What is Systemic Racism & How Can it be Fixed

The shockwaves continue from the killing of George Floyd. Over the last week, every major city in the United States has had large protests demanding justice for Floyd and for the African American community. At the center of the protesters’ demands is a call to dismantle systemic racism. There is a serious challenge though. While nearly everyone agrees that everyone deserves equal justice and that systemic racism should be stopped, no one, as far as I know, has given a clear path on a way forward. This is because over the last decades we have changed our laws to uproot the systems of racism that were found there. Our laws explicitly state equality for African Americans and forbid different treatment because of the color of one’s skin. Yet for all the good these laws have done, deep problems remain. I would like to offer a biblical treatment of the problem and a possible solution. None of what I say should be construed as the only things that should be done or the only way of thinking of the challenges in front of us. Instead, it is my hope to help (white) Christians see what is before us and how we can act together for the common good. 

Systemic racism must be uprooted and destroyed. When we think about ‘systemic racism’, it is important that we seek a biblical vision for what this might mean. The best biblical way to understand what this might be is found in Exodus 34:7 (ESV): “[God] will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Douglas Stuart writes about this verse,  

It does not mean that God would punish children for something their ancestors did but that they themselves did not do. Rather, it describes God’s just punishment of a given type of sin in each new generation as that sin continues to be repeated down through the generations. 

There are sins that parents give to children. Even if sins come from your parents, God will hold you accountable for them if you participate. Reviling and malice which are the roots of racism are sinful patterns that parents can give to children. So, one part of the system is that for generations parents have given their children ideas about people of color that perpetuate malice and reviling—racism. For sure, most parents are not raising fascists or new members of the KKK. We thank God for that. But if parents say that a child should not date a person from another race, this is perpetuating the sin of racism from one generation to the next. If a parent talks about people of color in ways that are demeaning or stereotypical, this is racism being passed from one generation to the next. If a parent calls a part of town ‘ghetto’ and not a place for their kids, this is the sin of racism being passed from one generation to the next. These are just a few examples of how a system of racism can be perpetuated in society from one generation to the next. There are many other examples I am sure. 

It is from this individual level that the forming of social circles then takes place. We most often connect with people who think like us. It is part of human nature. People who are like us reinforce our opinions and beliefs. This enables us to believe and act on things that are sinful because our group cleanses our conscience. All of this can happen subtly and without much notice. It can happen in neighborhoods, clubs, associations, jobs or even at church. You will not find it on any documentation of the group, but it will be practiced behind the scenes. This system is operating as an interpersonal reality. Consequently, it often operates far from conscious awareness. It is just there.   

To this point, the system of racism is seemingly moved by individuals generationally who self-select groups that think similarly. One might think that there is no overarching leadership or intention behind it. This would be false. Paul tells us that we do not fight against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. There is a coordinator of this system of racism. It is a demon or demons. These dark spirits seek to use this system to destroy people. This is the biblical view. This is what is happening, and we must admit, this system is operating successfully. 

Systemic racism, then, is a psychic reality where racist ideas or tendencies are passed from parents to children. The persons involved and affected by racism naturally gather together. These interpersonal connections reinforce racism and allow it to be socially acceptable. This is orchestrated by demons. It is the hidden nature of this system and its demonic leadership that make uprooting it a difficult challenge. For sure, Congress, the president, the judiciary or the good intentions of countless men and women have no chance against this system. The only way forward is the way of Jesus and his ongoing revolution.  

Racism at this level resides in the heart. Before we can think about dismantling the system, we must deal with individual hearts. This is of course the work of the local church. Wise and spirit-filled leaders will have to teach a curriculum in Christlikeness that enables his followers to put off reviling and malice. Then, they will have to learn how to put on love. This process will uproot racism with its generational effects in the person who undergoes the process.  It is this kind of discipleship that changes people. History proves the point. 

To the casual observer such a strategy seems hopeless to help with what is before us. Or at least, it seems like a strategy that will take forever. But one would only believe this if they believe that this strategy was a human idea for individuals. The leader of this undertaking is Jesus. From the riches of his kingdom, he enables his people to experience radical transformation. He is masterful at such work. What starts off in individuals does not stay there. The results of real transformation are exponential. The changed hearts of a few can change the world. This has happened again and again in human life for the good of all. The way of Jesus is the only process that can competently uproot systemic racism as described in this essay.  

If this is to be the way forward, then two things will need to happen. Jesus’ followers will have to be convinced that malice and reviling dwell within them and it is not good. It is no small thing to be able to name the sin that is in our hearts. Then, churches will have to disciple its members into love. Both will require a movement of God among his people for this system to be destroyed. This is our only hope.  

