TheGrio Daily

Systemic Racism Explained

Episode 51

“Oppression doesn’t have to be written down for it to be systemically racist.” System Racism isn’t just a talking point for politicians following the death of George Floyd. Instead, it’s a real problem our country has yet to deal with. Michael Harriot dumbs down the definition for those who still doubt it.

[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] What’s the difference between a microaggression and plain old regular dollar store racism? Is disproportionate police brutality different from lynching? And what the hell is systemic racism? I’m Michael Harriot, a world famous wypipologist. And this is theGrio Daily, the only podcast that knows the difference between systemic racism and white people complaining. So today we’re going to talk about systemic racism. A lot of white people don’t even believe that systemic racism exists. And that’s because a lot of white people have made up their own definition of racism. They take this tweet from this guy on Twitter. He tweeted at me, define systemic racism because if racism isn’t it institutionalized and codified into law or regulation? Then how is it systemic? Racism is a problem certain individuals have, and they may impact systems and institutions themselves. But there is no legality to racism. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:09] This guy created his whole definition of systemic racism that has nothing to do with reality because the dictionary defines systemic as something that is fundamental to a predominant social, economic or political practice. And it defines racism, and I know we’ve talked about it before, but it defines racism as the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic and political advantage of another or a political or social system founded on racism and designed to execute its principles. Now, to understand this, we can go through a lot of examples, but the takeaway is that systemic racism is fundamental. It doesn’t have to be intentional. It just has to be fundamental. It has to be endemic. It has to be something that affects a system. Take lynchings like the history of lynchings, for instance. Right? What comprises a lynching? Right. Like, if you look up the definition of lynching, it doesn’t say like a person has to be hung by a noose by persons carrying a pitchfork. Right. So in the 1800s and the early 1900s. Lynchings weren’t just like we like to think of them as, you know, mob violence by hanging someone from a tree, but a lot of them lynchings. In fact, most lynchings weren’t necessarily hangings, one of the worst lynchings in history. Sam Holes. They just and this is said trigger warning. They just set him on fire. And then they invited the crowd to come forward, take parts of his body with their pocket knives home as souvenirs. But it was a lynching. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:05] A lot of lynchings were just plain old shootings, like the lynching in Eufaula, Alabama, in 1868. It was just a regular lynching. But they what they did is they just shot Black people who were trying to vote. So the same is true with systemic racism, because lynchings was a systemic way to protect white people and to enact extrajudicial justice against Black people. Lynchings was white people’s system of oppression, oppressing Black people, right? Oppressing the vote, oppressing their ability to participate in democracy or just their ability to be free. It was systemic racism. Or take schools, for instance. Right. Like. So because the homes in Black neighborhoods are devalued on average about $40,000 per home. And that’s tied to the history of redlining. It’s tied to the history of segregation. It is systemic racism. The way we fund schools is systemically racist. White majority white districts are funded on average about $2,666 per student, more than majority Black school districts. It’s not because they intended it to. It’s just because historically Black people have been disempowered economically. But it affects a system. And it is part of a system that oppresses Black children or Black students in public schools. So the way we fund schools is systemically racist or or like this is a good example, right? Take prison sentences, for instance. Right. So a study by the United States federal government shows that Black people who are convicted of a crime are sentences sentenced on average about 19.6, or about 20% longer to prison than white people with the same criminal history who committed the same crime. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:05:33] So Black people who commit the same crimes as white people are still it’s a longer since sentences. But there’s no law that says like you got to sense a Black person to a longer sentence. Right. As a matter of fact, it’s really actually unconstitutional. But that system is pervasive throughout the court system, and federal courts is pervasive in local courts. And district courts is pervasive. It is part of a phenomenon of this system that oppresses Black people who are convicted of crimes. It is systemically racist. And the same is true for the way police patrol Black neighborhoods. Right. Like we know that Black white people actually use more drugs than Black people, but Black people are three times more likely to be arrested for drug possession because the system of policing systemically targets Black people. There’s no other way to explain it except systemic racism, because, I mean, they don’t teach you in the police academy, hey, arrest Black people when you see them. It’s not a part of a policy in the police manual, but it exists and because it exists and is pervasive throughout the country. It is systemic racism. 

[00:07:09] A good example is what happened recently at BYU. I don’t know if you heard about this, but so BYU volleyball team invited Duke’s volleyball team to a tournament and there were a bunch of people there. It was about 6000 people there. And during the volleyball match, a guy started hurling racial slurs at Duke’s only Blacks starting volleyball, and nobody did anything. And he kept yelling it and nobody did anything. And so finally they sent the police down to the Duke volleyball teams bench supposedly to protect the student volleyball player. Right. And after the the incident, after the volleyball match, what BYU did is they say, well, okay, since this happened, we are going to stop crowds from coming to the rest of the matches in the tournament. And we’re going to apologize and we’re going to condemn the actions of this lone racist. The lone racist, it was just one guy being racist. But in reality, this is an example of systemic racism. 

