What part of systemic do you not understand?

The phrase “what part of CONCEPT do you not understand?” is used to try to get someone to stop and think about whatever CONCEPT it is that you are talking about. This happens when someone is uncritically taking something (CONCEPT) for granted, something that is more complex, or looks different from a different viewpoint. Hence the need for critical thinking.

The CONCEPT I’m thinking about this morning is systemic. What part of systemic do you not understand? (You is not necessarily you, the reader, but you generally, as in us).

The global protests today are said to be about systemic racism. Most people have a basic understanding of racism. Although “what part of racism do you not understand?” is valid for many White people. At its most basic level, though, even White people can see (literally) that skin color determines how you are treated in our society.

So many White people, though, have had trouble understanding the systemic part of systemic racism. White privilege meant White people could choose to ignore double standards in almost every aspect of the society they are part of. Inequities related to criminal justice and policing, environmental justice, education, housing, health care, economics, and political power among others. Many White people were so caught up in White privilege they weren’t even aware of these double standards. Didn’t realize the choice for better treatment was already made for them by default, because of their skin color.

This is changing for several reasons now. Murders by police can no longer be ignored because of civilians recording and sharing videos of these acts. Police body cameras were supposed to help with accountability, but too often were turned off. And the widespread use of social media platforms mean these videos are instantly available for the world to see. What was so often hidden no longer is.

The widespread damage to, and corruption of our political system, with increasing authoritarianism makes it difficult even for White people to believe we can affect political change.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyone’s lives. The virus of coarse doesn’t discriminate in who it affects. And has exposed the discrepancies in access to healthcare. Forced so many to stay at home, where vast numbers of people are re-evaluating how fulfilling their work is, and at the same time seeing who are really essential workers. Thinking about our public education systems. Seeing how it is to live without a steady income.

Almost hidden in all that news is our increasing environmental chaos. Severe storms, wildfires, drought, flooding, increasing air and ocean temperatures, etc. These things will continue to worsen.

The point I’m trying to make is how many systems are failing all around us in real time. I have the impression many White people have been narrowly focused on policing and criminal justice reform this past several weeks, when the damage to so many other systems is also happening, or perhaps is more visible now.

For many years indigenous peoples have tried show us that capitalism is the root of these systemic failures. A system that unfairly distributes wealth and is powered by fossil fuel energy has been destroying Mother Earth for centuries.

The indigenous organization Seeding Sovereignty recently created the campaign #CapitalismIsThePandemic. Making the connection between the colonial-capitalism system’s global economic and medical infections and their consequences.

According to Christine Nobiss, Decolonizer with Seeding Sovereignty, “Capitalism is the pandemic because, though we face COVID-19 together, the heightened economic imbalance is further exposing the deep racial divide in this country. Black, Latino/Latina, Indigenous, and immigrant communities are experiencing higher morbidity rates of COVID-19 due to pre-existing conditions created by the long-term global pandemic of colonial-capitalism.” These communities face strained and genocidal relationships with the American government and live with elevated rates of poverty, violence, unemployment, chronic illness, incarceration, deportation, water crises, inadequate housing, and food deserts—creating a perfect storm for mass infection.


I’ve been working on this diagram to show these interconnected systems. Show that capitalism is failing, causing broken political and economic systems. In addition we are experiencing the adverse effects of the pandemic. Our communities are in disarray.

What I’m trying to show with the diagram is that I agree that capitalism is the pandemic. Capitalism is the basic part of systemic racism. What is needed now is to break out of the capitalistic system. This is perhaps the most difficult thing for White people to contemplate as they realize so many parts of their lives would need to change. Especially materialistically.

Decolonization is the process to accomplish this. Decolonizing means educating White people about colonial capitalistic systems. And embrace the healing necessary to move forward to better systems. The left part of the diagram shows how indigenous ways and leadership can replace capitalism with equitable and environmentally sustainable systems.

If this makes sense, then perhaps you have a somewhat different answer to “what part of systemic do you not understand?”

As my friend Ronnie James says so well:

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James

This entry was posted in decolonize, Indigenous, revolution, Seeding Sovereignty, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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