Systemic Racism

Systemic Racism

Systemic Racism. What does this even mean?

Well, it is just not about you and me and asking ourselves the personal question, “Am I a racist?” It extends far beyond people and into our society that we all live in together. Another term for systemic racism is institutionalized racism — as its very foundation racism resides in the institutions that make up our society — that make up America.

For many, it’s difficult to believe that racism lies not just within individuals, but also the governing bodies, the organizations that hold power, and the very way our society is set up to favor one race over another. I believe we are a nation founded on slavery and even though there was a civil war and the slaves were supposedly “freed,” there are many other ways to enslave black people in American society.

One of the places we can see this most clearly is within the criminal justice sector of our society. From the police that patrol our streets to the lawyers and judges who prosecute, defend, and give out sentences, to our for-profit federal prisons that make money off of the number of bodies in these places, racism resides in the very fabric of society in a way that is insidious.

What can white people do? What can multi-racial people do? What can black people do? I see the protests, I hear the chants, I see the economic disparity, I feel the pain, I read the outraged posts, and more. And yet it does not change. How do we change the very founding of America?

There are many people who want to do just that. We are busy reading books, talking with one another, becoming real and honest about the way we act with privilege each of our days, and growing our own personal consciousness can then lead to individual action. This is good, right, and just action.

However, if racism is institutionalized and a part of the system that is in place and resists change — and has leaders that support racism remaining in place – then how can our personal actions that become collective – actually get this to change. And it’s not a Democrat or a Republican thing, it is an American problem. And people in power do not want to be powerless — so that needle hardly moves. This thought often leads me to despair.

Is the fight good and just? Of course. Will people stop fighting? Of course not.

However, perhaps something more needs to shift – societally, institutionally – for any of this change to take hold.

This is what systemic racism does — it holds even as people are broken down.

A White Michael Jackson Performance

African American Michael Jackson King of Pop

I happened to attend the Seattle Symphony a few weeks ago and the concert was titled The Best of Quincy Jones. As you can imagine, it was a concert full of Jones’ music over the past many decades he has been writing and composting songs. There were a few surprises for me — the fact that he is the composer behind the Sanford and Son theme song and that he only wrote one song with Aretha Franklin. Another surprise? A white Michael Jackson.

During this concert, there were a trio of back-up singers, all whom were African-American. Further, there was an African-American female artist who sang many of his famous songs that he wrote for women, such as Aretha Franklin. Quincy Jones is a black artist and many of his songs he composed were written for African-American artists.

No one would probably be the most famous artist that Quincy Jones composed for than Michael Jackson, the King of Pop himself. Largely, it was the winning combination of Jones’ songs magically sung and performed by Jackson that made him such an incredible artist. You can imagine the last act of this concert focused on Michael Jackson.

Imagine my surprise where a white man came out to take the spotlight and sing Michael Jackson’s song, with an African-American man backing him up on songs like Billie Jean. Something about this was just so wrong. The longer I listened to this young man singing and making his moves like MJ, the more annoyed I became. Apparently, this performer is an artist in residence with Quincy Jones, but it did not feel appropriate to have this person singing Jackson’s finest songs on the stage.

Every other song was perfomed and backed-up by African-American artists, except for the role of the King. A white young man was chosen to sing this part. It fell flat for me and I also felt it was disrespectful on some level to the legacy of Michael Jackson.

Is this reverse racism? Should I want the best person, regardless of color, to be the one to perform? Just because Michael Jackson was a black man does not necessarily mean that a white man cannot meet his standard. Yes, true. Yet, Quincy Jones is a black composer and song writer and Michael Jackson was a black man who sang those songs like no one else ever could have. It feels respectful to give an African-American the chance to perform live with the Seattle Symphony some of Quincy Jones greatest songs.

My opinion — that is all.