Systemic racism - revisited

Prior to 2020 or even earlier to 2016 and before … many people were trying to make the case that racism in the United States was systemic. This was difficult to make a case for, much less prove, because racism mostly went underground and when people wanted to be racist and take racist actions, especially in their role as government officials, they used dog whistles and trojan horses to conceal their racist actions. And of course, double down on deny, deflect, distance and deride. Oh, and of course secret meetings and secret conversations.

This led some liberals and moderates to feel like racism had been defeated. The case was made here that there is no systemic racism in the United States. The argument is: “Yes, racism exists, but it isn’t systemic.”

Let’s revisit this. Systemic means: “relating to a system, especially as opposed to a particular part.”

The crux of the matter is: At what point would it be determined to be throughout the system, rather than just isolated cases? How many cities or county governments in a state need to show overt racist behavior and how many times in their official execution of duties before we consider it “systemic”, and how many state governments in the Union? Then even more to the point - do we only go by what is proven and by how many are caught red-handed, or do we assume that for every government official or employee caught red handed, there is a certain percent that have not been caught. What percent would be reasonable to assume?

With the issue of Police brutality, there has also been the idea that this is only a few Police, and that this is not systemic because the police are not the whole of government, therefore it is not “systemic”.

Now, fast forward to 2023 and we have a glaring case of racism caught red handed and is the poster child for systemic at the county level. Enter an Oklahoma County government that met illegally and secretly to carry out a meeting with a racist agenda. They were caught red handed by pure chance. Add this to the allegations of racist actions of the Tennessee Legislature in removing two elected black legislators from office for exercising their freedom of speech.

Is it time to re-examine the belief that racism is not systemic in the US?

IRT - Integral Race Theory - anyone?

Probably not (or at least not yet), but CRT has some postmodernist roots that don’t really make it all the way to second-tier. So catch phrases aside, the challenge of reframing CRT from a more integral standpoint is very real. Challenge accepted.

Before we get on to “systemic” racism, we need to clarify our understanding of “systems”. In reading Ibram X. Kendi, I appreciated his autobiographical coming of age content. I was less impressed with his social science. That got me on the trail of updating my own social science, precisely for discussions like this. In the area of “systems” is particular, Kendi relies on Wallerstein’s 1974 Modern World System to support his contention that slavery and current capitalism are tightly coupled. That’s not wildly wrong, but it’s not especially nuanced, and it throws all kinds of spanners into any potential solutions one might wish to explore in 2023. So I made it a project to get my head straight on Marx, Critical Theory, World-Systems Theory, etc, precisely to form a more constructive approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the present moment. In case you have not noticed, current political cultures wars are not doing us any favors on this.

So … speaking of systems … let’s update to “complex adaptive systems”. Let’s remember that systems overlap and that system boundaries are permeable. Let’s avoid reification. Let’s focus on the processes that spawn, generate, and regenerate systems. Let’s remember we each have agency within systems. (IRT might suggest that people who grow up, wake up, clean up, etc. have a bit more agency than the others). Let’s recall that systems language itself is an artifice - a symbolic system - as permeable and evanescent as all the other systems. Something like a Gebserian leap into the arational and the aperspectival will help with all this, but if Gebser is too much to swallow, you can start with an author like Roy Bhaskar and what followed from his work.

OK, so much for system. Now for race. Lyotard in the 1979 Postmodern Condition declared the end of meta-narrative. I’m here in Integral (and a bunch of parallel meta-discussions) precisely to bring meta-narrative back. But Lyotard was not wrong. The “Rise of the West” is not a sufficiently convincing story line for today’s world. My methodological suggestion: start with biography. Lots of biography. Let the Story emerge from stories in their millions. The organizing themes will suggest themselves. One suspects, here in America, race may well be one of those themes.

It’s hard for me to not see your post as a diversion away from the meat of the topic and into - 1 minutia and 2 - an emotionally charged acronym “CRT” that means whatever anyone wants it to mean, as long as it’s evil.

