I have talked about the topic of inter-generational trauma in relation to poverty and now I’ll discuss how it relates to systemic racism. To start let’s look at the difference between racism and systemic racism. When I look at these two terms I really wonder if there is a difference. You may consider racist actions, words and writings as an individual act, but is it? We are all members of various racial, religious and organizational structures. These structures represent and operate under a system. What if that system contained, either intentionally or without intent, certain protocol or operational rules that were racist? If we are part of any such body or race, we become part of the system.
In a larger context, if we are white, we become part of any white structures or systems in place that promote racism. As an example here in Canada, it was the early white settlers and their white government that established the Indian residential school system, which has been described by some as cultural genocide, through its efforts to assimilate the Indigenous population into white society, thereby destroying their history, culture, language and faith traditions.
If we are all part of the systemic racism that still exists in so many ways, both subtle and direct, what are we to do? The concept of systemic change has been promoted and developed within the Vincentian family as a means to advocate and implement such changes to those structures that keep people living in poverty. This same principle can certainly be used to address systemic racism.
One foundational component of systemic change requires a personal transformation in our own thinking that includes moving from transactional to relational. If we are to change systems it must be personal and more holistic in how we relate to persons living in poverty, victims of systemic racism and those suffering from trauma, which is often a result of poverty and/or systemic racism.
Opposing systemic racism can mean undertaking a huge effort but it can start with our own personal actions. Do we speak out when we hear micro aggressive words from fellow workers, family and Vincentians? Do we make an effort to reach out to people that look different than us, or practice a different faith, or speak a different language? Can we all do more? Can we all do better? Is it possible for our Vincentian family to become more diverse in our membership? I’ll end with a sentence from my friend Sister Susan, SC Halifax.
RACIAL HARMONY and CULTURAL REVERENCE
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is a Canadian Vincentian. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.