UNDERSTANDING & ANALYZING SYSTEMIC RACISM WORKSHOP

Reflection by Alejandro Siller-Gonzalez, MAS 

Unfortunately racism is very much alive in our country. Maybe not an intentional racism of people wanting to be racists, but mostly racism imbedded within the systems that govern and guide our social, political, economic, education and judiciary systems. Some would also include the church structures of the different Christian denominations.

Those of us who perhaps unknowingly benefit from these systems through “white privilege,” though with no personal intent to harm anyone, nevertheless promote and maintain that privilege by defending the systems that continue to provide us with those privileges, invisible to us but so obvious to others.  People of color do not enjoy this privilege just because they were not born within the “white privileged” race construct. This construct was intentionally developed in Europe more than four hundred years ago as a way to secure power and social superiority and particular privileges to a group self-identified as white or Caucasian. This race construct was brought to North American soil early on with the first Pilgrims and was imposed on the indigenous peoples and has been perpetuated since the foundation of our country until today. Some amendments to the constitution and some laws have been issued to correct the effects of this inequality but nonetheless, racism is present. In addition, racism has been socialized in such a way that those negatively affected accept it as a social reality and the centers of power and decision-making continue to be controlled mostly by the construct of “white privilege.”

This past December I was invited by the Sisters of Mercy Community  to participate in a workshop in Belmont, NC titled: Understanding & Analyzing Systemic Racism. I learned that the sisters’ community has decided that to dismantle systemic racism in society they needed to start by transforming themselves and to make needed changes in their religious institution. During the workshop, I sensed the participating sisters’ steadfast determination to do what they decided to do in order to cause social change, that is, social justice. Their decision really takes courage, personal and communal reconciliation, humility and a lot of praying to let go of those privileges and work towards a just equality.

The workshop was facilitated by Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training – Dismantling Racism, Building Racial Justice in Institutions. During the workshop I learned that some of us may think that racism is race prejudice and bigotry. As long as I respect the law and I try not to be prejudiced I am fine with God, myself and country.  That is very good and we should continue to strive in our everyday lives to reject prejudice and bigotry. But what about the unearned historical privilege I enjoy as a citizen of this country only because I was born into white privilege? On the other hand, what about the inequality and limitation of rights of people of color caused by not being born within the “white privileged” race construct?  The structural inequality of rights and opportunities to live with dignity deprives them and their families of a life with dignity. Our faith invites us, and Pope Francis reminds us to consider the unjust privileges that affect the equality and well-being of others. We are called to love one another as children of God and therefore we need to care for our brothers and sisters, not only with acts of mercy but also with acts of justice.

The workshop challenged us to discover and become aware of why this structural and systemic inequality exists in order to dismantle this social injustice that is racism.  If we take a short visit to U.S. history, we will find some clues.

For example, U.S. History shows us how slavery developed from the beginning and how its effects persist even after the Civil Rights Movement.  The historical process is more than four hundred years old and its consequences affect todays’ Black citizens, native Indian citizens and other people perceived as non-white such as immigrants from Asia, Latin America and Africa.

With the courageous Sisters of Mercy, I invite all of us to pray and discern how we can work to dismantle racism within ourselves, our families and in society. It is the right thing to do.

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