Black History Month 2021: What Must Be Sacrificed to End Structural Racism
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable . . . Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr., 1961
The killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and too many others have certainly prompted many long-avoided conversations. There have been lots of people reading White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, participating in “Diversity Circles” and participating in book studies to learn about the historical context of institutionalized racism.
However, what meaningful actions will follow? What happens when the individuals participating in these discussions begin to realize that making the country fairer and more equitable requires restructuring a system which has made life more comfortable for those who have reaped the benefits of a structure that has marginalized underrepresented groups? What happens once it becomes clear that in order to fund schools more equitably money must be diverted from affluent neighborhoods? Or, that in order to address the wealth gap, individuals and organizations who have historically benefited from discriminatory banking policies and practices might have to receive a higher interest rate?
To tear down the effects of structural and institutional racism requires large-scale policy changes that will be uncomfortable for those who benefit from the current system. It requires a deep and profound understanding of unearned privilege and implicit racial bias. More importantly, it requires sacrifice. And what must be sacrificed? In short, privilege and power.
The Urban Institute offers the following perspective:
The concepts of privilege and unconscious and implicit racial bias dilute personal responsibility for racism because the individual’s personal involvement may not be realized or intended. In the case of institutional racism, the institution may promote the collective and not the individual. Since one may not have control of an institution, the mere recognition of institutional racism will not necessarily effect the changes required to mitigate the source of racial inequality and inequity. In fact, the institution can become an inanimate structure against which blame can be cast while avoiding personal complicity for its negative attributes. Its invisibility allows people to avoid personal responsibility for racism, although its contents are likely visible to those without this privilege.
This narrative suggests that in order for America to realize true change, there must be a willingness to recognize and acknowledge that structural racism exists. The policies, practices, and behaviors that continue to perpetuate structural and institutionalized racism can only be eradicated when those in power take deliberate and intentional actions to remove it. Undoubtedly these actions will require personal and collective sacrifice.
Naming the structural causes of racial disparities can be uncomfortable. Many people refuse to acknowledge or grapple with the racialized history of the United States, for fear of repercussion, especially if they benefited from the practices that have marginalized Black people. Further, naming policies and systems responsible for racial disparities can pose an economic risk, especially for those benefiting from the systems. As Dr. King stated, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
What are you willing to sacrifice to end structural racism?
We have a book study currently taking place on campus with a few copies of the book available. We are reading Courageous Conversations about Race (2005) and we meet every other Wednesday from 4:30 – 6:00 virtually. Our next meeting is February 17 and we will be discussing chapter three this week so you still have time join us. Send an email to Jenny Schaefer at firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve a copy of this book.