Sunday, June 14, 2020

What does "systemic racism" really mean - Part 2

Just two days after her much reported interviews in which she admitted to having struggled with the meaning of "systemic racism" (which I discussed in my previous post), RCMP Commissioner Lucki clarified her position, saying in no uncertain terms that she DOES indeed believe that there IS systemic racism in the RCMP, just in case there was any doubt there: "I do know that systemic racism is part of every institution, the RCMP included". Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki also issued his own mea culpa. So, pretty much what she said before, but even clearer. Whether she was pushed to make the additional statement (for the sake of her job security, perhaps) is a moot point.
But even the serious press like The Globe and Mail is calling this back-tracking, claiming that, in her original interview with the paper, she said categorically that "we don't have systemic racism". What she actually said was much more nuanced: "If systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our policies and procedures, I would say that we don't have systemic racism", a very different thing, as I think the Globe should recognize.
As I understand it, Ms. Lucki is saying that, although there may be some racism in the force, there are no specific policies explicitly built into the organizational rule book that deliberately exclude black people (in the way that black people used to be excluded from golf clubs or certain restaurants, for example), or explicit policies that say "thou shalt stop or follow every black person you see, because they may be guilty of something", which is certainly one valid way you can interpret /the phrase "systemic racism". If there were such rules, then presumably all police officers would be going around harassing, beating up and killing black people, which is manifestly not the case.
She is saying that the RCMP does not have official rules like those, but that some officers can still interpret the rules and procedures that do exist in a way that allows them to perpetuate racist acts and attitudes. She is saying that she is not sure that this is the same thing as "systemic" or not, which I think is a reasonable response, and possibly more nuanced than a blind, unthinking, "Oh, you want me to say we have systemic racism? OK, we have systemic racism".
God knows, we need a bit more nuance in this conversation. So, let's look at what systemic racism really means in Part 3.

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