The question is simple.
There has been some claims in Integral Life dot com that racism in the United States is not systemic. You can’t just now say “well … what does system mean?” The claim has already been made that systemic racism does not exist as a way to defect the question.

System - here it’s clear to me that the accusation of “systemic racism” is Governing systems. Governments. We can divide this into the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. We can also divide it into City, County, State and National systems. The reason this is obvious to me is that there is no law forbidding racism in most systems, but there are clear laws forbidding racism in governmental systems. People can have as much racism as they want in their family system - that’s not the point. The point is that racism is forbidden and acting out racism is illegal in all levels of government and in all branches.

If it exists, the question them becomes: “Are we just conveniently choosing not to see it?”
My question is the opposite of reification. I am asking point blank to members of a community who denied systemic racism exists if they now see it. I gave two concrete examples and pose the question if people have the belief that there are and always have been rare occurrences, or if something has changed, or if people are willing to see they just chose not to see something in the past but see it now.

My premise is that the recent situation in the Oklahoma County secret meeting did not surprise me at all that it happened. My only surprise is that it was recorded and that it was legal to record it. My only surprise in the Tennessee legislature fiasco is that the were not smart enough to also kick the white woman just so they could say it wasn’t racist from the beginning. That and also that they were so blatantly obvious in their racism. My further opinion is that this is only an overconfidence where people who have always wanted to operate this way and did so secretly got overconfident because of lies of Trump and FOX that Trump did not lose by 7 million votes and should have won in a landslide that make them feel they are the “silent majority” when they are actually far from being that. They believe they are winning the cultural revolution and so they are becoming more bold with practices they always did in secret.

In the Oklahoma recording we actually have verification that the people in the recording believe their county did have systemic racism in the past - and they feel that was better and don’t like that they now have to be secret when they pursue a racist government agenda. They are in positions of power in the county and are elected officials.
I would say it is clear that in that county, racism is systemic, and also in the Tennessee legislature. I’m curious how anyone could see otherwise. The only missing data point is how many other counties and state legislatures are similar but not stupid enough to be caught red handed.

@robert.bunge @raybennett

I am wondering if either of you guys can see your perspectives represented (at least partially) in the full article here?

Sure I can. There is a shelf full of books right next to me with statements such as this one from Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist (p 151) “Antiracist Anticapitalist: One who is opposing racial capitalism”, That implies that “racial capitalism” is a thing one can oppose, presumably a systemic thing. If that is so, one should be able the characterize the nature of the system. What are its components? What are its key relationships? What are its goals? What are its outcomes?

Starting with Marx, and never really letting up, critical social theory sees economic power relations as fundamental to understanding governance structures. Also, starting with Marx, the problem is not just to understand society, but to change it. But Marx himself is the grand-daddy of systemic analysis for the cause of social change. If you don’t like that approach, mea culpa.

There is certainly no disputing the evidence you offer from Oklahoma, Tennessee, and so on. No sweeping any of that under the rug. But analysis is not deflection. Indeed, I believe analysis is required for any truly effective action.

Personally, I do not see “systemic racism” in terms of having sets of laws that are designed to discriminate against a particular group or ethnicity (setting the trans issue aside for now).

I do see systemic racism, however, in the following ways:

  • How non-discriminatory laws can often be interpreted and applied in discriminatory ways,

  • How racist individuals still exist within these systems, and how their actions aggregate throughout the systems they are participating in. Racism is still very much alive and well in the LL quadrant, and when racist people enact a system in a racist way, we can then see data from those behaviors in the LR that can then be interpreted as “systemic racism”.

  • The accumulated social inertias that still remain with us from prior discriminatory laws, which are still hurting people today.

The major issue, I think, is that something like explicitly discriminatory laws are very easy to identify, from pretty much Orange on up. But the other factors I mentioned are somewhat more subtle, and therefore more insidious, and require either a mature green capacity to actually see a system from the inside, or better, a teal capacity to see multiple systems from the outside (which I think is minimally required to see how prior forms of discrimination continue to ripple through the four quadrants today.)

