Let’s talk about systemic racism.
As a systemic philosopher, my focus is on the systems of truth and value which undergird our very apprehension. Before we can make sense of any object or state of affairs in the world, we employ these systems of truth and value to form coherent meaning, which translates into understanding of the world around us. Systemic philosophy is the study of the structures of our understanding and the systems of truth and value of which those structures are comprised.
But we don’t invent these systems of truth and value, like Locke’s tabula rasa, though. They are learned, or rather, they are given to us by our parents and teachers and cultural institutions. We are born into a world of preestablished ideas about truth and value, and these define our understanding of the world before we understand that we have the ability to understand. Those before us taught us, and the truths and values they taught us were given to them by a preestablished world of people who were taught before them. Because of this we take these foundational truths for granted, or as granted. Unless we trace back the systems of truth and value which define for us the way in which we understand the world, we are unable to shake their determining influence. Systemic philosophy is the study of these systems in the hope that by becoming aware of that by which we are determined we can push back against and change our determined notions of what we are and what we can be.
Where is all this going?
When the claim is made that the institution of policing is systemically racist, it does not mean that there are racists within the system of policing, though this may be true. The claim that the institution of policing is systemically racist means that the systems of truth and value upon which the institution of policing was originally founded were informed by racism. This means that at every level, from its inception, every reformation, policy shift, or change of guard within the institution of policing has been informed by systems of truth and value indivorceably tied to racist ideologies.
To be clear, the systemic problems within the institution of policing are not contained to racism. A propensity for violence, need to control, savage and violent distain for non-heteronormative behavior, toxic masculinity, and rape culture are all systemically embedded into the foundations of policing. Am I making the claim that all cops are all of these things? Far from it. But what I am saying is that the problem cannot be solved by removing a few bad apples, or by reforming the system. The system needs to be razed to ashes, and something new put up in its place.
We like certain things about police (or at least the idea of police): they make our communities feel safe, protect our freedoms, they serve and protect (this is true for some of us, anyway). But because this “good” has always been packaged with violent racism, we assume that this is a natural component inherent in the reality of policing – that our only alternative is lawlessness and mayhem. Of course, a rational mind should recognize a false dilemma when presented with one. We have limitless options and opportunities for building safe communities in which we feel free.
But we cannot make this a reality if we remain blind to the systems of truth and value which served as the foundations for policing in the fist place.
We need to see race – really see it – not as something which locks us into any preconceived destiny, but something which we determine through our living of it. Color-blindness is a damaging myth; not only is it counter-productive, it’s not possible. By denying the race identity of others, we are neglecting their personal history and their heritage to suit our comfort, which is not tolerance but insensitivity. What gives you the right to erase a valuable part of who they are without their consent? We need to accept that we necessarily make judgments about others and be real about the fact that race influences that judgement – this is only necessarily negative if you will it to be so. Rejecting this truth only condemns us to being driven about by forces we cannot see or understand.