Duke Volleyball Player [00:08:34] Even if, as I say, it wasn’t a student who was doing this. There were students nearby. And so the fact that they didn’t know what to do in the moment to call him out or to let him know that’s not acceptable here, you need to stop. Like that’s not wanted here. It’s a level of ignorance. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:49] Imagine that you were in a crowd. That wasn’t racist. And you just started hurling of racial slurs. What would the people in the crowd. They would tell you to shut the hell up. They would call the police on you. You know why people will call the police? They would do something to stop you. I guess the same reason that people don’t like take a squat in the mall parking lot because, you know, there’s no sign that says you can’t doo doo in the parking lot. Right. You can doo doo at a campground and nobody will think it’s crazy. But if you do it in Wal-Mart parking lot, people will think you’re crazy. People will call the police on you. And even if you say no, it ain’t no sign. I ain’t seen no rule that says you can’t sh*t in a Wal-Mart parking lot. 

Michael Harriot [00:09:46] People are generally constrained by social norms. But this one guy, supposedly who was the lone racist at BYU, he was not constrained because he knew he was surrounded by people who wouldn’t think his actions are crazy. BYU is one of the whitest institutions in America. BYU is whiter than the country of Switzerland. BYU has less Black people than the country of Switzerland. BYU is less than 1% Black. BYU has never had a single moment in its more than a century history where its student population has been more than 1%. As a matter of fact, of the top 100 schools. In America, there are only three schools that are whiter than BYU or less diverse than BYU. Clemson University. Jewish School. And a school for Forestry. That’s it. Those are the only schools in the top 100 that are less diverse than BYU. 

Michael Harriot [00:11:01] So this student, this so-called lone racist, knew that he was. Going to a place where he was protected by people who thought like him, because if he didn’t, he would be constrained by the social norms in the place that he was going. As a matter of fact. BYU thought that it was important to point out that the dude who was hurling these racial slurs wasn’t a student at BYU. So this dude wasn’t a student. He didn’t go to school there. Even though he was in a student section. He was just a dude who intentionally picked the one place where he could hurl racial slurs. Or maybe he was just a volleyball fan, right? Maybe like. I don’t know, but. The reality is the system that makes BYU very white is the same system that protected this so-called long racist as you killed racial slurs. Well, how can you say it to white people under the cost of a system? Well, see, here’s the thing. BYU is a private university, and most of its funding comes from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. And. Part of their policy for most of that church’s existence was to do what they call denying Black people the priesthood. 

Michael Harriot [00:12:41] So they believed that the tenet of this religion was that Black people wouldn’t go to heaven, that Black people were genetically predisposed to being evil, that Black people bore what they called the curse of ham, that God himself had cursed Black people. And because Black people couldn’t go to heaven or what they call hold the priesthood. You couldn’t advance in the church, you couldn’t become part of the priesthood, you couldn’t become part of the church’s hierarchy, and you definitely couldn’t get a scholarship or walked into that religion’s most important institution of higher learning. So. The institution of higher learning was protected by the system. That oppressed Black people that literally believed that Black people couldn’t go to heaven, like what is more oppressive than them. And because of that, remember this policy or maybe I didn’t say this, but that church rescinded that policy in 1976. 

Michael Harriot [00:14:00] So. If you look at BYU student population, it’s majority white because of that system. If you look at the population of Provo, Utah, or nearby Salt Lake City, it’s protected by that system that was perpetuated by their church. You know, if there are NBA players who sit who are asked, what is the most racist city you can play in? And people always expect them to say Boston, but they always say, Oh, nice. When we visit the Utah Jazz. Because that system perpetuates the oppression of Black people and it’s not codified. Well, in the case of Devi, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints, it is kind of codified, but they rescinded it. But it still exists. But it still perpetuates that oppression. And so. Despite what this Twitter would have you believe, oppression doesn’t have to be written down for it to be systemically racist. You know, that’s just something that white people made up in their head. That’s just something they believe with no evidence. Everything disputes what they say. History disputes it. The dictionary disputes the actual meaning of words. Disputes. Right. And. If you want to pretend that racism is a two way street, you have to ask yourself, why is there a system that builds racist streets? That’s because systemic racism built in. 

Michael Harriot [00:15:52] And the only thing that you can do to dismantle it is to download theGrio app, to subscribe, to tell a friend, and to remember that we will always leave you with a Black saying. And today’s Black saying is, Don’t stop til you get enough. Unless you’re talking about racism. And then, of course, we’ve always had enough. We’ll see you later on the videotape. Thank you for listening to theGrio daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app. Subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to podcasts at 

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