A massive problem, that has recently been both seen and exposed. But what is the problem? What is its name? What we are seeing is largely the problem and evil of racial prejudice. But racial prejudice rarely grows into systemic racism. People may be racists without the whole department, organization becoming systemically racist.
I am writing as a disciple of Jesus. And as a citizen of the United States of America. What I am writing is NOT designed to be political, religious or philosophical. I write because I have not heard others make this point, though I am sure some must have. I will be happy if, by the end, it causes you to pause and think. I will really be overjoyed IF this helps you to join us who are fighting wisely against racial prejudice wherever we see it.
A lie is the opposite of a truth. It is a deception, a falsehood—something that will not endure because it can’t. It has no legs to stand on. Before too long it will collapse. The Bible affirms this global belief in stating, “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor 13:8). Truth is reality. A lie is not based on reality. And the bigger the lie, the more destructive it will be for those who trust in it. It is obvious that a lie can persist for a long time, if the context in which it is believed persists. But a lie cannot last forever.
There is a LIE being perpetrated within and about the USA. It is a deadly lie, becoming stronger each day. For some, it has become a foundational principle. They cannot go forward without building everything upon it. This lie is being repeated and accepted, growing with a momentum that seems almost unstoppable. But it will stop someday. Maybe not until it has wrought the entire destruction of the United States of America as we know it; but it will stop.
You see, lies always eventually run out of gas. Because there is no super-race, Nazi-ism ran out of gas—but it cost the lives of millions. Because it was based on a dehumanizing lie, slavery ran out of gas—but it cost a civil war and the consequent deaths of over half a million men, together with unimaginable sorrow and setback for American Blacks. We are still being greatly affected by the lie of Black inferiority—and of those who think Whites are somehow inherently superior to non-Whites.
But, this all being true, there is one lie, one error that will not help us going forward into a truly just and equal society. And this is the lie: The United States is guilty of systemic racism.
I do not know when it first appeared or by whom this statement was first made. That doesn’t really matter. We are dedicated to free speech. Even speech that advances error. This freedom of expression is one of the rights that makes the USA special.
But, please, pause to think what “systemic racism” actually means. Words have meanings. Phrases that are repeated, without understanding their meaning—do not make the phrases true. No matter how long and loud they may be uttered, a lie will never become truth. Even if a majority of the population repeat it often, that does not make it so. American does not suffer from systemic racism. It does suffer from racial prejudice and racist tendencies; but, these are far different from the nation being systemically racist. Let me explain, so we can lay aside a lie upon which we simply cannot build our country.
For something to be “systemic,” it has to be an “essential”, “integral part” of the “system.” In other words, if you remove it, you destroy the entity, the system itself. Just look up in any standard dictionary what the word “systemic” actually means.
Now, let me ask you—what “system” or whole functioning thing in the USA depends on racism? If we cannot find anything itself is systemically racist, how can the whole country be built on systemic racism? It cannot be! Racism, simply defined, is the belief that one race is superior to another race. A racist is someone whose views of race affect their lives holistically. They cannot ever freely advance people of other races above their own because it makes no sense for them to do that. A true racist cannot bear the thought of interracial dating or marriage. But millions of people with racial prejudice struggle with interracial relations.
What existing body in America demands, teaches and perpetuates as TRUTH, racism? That one race of people is inferior to another? That you cannot belong to their group unless you agree with that racist conclusion?
Does either major political party? Thankfully, No! You see, unless it is a true, White Supremacy or Black Supremacy or Hispanic Supremacy Party. What job in the USA demands racism? What group demands racism? You see, it must be demanded IF that group or position or job is systemically racist.
I know many police officers, Black and White, etc. They are my close friends. No one has told me that they were trained by a department that taught racism. That demanded White, etc superiority. In other words, no one has said that you cannot get a job in the police department without becoming a racist. If that is true, then the police of the USA are not, as a whole—as a system—systemically racist. They may struggle with racial prejudice, each one to a varying degree. But THAT does not equal systemic racism. Law enforcement in the USA is not a system perpetuated by racism. Every officer must have some thoughts on race. And many, depending on a host of things, may struggle with racial prejudice. But, that truth hardly makes the department racist. We have to be careful of how we use words.
