Steve Lunetta | Trying to Grasp the Meaning of ‘Systemic Racism’

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I’ve been looking at this term “systemic racism” and trying to understand it. Yes, I’m just a white guy but I’m really trying to get my fingers around the idea.

I have no doubt that systemic racism exists in parts of the South. Frankly, there are places down there where the Confederacy still lives, at least in the minds of those folks who live there. That needs to change.

However, I look around the West and the North and have a really hard time seeing it. At the companies I have worked, I have never been handed a card entitled “this is how we keep people of color down.” Nope. Never seen it.

I have recently heard certain college professors claiming that things such as being on time, doing well in school, being detailed, and working hard are all constructs of white privilege and part of this systemic racism that is being railed against.

I call bull on that. But I do see another form of systemic problem. 

Poor people certainly get the short end of the stick in our society. A couple examples immediately come to mind.

A few years ago, I had a friend get into a domestic altercation with a spouse. In anger, the spouse called the police, who arrived after cooler heads prevailed. In fact, the spouse did not want to press charges. 

But that did not matter. The police moved forward, arrested the “abuser,” which started a nightmarish cascade; bail bondsman, hearings, lawyers, required counseling, required classes, fines, penalties, and all on a strict schedule of due dates.

Mind you, my friend was a college-educated person with leadership responsibilities at work and a solid citizen in the community. After $20,000 and countless hours of community service and dealing with the “cascade,” he finally emerged.

Can you imagine what this would have been like for a poor person with no resources and poor self-management skills? Missed due dates could be penalized with more fines and/or punishment. A person caught in this trap could eventually see jail time.

How about the public welfare system? We had a family member who was recently caught in Nevada’s labyrinth of family services. Besides being wasteful, inefficient, rude, and generally a disgrace, Nevada family service staff assumes everyone who walks through the door is a piece of trash.

Example: In the payment of child support, the family service office always charges a $14 “late fee” as a routine practice regardless of whether the child support payment is late. In this way, the office benefits from the misery of the families that rely on their services. 

When challenged, the office staff simply responded that no one ever pays on time. They assume that the poor are all deadbeats.

Recently, we checked online to determine what services were available before we paid a visit. When we reached the office, there was a lady standing at the door saying, “You can’t come inside. Put your paperwork in the basket.” 

When we tried to ask a question, we were rudely told that no questions would be answered.

Is this what the poor must be subjected to day in and day out? Since many of the poor are people of color, one might say that this represents “systemic racism.” I disagree. I think the anger and hatred for our system is born out of gross mismanagement and ineptitude by the government mechanisms that were put in place to help the poor.

I would call this “systemic ineptitude” that disproportionately affects minorities.

Instead of calling everyone and everything “racist,” why don’t we look at the institutions that serve the poorer elements in our society and see if we can improve them, creating a more efficient and effective social service system?

What if we began asking poor folks to rate the service they receive from welfare and family service organizations to see where weaknesses exist? If an organization gets low ratings, we should change some management people and reorganize.

We should treat poor folks like customers who use services that should be streamlined and adapted to suit the community’s needs. It should be the objective of these service providers to make a satisfied customer out of every person who comes through their door, regardless of skin color.

“Systemic racism” is easy to say but nearly impossible to solve. “Systemic ineptitude,” with hard work and good management, can be defeated to make a brighter future for the poor.

That’s one white guy’s opinion.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita.

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