February is Black History Month, a time to celebrate and remember important people and events. It has received official recognition from governments in the United States, Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. However, recent events around the world bring new seriousness and introspection to this year’s observance. It makes me think: Why do we still have systemic racism in our society? Has it always been here, but we’ve ignored it? Is this why we see the apparent resurgence of discrimination and violence?
While I was asking myself those questions, I researched the definition of some of the terms we have heard to understand what they mean to me.
- Systemic racism. In simple terms, systemic racism is all of the policies and norms within a society that hurt some racial groups and help others. It can be hard to identify because it’s so deeply ingrained in institutions like banks, schools, businesses, government, law enforcement, and more. But there is one sure way to know it exists. Suppose a person of color has a different, more negative experience than a white person in a similar situation due to the organization's established practices. In that case, systemic racism is likely the cause.
- Health disparities. Depending on your race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or other demographic factors, you may have more barriers to quality care and poorer health outcomes than other groups. In the U.S., these inequalities are a well-known problem among African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics, and Latinx.
- Discrimination. It is the act of making unfair distinctions between human beings based on race, gender, age, religion, or sexual orientation.
I can’t help but think I have been a complicit participant in our society's discriminatory practices. Because even when I recognized the subtle ways in which policies, laws, systems, and governments perpetuate the problem, I could have looked deeper to consider my role and what I could do better. To me, it is no longer enough to understand these terms or to be an ally. It is still important to educate myself in the history and struggles of our communities. But also, in recognizing my unconscious biases, I need to start correcting my behavior. I need to apply what I’ve learned and start working toward meaningful change. It is hard work and maybe painful, but necessary.
Why do we need more equality?
- Healthier communities. If individuals in our society have access to quality health care, life expectancy could be higher and mortality rates lower. Simultaneously, many health conditions could be prevented, like diabetes, obesity, and mental illness, among others.
- Safer societies. Income inequality reduces social capital, restricting access to education, health, housing, and food. As a result, communities have more property crime and violence.
- Better education. An educated society has higher innovation rates, entrepreneurship, lower unemployment rates, and better social participation.
- Stronger economy. Income inequality creates less growth, prevents economic expansion, and makes the economy more volatile and vulnerable to a crisis over time.
As I celebrate Black History Month this year by recognizing Black excellence and the historical contributions of Black people, I invite others to join me on this journey. I am learning the truth about slavery, oppression, and racism, understanding the causes of systemic racism in our systems and policies and becoming not only a strong ally but a change agent. We can start here with these resources:
- How To Be An Antiracist by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi (book)
- The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs (book)
- Deep Diversity: Overcoming Us vs. Them by Shakil Choudhury (book)
- 1619 (New York Times) (podcast)
- Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho (videos)
- White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh (article)
Visit our DE&I page to read more about our initiatives and resources.