vote, they encountered a host of obstructions, including poll taxes, literacy tests, terrorist threats from the local American Taliban KKK operatives. Despite it being the law of the land, the right to vote was sabotaged.

Today we have all kinds of voter suppression machinations, including the insidious gerrymandering, voting locations closed in inner cities, and the discriminatory Voter ID badge. Progress was made but it was only symbolic, marginal, superficial. As time passed, the mechanisms and institutions of racism retrenched, constructing even higher structures meant to preserve the golden goose.

But this feels different.

What all these progressive initiatives did was to chip away at the epidermis of institutional racism. We celebrated the journey of Martin Luther King, his non-violent message, his galvanizing speeches, marches to integrate, but all the milestones that were achieved were cosmetic. After being terrorized, blacks could now eat bad tasting food at a Woolworth lunch counter, a bit of a hollow victory. They never did address the structures that manufactured the racism.

Dr. King only became truly dangerous when he started to speak about world-wide institutional structures designed to protect the entrenched power, when he talked about empowering the working poor, when he talked about world hunger and its causes, and when he shed light on the mechanisms of suppression.

Two months later he was assassinated.

But this feels different.

In 2017, people of color represented just 28% of the population but 56% of prisoners. This isn’t the result of some rogue sheriff deciding to get tough on crime. This is institutional, structural. The common denominator to all these structures is money. These institutions generate money, and lots of it, while ignoring the human cost. The working poor, the underclass, are far too often victims of this greed.

But this feels different.

Today, schools are just as segregated as they were in 1965, despite the groundbreaking legislation meant to integrate schools. In Boston, politicians pitted poor whites against poor blacks, flaming an artificial divide. Roxbury and South Boston both had shitty, underfunded schools. Instead of joining forces, becoming allies in advocating for superior educational institutions, they instead turned on each other, blaming the other for their suppressed conditions, egged on by hidden forces.

Today, educational structures of segregation remain firm, imperious to any laws on the books. By keeping races segregated, students are denied the opportunity to find common ground, denied the opportunity to discover their shared humanity, denied the opportunity to savor another culture, denied the opportunity to be inspired by another culture, and fed disinformation that their poor station in life is a result of that person across the aisle, that person on the other side of the tracks, who happen to reside in the same economic strait jacket as themselves. They don’t look above them for the genesis of their suppression, or the institutions that surround them; they look across the aisle or down. The structural engineers of these institutions of racism fabricate intricate mazes, obscuring the puppet masters that orchestrate and flame the artificial divide among different races and nationalities.

But this feels different.

Despite the sensibility of keeping AK-47s out of the hands of mentally ill people, or teenagers, or criminals, the pure reasonableness of common-sense gun laws; despite all this, we continue to turn our backs on our children. After every mass shooting, we offer our ‘thoughts and prayers’ but do nothing to protect our children. Gun laws save lives. This isn’t about some gun shop owner trying to make a few bucks. This is institutional, structural. The NRA has constructed an impregnable fortress to preserve their ATM with its unlimited cash withdraws, condoned by their enablers in Congress, who readily take the NRA campaign contributions. Right now, the NRA is an impregnable racist structure, saturating our inner cities with weapons.

But this feels different.

Our industries of death: the tobacco industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the military industrial complex, the drug industry (enabled by the bankers who lauder their cash, reminiscent of Northern bankers who invested and financed slavery in the 1800s). These are all structural, their collateral damage we ignore as a society. Our silence emboldens these institutions, letting them know we will willingly turn our heads when their collateral damage surfaces. We remain safe in our cocoon of irresponsibility, as did the good German people who remained silent as Hitler constructed Germany’s concentration camps, ashes blowing in the wind as the ovens baked Jews.

Silence is one of the most powerful enablers of evil.

But this feels different.

There is a common humanity among all the people of this planet: we believe in family, we desire for our kids to have a better life than us, we love to help, we seek community, gainful employment that speaks to our passion. And we all got that crazy uncle that we tell our kids to avoid—but he’s family, which forgives most sins, and we love him just the same.

But this feels different.

I say this because this is the first time in our history that white people are acknowledging our complicity in creating these institutions of structural racism. This is the first time in our history we are recognizing that our humanity, our personal integrity, our salvation, can never be fully realized if our fellow citizens aren’t free, are denied opportunity, are denied equal access, are denied decent education, are denied health care, all because of the color of their skin or their social/economic station. This is the first the first time in our history that we have recognized that many of our institutions are racist and that we have a responsibility to disable the pernicious effects of these structures.

This is why America is the greatest country in the world: we are the first country to figure this out;: that our suppression is not coming from ‘others’, that our suppression is not coming from people in the same socio-economic station, that our survival is inexorably linked to the survival of our fellow man. That we can never be free if our fellow citizens remain in bondage. We have finally figured out that our enemy is not each other, that there is a common humanity that binds us. No other country has figured this out yet; we are the first.

In the past, movements would achieve some measure of change, studies would be commissioned, which served to placate the people, but after the dusk settled, the institutions of oppression were left fully intact, racist institutional fortresses that fostered and generated inequities, wars, hunger. It takes more than courageous civil rights protesters to dismantle, disable these structures. It takes a concerted effort by all races and religions to dismantle racist structures. For the first time, white Americans are willing to listen, to offer the keys, the combinations to the locks of these racist’s institutions. For the first time, black and white Americans are realizing they need each other both for their own salvation but for the nation as a whole.

This is definitely different.

One final note: IF YOU DON’T VOTE, THERE AIN’T NO HOPE!

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