Thoughts on ‘Systemic Racism’, re Bernie Sanders, Michelle Obama

Today, I’m going to look at the phrase ‘systemic racism’ again. This phrase was used by both Michelle Obama and Bernie Sanders in their respective Democratic convention speeches this week. Looking at the broader context, this phrase has been seeing a rise in popularity in the past few months, in light of the new wave of BLM this year.

I first voiced my disagreements with the buzzword ‘systemic racism’ in response to something Taylor Swift said two years ago. My point back then, was that I didn’t agree with racism being a ‘system of oppression’, or that seeing it this way was the best way to combat racism. I still stand by this view. However, this doesn’t take away from the fact that racism, as a form of prejudice that people hold in their hearts, is still way too common a thing. There’s also the important problem of systematic bias against people on the basis of skin color that happens in multiple areas of life, and is especially worrying when it occurs in relation to positions of authority, like policing. I call this ‘systematic racism’, which is different from ‘systemic racism’, and I think ‘systematic racism’ is the more accurate term for reasons I will explain.

The chief reason I disagree with the term ‘systemic racism’ is because it has a particular meaning in the school of thought known as ‘critical theory’. In this context, ‘systemic racism’ refers to a pervasive system of oppression put in place deliberately to oppose people of color. I think this is an inaccurate and exaggerated way to look at racial relations, and would lead to counterproductive attitudes and actions. It is inaccurate because, like much of critical theory, it force-fits a model to something that has much more nuance and complexity about it.

Lately, some sections of the internet have seen very heated debates about whether ‘systemic racism’ exists or not. While it’s good to have these debates in an intellectual sense, I think we should not lose sight of the bigger picture. I actually think, when many people say ‘systemic racism’, they don’t actually refer to the aforementioned worldview, but rather plain old ‘systematic racism’, like how law enforcement could sometimes be biased against people of certain races. There is important work to be done here, and we should not be seen as dismissive. Moreover, as someone who is thoroughly fed up with the culture wars, I think it’s more productive to work together on important social problems, than argue endlessly about the terminology we use. Therefore, I would certainly value someone’s determination to resolve the issue of racism much more than if I think they are using the correct words. In this light, people like Michelle Obama, Bernie Sanders and Taylor Swift are still good allies on this issue, no matter what words they use.

I think we should all agree that, there’s so much important work to do to end racism, that there’s really no time to reject allies for using the wrong words.

Originally published at

TaraElla is a singer-songwriter, independent journalist and author, who is passionate about free speech, liberty and equality. She is the author of the Moral Libertarian Horizon books, which focus on developing a moral case for freedom-based politics in the 21st century.




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