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We have been making our way through Jona Olsson's essay, Detour-Spotting, and taking a cold, hard look at how people who want to aid in the dismantling of racism may have difficulty, or how they might even serve to reinforce these racist tendencies. This isn't just a straightforward case of simple bigotry; these are deeply rooted psychological patterns that help to inform the mindsets of our country as a whole. Another good example is today's issue:

23) I Have To Do My Personal Work

“ I have to do my personal work first.” or “Ending racism is only about changing personal attitudes.”


Reality Check and Consequence

If we assume that personal reflection and interpersonal work is the end of our job as anti-racists, we will stay out of the public, institutional arenas. We will ignore cultural racist practices that don’t include us personally. We won’t take action, until we have finished ridding ourselves of all racist conditioning. And since that complete “cure” will never happen, we will never take any institutional or cultural anti-racist action.


As we should know by now, institutional racism is, more or less, the biggest part of the problem we are facing when it comes to what minorities are dealing with currently in this area. Yes, there are still individuals who think racist thoughts and do racist actions, but the element that is both most common and most horrific is institutional racism.

Here's a clearer look at what we're talking about when we discuss institutional racism. When a white cop (or really any cop) shoots and kills an unarmed minority citizen, we could view it as that individual, the police officer, acting against another individual, the citizen. But that really isn't accurate. That's because we are seeing the same actions happening over and over in different locations with different people. Officers in places all over the country have reacted in the same way to citizens, many of whom behaved in the least threatening way possible.

That tells us that this isn't a problem directly connected to "individuals." This is an example of institutional racism: this is a series of cases that have been dealt with in the same way by a lot of different people who have been conditioned or you might even say trained to react in a way that is built on racist concepts.

So, yes, individuals are acting and we can lay the blame on each one, singularly. But it's very clear that their actions are from an institutional source and even if we did blame each person who committed these acts (rarely if ever), that doesn't resolve the source from which the thoughts and beliefs in how to behave and what to do when faced with a similar situation arises for the next person in that position. That means that as more and more police officers train with these concepts, the results are interchangeable. That's how even minority police officers can and do shoot first. And that's why there is no expectation that there will not be "the next police murder of an unarmed minority citizen."

That's also why today's topic is such a bogus excuse. Of course, personal work is important, and everyone should learn as much as they can about race and racism. But I would suggest that at least some of the officers who killed black citizens in the course of their work do not believe themselves to be racist. They may have never had what one would call a racist thought or done any racist action. They may even know or be friends with minority people in their social lives. But that's how this goes. Institutional racism is bigger than any individual and it's a lot more difficult to understand, more challenging to believe, less likely to be noticed and less likely to be blamed.

But the more we focus on individual's actions, the more we ignore this more urgent and more enormous problem of how, as a society, we are allowing the standards and practices of our policies in government, in the private sector, in how the media depicts minorities to, if you will, color our collective perception of just who minority people are, what they do, how they deserve to be treated and what happens to those people who dole out those punishments.

So, yes, we all should be doing personal work, but the real threat, the things that are killing in a continual and really methodical way are based on institutional racism, and until we address that, all of these "individual" cases will continue to pile up, right next to the pile of black bodies who were once living, breathing human beings.



Previous thinkposts in this series:

1. Day One - I'm Colorblind
2. Day Two - Bootstrap Theory
3. Day Three - Reverse Racism
4. Day Four - Blame The Victim
5. Day Five - The White Knight
6. Day Six - Lighten Up
7. Day Seven - Don't Blame Me
8. Day Eight - BWAME
9. Day Nine - We Have Overcome
10. Day Ten - The End Run
11. Day Eleven - Due Process
12. Day Twelve - By Association
13. Day Thirteen - The Penitent
14. Day Fourteen - White Wash
15. Day Fifteen - Not Here

XX. Intermission

16. Day Sixteen - Former Life
17. Day 17 - Straightening Up
18. Day 18 - The Isolationist
19. Day 19 - Blackwards
20. Day 20 - Teach Me
21. Day 21 - White on White
22. Day 22 - Smoke and Mirrors

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