And of course, a great many people who are deeply engaged in the culture war are not (yet) actually capable of seeing these sorts of things, which means that a term like “systemic racism” becomes a sliding scale of signifiers, and no one means quite the same thing when they use the phrase.

“Wokism”, for example, I think self-organized around a set of referents that emerged at a mature green stage, but those referents are not actually being enacted at the green stage by many (most?) people involved in that movement. I think “privilege” for example is a nuanced late-green systemic observation, which gets mistranslated as “privilege is racism” by amber participants.

I’ll take a kind of “pre-quiz” to see how up to snuff I am before I sit down for the whole hour and 6 minutes. I’m not actually sure when I can devote a full hour to something I may not need to listen to in order to understand a chart.

Ok, the white box:
Individual Interior: Easy to deflect, deny, distance. Individual denial that a problem even exists. “I don’t see it so it isn’t a problem”
Individual exterior: observable exterior racist behavior. If meetings are secret and no one records them, do they really happen?
Collective Interior: “These are just isolated incidents but as a whole we are in a good place racially as a country.”
Collective Exterior: Our Constitution has checks and balances and the constitution prohibits discrimination, so we’re covered. Our laws keep us as a racially righteous country

The Dark One:
Individual Interior: I was raised in middle white America in the 1970’s-1980’s and racism was gratuitous and often seen as funny. This is ingrained at a deep level and automatic due to conditioning in formative years.
Individual exterior: I, like most Americans find it easy to display overt non-racist behaviors and the covert ones as I / we (individual we) become aware of them. We might, for example, learn as individuals to not speak over individuals of from cultures who are not raised to be as vocally expressive, for example. I tend to understand the fear an individual may have of police or other things because of lessons they were taught in their upbringing.
Interior collective: In the United States white America mostly a collective agreement to deflect, deny, distort, distance and deride on the one hand (Right) or at the opposite extreme on the (Left) hand feeling guilt and shame and judging that all white America should feel similar levels of shame.
Collective Exterior: Address the Individual exterior that can be proven. It has had limited success in this regard, much like painting a wall addresses mold growing out of it.

Do I pass my Integral Race pre-listening quiz?

It’s more that it’s terribly difficult to impossible to create laws that affect anything other than exteriors that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt (in tort) and beyond a shadow of a doubt (criminal). As a result, it’s easier to sue for damages, but only if financial damages have already occurred and if they can, racism is beside the point anyway - you get the money regardless if someone causes you financial damages. So legislation against Racism in tort law will have negligible results, leaving the only punishment for racism within the system as criminal - which has to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. With such a virtually impossible bar to achieve to just get racial equality, “cancel culture” became an expedient way to punish racism without a full blown jury trial with endless appeals.

The problem as I see it is focusing far to much on this collective exterior, which we in the United States have deliberately limited in favor of “freedoms”. So what we get is a transference - rather than working on the collective or individual interiors and working on those, people only want to address the exteriors - and often judge themselves to be superior human beings when they do. Wokism and Antiwokism is dance people like to play with exteriors. “You don’t challenge my interior, and I won’t challenge yours. Let’s just ignore anything that is not exterior.” that is the subconscious pact agreed to between the Woke and the Antiwoke. Racism is fine with the Woke as long as you don’t actually “show” it in a way that can be proven to be racist. Back to Oklahoma - no secret racist government meetings happen because there are no recordings of those. But deep down anyone with my similar upbringing (80% of white people over 40) knows what was really going on behind closed doors and if we are honest, we are not really surprised at the actual recording. It was in the script of Mississippi Burning, for example -based on real life events. Do we think the real person Gene Hackman portrayed just said “oh well, I guess we are all brothers now.” We went to family outings and met that guy year after year, each time with a different face.

The problem here is the astounding blindness in the entire interior half of this issue and this blindness seems to grow in direct proportion to how much we focus on the exterior half.

Don’t have time for a full response right now, but a quick note to say this is one of the few times I’ll point to the written material as going into much greater depth and specificity than the dialogue with Ken :slight_smile:

So don’t worry about the video, the text is where the juice is for this one.

