It should go without saying that the word racist necessarily applies to an individual or organization and describes a particular belief they hold with regard to themselves in relation to others they consider to be inferior. The term systemic racism, on the other hand, describes a network of social practices or policies that both historically and currently disproportionately negatively impact the lives of people of color, thus the qualifier “systemic.”
It does not follow that because the impacts of racism are systemic racists must be everywhere. Unfortunately, structures, once put in place, can be very difficult to change even if we individually and collectively share a desire to change them. Abolishing slavery was a necessary but not sufficient step. Slavery by design included measures to keep slaves illiterate, a problem that required a huge investment of resources to change and was going to take at least a couple of generations to change under the best of circumstances. The post Civil War years and 1st two thirds of the 20th century in particular were not the best of circumstances and we are all still living with either the privileges or burdens of that legacy.
What America needs is a truth and reconcilation commission that can take a holistic view and develop solid recommendations based on what they learn from citizens as well as the data. Based on what I am seeing on television and reading from many here on Medium I am not optimistic, though this article offered a glimmer of hope. What’s taking shape now is too narrowly focused just on police practices, which are a symptom of a much larger problem. The protests are cathartic and may lead to needed police reform but when they are over blacks in particular will be left living in even poorer neighborhoods ravaged by the additional impacts of Covid-19. If the movement chooses to focus on “microaggressions” and “white fragility” and/or largely limit itself only to police brutality most white allies are going to lose interest sooner or later and hopelessness will receive further unwanted reinforcement within poor minority communities. That would be a sad outcome for a moment with such abundant opportunity.