By Robin Lehman

First of all, let me say that half the reason I write is to get a response. My belief is that we need to discuss and argue much more than we do now and my sense is that The Valley Reporter would welcome polite debate.



Mostly what we talk about these days in terms of political systems is systemic racism or sexism, etc. But political systems, major and minor, are what influences our social lives all the time. Of course, the most basic political system is the system of republican democracy first developed by the founders. This system has changed considerably in 250 odd years: The senate is now elected instead of appointed, the two houses of the Legislature being equal now, the president much more powerful than before. Political systems are much more than laws though. They include customs and ethics that change through the people involved. The founders had an entirely new concept that, “All men are created equal…” but they owned slaves and Africans were 2/3s of a person. That was acceptable to them. Through the political systems, both legal and social, that we’ve had since then we no longer have race-based slavery and everyone over the age of 18 can legally vote. What I’m trying to get at is that, when we talk about systemic oppression, it’s about the social/political practices that have brought us to this historical moment in time. Even though individuals in the system may or may not be racist, the system itself is racist and oppressive.

Slavery is in the constitution. The constitution only allowed nonwhites to vote after the 15th Amendment and women after the 19th. These are the systemic changes that finally came about through citizen activism: marches, demonstrations and riots. But the systems of oppression still operate. After WWII veterans had special housing built which didn’t allow Blacks. In the south, the systems included separate facilities for Blacks and whites. Policing has always been and continues to be about keeping people who don’t fit the norms in their place but, systemically speaking, it’s been worst for Black people and the indigenous communities (although queer and other communities have been oppressed too). This is part of systemic oppression.


The value of acknowledging the reality of systemic oppression as opposed to individual hatred is that we can then focus on making our communities more livable for all of us. Each one of us can be a complete idiot regardless of race, sex or gender. We all know that there are Black police as well as white. The system of policing is what needs to be changed. Historically, policing was an attempt by white men to keep all others in check. [If this offends you, I am a sis gendered white male middle class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP). I have been privileged.] It’s not about you or me. It’s about the system that we were born into! The system was created in part to maintain white male supremacy. If you’re white you’ve benefitted from this system. Yes, there are poor white men (intersectionality is helpful in describing this problem) but again, it’s about the systems that allow this to happen not about the individuals.

Each one of has probably, in some way, been abused. But! Africans were kidnapped en masse and put into work prisons, beaten and killed. Native Americans had their land and culture stolen from them for no other reason than we white men wanted it. White people owe the rest of the American community. Until white people recognize and apologize (reparations) to the oppressed communities, we will be a nation apart from itself.

P.S. I know I’ve left a lot of oppressed communities out of this essay and I apologize.

Lehman lives in Warren.