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Systematic vs. Systemic Racism

Systematic” means “relating to or consisting of a system.” Another interpretation is “methodical in procedure or plan.” For example, you can envision, a systematic approach to paving a driveway, or a systematic approach to writing a book. Systematic suggests a series of steps that you follow.

Systemic” means “of, relating to, or common to a system.” This sounds close to the definition of systematic but in the context of racism, the sub definition is “fundamental to a predominant social, economic, or political practice.” Where systematic applies to a procedure, systemic applies to the system itself. Systemic is not related to an intended series of steps. It is a quality inherent in the system, not necessarily on purpose. For example, when systemic pesticides are absorbed by a plant, the chemical circulates through all parts of the plant and poisons the insects that feed on them. This systemic concept often gets muddled with the embedded residue from systematic racist policies of the past and can create confusion.

Any time built-in biases are not acknowledged in the system, there can be systemic racism. It doesn’t have to necessarily arise from systematic policies.

Here is a viral short video with a narrated animation providing a general overview.

This video is simplistic to get the message across and political pundits supporting a white supremacist narrative have attempted to attack and deny that systemic racism exists using this same video. Below is a debunking analysis of the attacks on the animated video that break down the pundits presented fallacies.

Here is another helpful but longer video series discussing how racism shows up in our lives across institutions and society include the wealth gap, employment, housing discrimination, government surveillance, incarceration, drug arrests, immigration policy, and infant mortality. Below are more examples of Systemic Racism if you did not watch the above videos:

  • Police and Justice System - Non-white people are more likely to get stopped by police, arrested, harmed, shot by officers that will be acquitted, convicted and given harsher sentences than white people

  • Whitewashing Education and History - Education curriculum that whitewashes (downplays) slavery, genocide, rape and racism in the US while glorifying the oppressors such as both confederate and founding father slave owners

  • Confederate Monuments - Confederate monuments on public institutions being preserved by tax payers

  • Access to Opportunities and Wealth - Unequal access to job opportunities, good schools, higher education and wealth for non-white people

  • Political Narratives - Political parties creating misinformed narratives and policies that imply white people are victims at the cost of non-white civil rights

  • Political Policies - Political parties creating policies of mass Latinx deportation, Muslim immigration ban, protecting police brutality against non-whites, voter suppression, etc.

  • Churches - Religious institutions that approve and support racists and white Supremacists touting core values of by labeling them “Good Christians”

  • Housing - Discriminatory real estate, banks, and government policies segregating communities and keeping non-white people in poorer areas.

  • USDA - Decades of racially biased laws and practices in the USDA that pushed non-white people off their land in the last century

  • Media Bias - The majority of news, TV, radio and social media in the US push racial biases in our society including unfair stereotypes and fears towards non-white people

  • Racial Disparities - To really understand systemic racism read about the racial disparities in this country in Police Interactions, Criminal Justice/Courts, Prison (Mass Incarceration), War on Drugs, Education, Employment, Wealth, Workplace, Voting, Housing, Surveillance, Healthcare, Media Representation

When someone says, " Systemic racism/oppression doesn't exist" they are relating that they are uninformed of U.S. history and how systems and policies were built to advance the dominant culture, which include enslavement and segregation.
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