Disclaimer: This dictionary term is meant to act as a red-blue translator to help you understand how people of different political stripes use, think, or feel about the same word or phrase. The Red Blue Dictionary is not meant to provide a concrete, final definition of hot-button words, but rather, to help people better understand one another.
Also known as “institutional racism,” this term has become far more common in popular usage over the last decade. In 2006, professor Joe Feagin wrote “Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression,” in which he proposed there is an underlying pattern in how “major institutions have been thoroughly pervaded by racial stereotypes, ideas, images, emotions, and practices” and went on to theorize that “this system of racial oppression was not an accident of history, but was created intentionally by white Americans.” This oppression, according to Dr. Feagin, was “not just a surface-level feature of society, but rather it pervades, permeates, and interconnects all major social groups, networks, and institutions across society.”
This view of racism is a sharp departure and dramatic expansion of the more typical definition of racism historically, which most often centered around individual attitudes and actions that reflect an endorsement of one’s own racial group’s superiority, another racial group’s inferiority, or harmful behavior directed at someone specifically because of their race. In contrast to that view, “systemic racism” invites attention to non-agentic, non-conscious, non-personal ways in which racial hostility purportedly permeates all of society. Most prominently, for instance, law enforcement has been the subject of heightened scrutiny for patterns of behavior towards African-Americans that critics argue may not reflect conscious bias — but, rather, the manifestation of deeper, more implicit bias and hostility towards blacks.
Compared with the more bounded, individual-level definition of racism, this more expansive meaning has generated much more resistance, controversy and pushback. While growing numbers of Americans now embrace “systemic racism” as a reality to accept and confront, many people have risen in opposition to the term — seeing it as an attempt at further ideological intrusion from progressives, revising how we think of problems facing our country - and ushering us towards solutions that favor one political vision in the country (e.g., critical race training or Marxist government policies).