Having said this, we surely do have a problem! A massive problem, that has recently been both seen and exposed. But what is the problem? What is its name? What we are seeing is largely the problem and evil of racial prejudice. But racial prejudice rarely grows into systemic racism. People may be racists without the whole department, organization becoming systemically racist.
Prejudice, as a word, comes from “pre-judgment.” Judgments or conclusions about others based largely on skin color. Believing something to be true based on mere appearance. It is awful, wrong and certainly un-Christian to make such judgments. Or to live with pre-set conclusions about race. That is racial prejudice. Jesus explicitly forbad His followers from drawing conclusions based solely on the appearance of others. He opposed racial pre-judgments. He was dead set against racial prejudice. And so, then, should all His followers be set against them.
How did the USA go from racial prejudice to the accusation of being systemically racist? Who made that jump? Who jumped right over racial prejudice and went for systemic racism? That is a leap that no country can survive! Racism has appeared for a time in some cultures. There have been evidences of systemic racism on earth before, and that still exist today. But, thankfully, they do not last forever! As recently as 1994, the Rwandan Genocide, saw one tribe of people (Hutus) attempt to eliminate another tribe (Tutsis), with over 500,000 people horribly tormented and killed in three months. Eventually the Hutus were driven from power and, with it, their systemically racist belief that “Tutsis were roaches, needing to be exterminated.” And, wonderfully, today Rwanda explicitly rejects such systemic racism. Examples could be given of how systemic racism has arisen in White vs White cultures, Black vs Black cultures, Asian vs Asian cultures and Hispanic vs Hispanic cultures. The result of this has always been severe oppression, enslavement and, at times, murder. Power is wanted by the racist in order to purge or lessen the effects of another group within their society.
The UNITED States, if it is truly systemically racist, cannot survive as a united people. If there is any ethnicity which is forcefully denied and subordinated because of their color or ethnicity, unity is impossible. You cannot unite what is, in its very being, racist. Yes, racial prejudice is a reality which must be vilified and opposed. This is being done today and progress is being made. But, for those who argue that the USA suffers from systemic racism, the only cure is a total and radical makeover. Few of us USA citizens truly want that. We want racial equality, fairness, justice, respect and opportunity. We do not think the whole system needs to be blown up.
Did the Founding Fathers demand a country (a system) that was systemically racist? Did they demand as principle and essential to the uniting documents the belief that all non-whites were inferior? No, they did not, as the Constitution and other original documents reveal. Were some of the Founders racially prejudiced? Yes! And some fought bravely against slavery, while many did not. Their moral values being terribly compromised by other concerns, chiefly their economic and governing desires. Our national history reveals many who, from the beginning, opposed slavery.
There is no doubt that there were many Founders who were racially prejudiced. They “pre-judged” others based on skin color. And as a result they used Blacks as if they were property—for their own ungodly economic, etc. lusts. This is all evil and should be both admitted and opposed.
Those who know me, know that I have stood against racial prejudice. I have preached and written against that sin. I have even argued, publicly and in writing, for “the righteousness of reparations.” I believe and have even proposed a way for us to make “reparations” for the national sin of slavery. Of course, nothing can undo the horrendous evil of slavery and its limitless evil results. There can be no “complete reparation” made until the judgment of Almighty God. But there is much that can and should be done.
I embrace racial unity. My family is a living example of what racial unity can look like. That does not mean we are void of all racial prejudice. It is still there in ways, deeply embedded in our still-sinful and selfish nature. But, we oppose racial prejudice as sin and try to deal with it when it becomes apparent in both us and others.
So, in conclusion, do the principles and platforms of either Donald Trump or Joe Biden demand systemic racism? NO! They are both true American citizens. Yes, with very different views on how best to govern. But, that is the beauty of the USA. We can differ. But to accuse one another of systemic racism is simply false. Can racial prejudice be seen in statements that have been made by various people on both sides? Yes! We can survive these and emerge better. But I doubt that we can emerge intact, as “one nation under God” from the belief and actions of those who are convinced that the USA is a country defined by systemic racism.
Dr. Ed Gross is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and lives in Bridgeville, DE.