One of the focuses and challenges of modern social justice movements has been the recognition of systemic racism and other systemic biases that continue to disproportionately impact people of color (POC). Much like implicit racism, systemic racism is relatively invisible to most people, because it isn’t the kind of overt person-to-person action or speech that comes to mind when they create an image of “racism” in their minds. As with implicit racism, this makes systemic racism that much more challenging to address.
Many white, middle class individuals balk at the idea that they’ve benefited from systemic racism. They may perceive it as an excuse used by those who haven’t achieved as much or as an undeserved way to minimize their own achievements. Of course, when that same system continues to benefit the people who are often least aware of its existence, the inequities tend to perpetuate indefinitely.
Tough to Combat Systemic Racism
In an essay written in the aftermath of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the ensuing social unrest, Atlanta Federal Reserve President and CEO Raphael Bostic lamented these events as, “yet another reminder that many of our fellow citizens endure the burden of unjust, exploitative, and abusive treatment by institutions in this country.”
Bostic describes how systemic racism is engrained in our nation’s history from the very beginning. “Over the course of American history, the examples of such institutionalized racism are many, and include slavery, federal law (consider the Three-Fifths Compromise our founding fathers established to determine federal representation), sanctioned intimidation during Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws in southern states, redlining by bankers and brokers, segregation, voter suppression, and racial profiling in policing,” he writes.
Systemic Racism is Bad for All of Us
Bostic goes on to make the case that systemic racism isn’t just bad for those it directly oppresses; it’s bad for the economy as a whole. “By limiting economic and educational opportunities for a large number of Americans, institutionalized racism constrains this country's economic potential,” he writes. “The economic contributions of these Americans, in the form of work product and innovation, will be less than they otherwise could have been. Systemic racism is a yoke that drags on the American economy.”
Bostic’s essay is significant not only for the points it makes, but also for what it represents about the importance of inclusion. Bostic is the first Black president of a Federal Reserve bank. Systemic racism, like implicit bias, is often invisible to those who aren’t its victims. Bostic’s position gives him a truly unique opportunity to bring the experiences and views of a traditionally economically disadvantaged group to the head of one of the centers of American economic power and authority.
We can all benefit from that.