Let’s get to work and let the work begin in us. Jesus will be faithful, and the world will be made better for it. 

8 thoughts on “What is Systemic Racism & How Can it be Fixed”

  1. I don’t think that this sentence does justice to the events, to the blacks, and so much more! Over the last week, every major city in the United States has had large protests demanding justice for Floyd and for the African American community. “[F]or the African American community” sounds strange since their neighborhoods; their community; some of their housing; some of their places of employment; some of their retail merchants; some of their small businesses have been partly or totally decimated and the future of these blacks is quite uncertain.
    Further, a number of these blacks will wake up and realize that outsiders were able to enrage them to the point that they were self-destructive in what they see around them. Systemic racism will be ineffectively addressed by: “Instead, it is my hope to help (white) Christians see what is before us and how we can act together for the common good.” Systemic racism, like counseling one spouse without including the ‘elephant left outside the room’ will not resolve much if anything. There is a minimum of three members at work within systemic racism: whites, blacks and those who control the release of information regarding what is happening between them.
    Who gets shot most often by the police? Blacks or whites? Who kills most of their own race? Blacks or whites? Are you aware of a years old pandemic that the media deliberately suppresses: black on White, black on Asian, black on Gay, black on Seniors, black on Hispanics, black on Women, and black on Physically and Mentally Challenged People. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/01/05/4-in-custody-after–group-beats-disabled-man-on-facebook-live-while-shouting-anti-trump-profanities-chicago-police-say/ For research that gives websites, videos illustrating these incidents, and other illuminating facts, read: “White Girl Bleed A Lot: The Return of Racial Violence to America and How the Media Ignore It”. (2013); “Knockout Game a Lie? Aww, Hell No!” (2014); and “Don’t Make the Black Kids Angry: The hoax of black victimization and those who enable it.” (2015) written by Colin Flaherty. Unaware of the author?; unaware of the documented facts? Then we might be an easy prey to the rhetoric and politics of the events we read or the solutions that are proposed.

  2. Ron, I really appreciate your thoughtful blog post, but I don’t think you’re describing or addressing systemic racism. You’re describing generational racism, and there’s a big difference.

    Systemic racism is the practice of racial discrimination that is woven into the very basic fabric of America – our institutions and structures. There from the very founding of our nation in the practice of slavery and with some aspects eliminated in recent decades (Jim Crow, segregated schools, lynching’s, etc.), it is still evident in the racial inequities of our justice system and in discrepancies in home ownership, health care, (Covid 19 infections, for example), education, employment opportunities and political power. White people can personally find racism to be utterly repugnant and act accordingly, but they still logically benefit from these built in inequities. That’s all that white privilege means.

    I agree with you that it’s all demonic, but I don’t think that personal or even generational repentance can fully address the very complicated and complex problems. Some form of prayerful and discerning activism is what’s needed most.

    1. I’m not as comfortable with your definition. It seems mystical. Something like unconscious bias.

  3. How can we be careful that we are not prejudice in our response to bad actions?

    The police officer, as far as the video shows, is guilty of brutality, whether or not George Floyd is black or white, but were his actions racially motivated?

    Could it have been his experience with drug induced individuals that they can have amazing strength and have been over powered in the past or seen a fellow officer over powered? Was he being careful but in this case went too far?

    If an officer confronts his fellow or superior officer he could be risking his life in the next incident when he needs to call for backup. Did the assisting officers assess the risk of confronting the senior officer in this incidence?

    There are numerous questions to ask.

    I have learned when discussing issues if we question everything and defend nothing, the truth will show it self.

    Eliminating racism is an on going challenge with a ways to go. We have come a long way. Many of us still hold old information as being current. I would challenge all to look at the current information on racism in America.

    We have come a long ways and yes some ways to go.

    1. KEN ADAIR,
      Thanks for your reflection on thinking through the malignment of what we hear and aligning it with the facts that – while not as easy to find – could bring truth to lies (deliberate or inadvertent). Of course, Ken, if there is no ‘truth’ then we are free to join fake news/fake facts that surround us. My favorite book on that subject: If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren’t There More Happy People?: Smart Quotes for Dumb Times by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.

  4. Has Calvary adopted the policy of censoring what members of Calvary Church write? If no, why is my June 5, 2020 at 6:24 pm posting as well as today’s – June 11, 2020 at 12:53 pm – “awaiting moderation”. If the answer is yes, am I entitled to know the name(s) of the individuals who have been granted that censorship. Has the Elders approved this?

    1. This is my personal website. I’m not always quick on the draw to approve comments. Sorry. I approved them this morning.

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