Despite a strong commitment to promoting social change and liberation from centuries of mental bondage, there are few social psychology models for creating systems to address oppression. Given how embedded racism is in all American institutions such a significant shift in the system’s policies, practices, and procedures is required to address institutional racism and create societal and institutional change. The optimum word here is change! Humans by nature are change adverse, even when said change would be beneficial to certain groups. