Letter: Systemic racism can’t be ignored

From: Clarence White


On May 31, the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre was observed. But there were numerous similar massacres. Among them are: Wilmington NC (1898), Atlanta (1906), Springfield IL (1908), Chicago (1919), Washington DC (1919), Rosewood FL (1923), Detroit (1943) and Philadelphia (1985). The effect of these massacres continues to this day.

Anyone who says racism is a matter of the human heart is not looking at the big picture. Racism is primarily systemic, and the systemic aspects of racism are what does the most harm to people of color.

One might be able to ignore the bigoted relative, neighbor, or co-worker. That source of racism is not a good thing, but it can be ignored.

Systemic racism is ignored, not by those who suffer from it, but by those who benefit from it. To reduce racism to simply a matter which occurs on the personal, individual level, is in effect, to empower racism, because the real harm is done by systemic racism.

The 1921 Tulsa race massacre not only caused 300 deaths, multitudes of people became homeless. And because it happened in a financially prosperous district, businesses and fortunes were lost. These went up in flames with the neighborhood. In subsequent years, zoning regulations and the construction of a highway right through that once prosperous Greenwood district meant those homes and businesses could not be rebuilt.

The long-term effect of this continues 100 years later. One of the reasons the average Black family has a total wealth which is only 10% of that of a comparable white family (comparable in other ways than wealth) is that events like Tulsa made it impossible for Black families to pass on their wealth to their descendants. There is a generational multiplier effect for white families which our systemic racism has denied to families of color. This is a significant contributor to our current wealth gap.

Imagine a parent with two children, and one child is physically assaulting the other. The parent puts a stop to the beating but leaves the suffering child’s bruises and scrapes untreated. No reasonable person would think this is an adequate parental response. But when it comes to race, many people think that just because we have put a stop to the beating (which we really have not stopped) everything is fine now. To say there is no racism in this country is simply ignoring plain facts.

Like the child beaten by the sibling who needs bandaged and healed, people of color, people who have suffered in Tulsa, Detroit, or Charleston, need to be made whole. Until they are made whole, they live every day with the harm done by systemic racism, even if they never encounter a racist individual in their life.

Some type of reparations are in order. Reparation means to repair. The people who have suffered 100 years of loss because of Tulsa and other massacres need to be made whole. It is simply dishonest to say the country is not racist until this happens.