Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Racism vs. Discrimination


Is the United States a racist society?

In 2020, the topic of "racism" has come front and center stemming from a police-related killing of a black suspect in Minneapolis, MN.  While everyone has condemned this event, it spurred protests nation-wide against police forces in larger cities under the accusation of "systemic racism." Riots, vandalism, and violence erupted in several cities to fight back against brutality by police forces against minority communities.

Does this really happen in this day & age? Haven't we progressed beyond racism? The death at the hands of the police is a terrible thing, of course, but why does it happen? Is there a bigger problem behind this event? What is it? 

Many an article could be written about "why" ... but first, what is the accusation brought by protesters, rioters, and their larger movement? Is it valid or is it magnified or exaggerated? 

What is systemic racism? Are people (white people, specifically) intrinsically racist? Is the legal and judicial system in the United States based on race, with the intention to oppress minority groups (black people, specifically)?

Or is the system discriminatory? Are laws written against a specific group of people? Do people of authority (police, politicians, bureaucrats) actively deny people of color the things they give to others?

What's the difference?

As I do, first let's see the definition of these two words, racism and discrimination



a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.
a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.



an act or instance of discriminating, or of making a distinction.
treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.
the power of making fine distinctions; discriminating judgment:She chose the colors with great discrimination.
Archaicsomething that serves to differentiate.

What are the differences?

There is a fine line between the two; it's obvious. For discrimination is used within the definition of racism.  So if we look at the two definitions, we should look at the differences to find the distinction.  What is it we see?


When I wanted to write this, I thought I knew right where it was going. That is: racism does not exist in America, but discrimination does.  This ... isn't true.  Racism does exist. For the definition is simply discrimination based on race/color with the addition of hatred. I understand that our past is chock full of examples of discrimination based on race. Some blatant ("colored only" bathrooms), and some not (refusal to serve for "any reason").  

I've heard many an opinion that "systemic racism" is the application of racism in the very fabric of authority in our country. That things like:
  • Police were created out of slave patrols.
  • Policies created since the end of the Civil War (& the Emancipation Proclamation) were designed to oppress blacks.
  • Companies moved their locations out of black communities (because the communities were black).
  • I read a list of some 13 items like this. I will not try to address each one of them here. If I find the list again, I may write a series about them.
I will not say that there is no merit to any of these accusations.  In a society so large, so diverse, and with varied histories throughout, it's nearly impossible to deny anything. At the same time, how much of this comes from hindsight? How much from conspiracy theory about our history? 

But what is the one thing we can definitely say has occurred through history?  

Someone hates someone else.

This has been true long before the events in Minnesota. Long before Missouri. Long before Los Angeles. Long before the United States was formed. So it's easy to say, "police are racist." Politicians "write racist legislation." Company "hiring practices are racist."  And we could find an example of each.  Somewhere.

Can we rid an entire society of discrimination? Rid it of racism? 

When put that way, I think many would have to agree it's likely impossible. I won't pretend to have a solution here, for there are as many solutions as there are examples of the problem.  (And as such, I will maintain that we cannot try to apply a blanket solution to the entire nation.  Or even state or possibly community for that matter.) Each example must be addressed on its own. But "solutions" are presented.  Some are fantastically implausible, some are just knee-jerk emotional responses, and some are both.  

I can empathize with those who feel it is systemic, even though I don't think it is. As a WASP (a white Christian for those of you in Rio Linda), I would never think that I might not be able to obtain something because of how I look.  I would never think after the fact, "Did I fail because I look different than the person I dealt with?" It must be a terrible thought to go through one's mind even if it one can immediately dismiss it. 

No, people protesting about racism are not wrong.  While this discrimination exists, we are still better than we were - better than 1960. Better than 1992.  Better than even yesterday.  

Do I think the police officer in Minneapolis is a racist? No. Do I think he had a preconceived prejudice for the "type" of suspect he was arresting? Yes. It's a fine line,  But in this case I don't believe racism truly played a part in the man's death. At the same time I think we would be better served by not "dialing the volume to 11" when a bad apple rears its head.  And by screaming systemic racism in response, people are doing exactly that. For what happens if a true hate-filled example of racism arises?  There's nowhere to go.

For any true solution to be meaningful, it must address the main cause - that hate resides within the hearts of men (meaning humans, not just males).  For it is hatred that drives racism, and that only exists within a single, unique individual. Not the society. Not the machinery that makes up the system. This type of person by person change is slow. This is hard. This requires patience.

We must remember the difference between discrimination and racism to have truly useful conversations and truly affect change. Because we are trying to change a person's heart. Not trying to change the system. For it isn't the system that's to blame, but the people within it. 

It's been a long road, and it still is.

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