I see all of this as focusing only on the exterior. That is the failure of both Marxism and Capitalism (as opposed to just a plain old free market). Both Marxim and Capitalism are completely impotent in building a healthy interior of either the individual or collectively - which is why both systems were and will be destroyed by corruption and graft. There is a saying “He who does not steal from the Government / Company, he steals from his family”. This was accepted by most people in communism but people try and deny this in Capitalism. Well, until it comes to taxes - then they are interested in all the tricks and grey areas to steal, but use all kinds of euphemisms to not accept that they are no different than a corrupt communist when they push gray areas on their tax returns.

So back to racism - it’s not possible to address the topic in it’s entirety if we only address half of the equation. Society does not work as Marx envisioned it. That much is obvious. What our society is in complete denial about is that the form of capitalism we have settled upon isn’t much better.

Systems - In this topic I am referring to government systems, because that is arguably a reasonable boundary to focus on - the actual government structures, organizations, laws and the creation and enforcement of them.

I think it would actually be easier to make the case of systemic racism existing within capitalism. Just study the correlation of public outrage when capitalism destroys a white community vs when a nonwhite community is destroyed. Various types of destruction can be compared apples-apples. For example, toxic destruction of a water system (white community) compared with toxic destruction of a water system (nonwhite). Or child slavery (white) with child slavery (nonwhite). Or closing down a predominantly white industry vs a predominantly nonwhite industry. I think it would be possible measure to establish criteria to measure the outrage in each case and come up with interesting data sets. With current technology, it might even be possible to ignore what participants say and measure their biological stress levels when they are shown cases to compare.

Agreed. Marx corrected against German idealism by going full-on materialist. This landed him in the same philosophical flatland as capitalist materialists. There is a temptation to course correct back again in a more idealistic direction. A fully AQAL model, in my POV, would be idealistic and materialistic in equal measure.

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I basically agree with Corey’s analysis re: the question of systemic racism, and I also agree with Ray’s supposition that there is probably more racist behavior in “secret” at various levels of government than most people imagine or suspect. And it’s not just in small or rural or southern areas of the US, nor is it limited to white racism against blacks; remember the three L.A. Latino council members caught having “secret” racist discussions about blacks back in October.

There seems to be something of a corrupting influence in having power, and wanting to keep power, stay in control, at least for some people, maybe a case of agency gone awry at the expense of relationality. “Power without love is corrupt” as the saying goes (and “love without power is weak”). I remember some past studies about what contributes to personal happiness, and having control/power was one of the top four (along with having supportive relationships, being connected to something beyond self that gives meaning to life, and having time in flow states). Maybe our definition of power needs updated, maybe to something like: “power is the ability to transform things positively for the good of all.” Let the control factor take a back seat.

The good news in the recent Oklahoma and Tennessee situations, and the L.A. situation as well, is that the behavior came to light and at least some of the people have been held accountable. That’s what we need to remember and be grateful for, that light is being shined on these situations and will continue to be, I think.

The focus on power is well-placed.

Lately I had occasion to compare social systems and bio-systems. Although the two are not at all the same, it did yield the insight that much political behavior can be understood as the efforts of various social groups to excrete “toxins” from their midst. Different groups consider different ideas (and people) toxic, so the content varies, but the process is fairly consistent. The famous French sociologist Rene Girard wrote about scapegoating, which is a deeper version of this same perspective.

Where social and bio-systems differ, is that social systems are largely symbolic and a given person can participate in multiple social systems simultaneously. In the terminology of race- and gender-theory, that’s “intersectionality”. In today’s world, most of us carry highly complex, multi-layered, intersectional identities. That level of complexity itself is toxic to some social groups, which explains quite a bit of racism and other reactionary trends.

My view of Integral growth theory is that the various “ups”, among other things, allow for the creative harmonization of intersectional identities at the personal level, in turn facilitating more expansive forms of social identification and participation. The more you deal with the devils in your shadow, the less you have to fear and find devils “out there”.

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