To the Editor:
This is in reply to Steven Young’s letter about “systemic” racism (The Catholic Messenger, 8-19-21). He is concerned the concept discounts individual self-determination and creates a group of victims. I understand systemic racism as “invisible” racism, especially to white people. For example:
We all know the Social Security Act of 1935 provided a safety net for workers in retirement. But I just learned that farmworkers and domestic workers were excluded from this act, who were (at the time) mostly African American.
The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 established a national minimum wage and a maximum workweek. But I just learned that domestic workers, farmworkers and tip-based professions (including servers, shoe shiners and Pullman porters) were excluded from this act, again mostly African Americans.
Your family may have benefitted from the G.I. Bill of 1944, giving WWII veterans opportunities for low-cost home ownership, education and training, and low-interest business loans. But I just learned that many African Americans were excluded from these benefits.
These are examples of invisible racism, discrimination written into law. My white parents and their children benefitted, and many African American families did not. Now that I know, I can’t un-know it.
As I reflect on the advantages whites gained compared to the potential wages, opportunities, and property lost by Black people, I don’t see a level playing field.
Racism today is not so much one person hating another because of their skin color, though that certainly still exists. The difficulty is its invisibility. No one person can be blamed for it, but racism is still ever-present, and we white people must recognize it and correct it.
May I recommend reading Father Bryan Massingale’s “Racial Justice and the Catholic Church” as a good starting point.