By Bruce Mabley
Throughout the planet, there has been much talk about systemic racism. In the United States, which has had a long history of racism embedded in an economic mode of production, the continued questionable shootings of Black citizens in the streets of America have given rise to the movement ‘Black Lives Matter’. They do matter. Viewed from the foreign perspective, it is extremely difficult to comprehend some of the actions of White America, not the least of which are the callous tweets and speeches of the former US President Trump and his unscrupulous and vociferous band of loyal supporters.
Even in meek and mild Canada, the Liberal Party Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has declared Canada to be a land under the sway of systemic racism. However, his view is not unanimous since the Québec Premier François Legault, while admitting that racism exists in his province, is not prepared to say that racism is of a systemic or systematic nature.
The main battleground is not between those who believe in systemic racism and those who do not. Almost everybody is prepared to accept the statement that racism exists. And most of those very same people would accept gladly measures taken in civil society and by the State to ensure the equality of all citizens before the law.
Yet, the concept of Man is a fatally fractured one. There will always be racists. Camus and Nietzsche teach us that the plague is in every one of us. No one is exempt. As such, effort is required to bend the arc and direct it towards sunlight.
The main debate over racism is between the believers of systemic racism and those who question its systemic nature. For the latter, individuals can be racist, although not the entire present societal structure or its customary practices.
Racism against who? In the USA, one might conclude that any group having interests contrary to ‘White America’, whatever that actually means, is racist. Hauling down historical symbols of oppression such as Confederate generals, Indian fighters or other misfits is given carte blanche and ideological cover. Anyone who opposes such acts may be guilty of ‘systemic racism’. The refusal of aufhebung (conservation, suppression and elevation) as the key to historical analysis gives way to sociological moralizing and political grandstanding draped in the robes of science and social justice. Reality is reduced and inclusion is banned by such reactionary acts.
If only this activism could be directed at current dictators and madmen like Assad of Syria, Putin of Russia or the disgraceful tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party, one could act more logically. Silence on these three fronts, while understandable given the urgent need for domestic justice, cannot be condoned or support current attacks on domestic security elites or ostracizing those who do not share the same opinion.
There is also a school of thought that makes the point that racism depends, in part, on national being. Take the example of Canada. Apparently unaware of the Underground Railroad, which brought many Black Americans to Canada fleeing the slave trade often with the active complicity of white abolitionists, Canadians of the Trudeau and Singh (leader of the NDP or Socialist Party) ilk are prepared to overlook national being in order to reap potential political benefits of trumpeting the plague of systemic racism. British troops saved large numbers of Black slaves immediately after the victory of the American revolution when slave owners and their teams sought to re-enslave the black Americans who fought with the British and return them to the South. These efforts were countered by American patriots like Jefferson and Washington, who sought to capture and return the unhappy stragglers south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Canada is not immune to racism. The new Nova Scotians arriving from the United States since the revolution learned this the hard way. Economics and competition for scarce resources are always an open door to exploitation and racism. How else can one explain popular support in America for a wall along the Mexican border and a prodigious litany of judicial measure seeking to keep Mexicans and Latinos out of the U.S.A.? A quick glimpse at differences in national treatment of racism can convince one that the present debate over systemic racism has its origin mainly in the America.
Indeed, national differences apply to the question of the object of racism in different national settings. In Europe, one might point to racism against Arabs, Turks or any immigrant group seeing asylum. For example, in Cairo, why are fair-skinned Arabs often served by black Egyptians from Upper Egypt?
Can we really trust our political elites to play fair when it comes to the case of systemic racism? The temptation to use the concept to marginalize people and ideas is rampant.
In the case of Canada, national being instinctively seeks compromise and consensus. Such is the nature of the polity and its chosen practices. Why not accept the concept of systemic racism? What harm could it do?
Similarly, I recall a diplomatic colleague responding to my question of why the Queen’s portrait was hanging in the Embassy lobby despite French Canadians and most new Canadians having nothing in common with the British monarchy, saying it cannot do any harm.
Marginalizing citizens by engaging in ideological fancy is hardly the stuff of which freedom and equality are made.
The concept of systemic racism is essentially of American origin and is an ideological concept unable to be proved except by accumulating massive anecdotal empirical evidence that rarely applies to most countries around the world. It could never be proved in a court of law. It is not a scientific concept and would not withstand the criticism of a first-year class in Political Science.
If racism is not uncommon in White America, the same might be said of other cultures and ethnicities, who also might harbor racists in their own right. Minorities, just like majorities, can have racists in their ranks.
Racism exists. It is not a societal good and must be fought against more by civil society and education than State intervention. This will help reduce racism in a more sustainable fashion instead of tainting its purpose and transparency.
Hauling down historical symbols and attempting to neuter education and history will ensure the continuation of racists and hurt a progressive movement by removing its grey matter.
Ultimately, systemic racism is an ideological concept born of ressentiment and meant more for furthering political purposes and careers than for speaking the truth. Such knowledge is a call for an ethical movement based on the values of intelligence and dedicated to educating youth about the origins and nature of human equality and dignity.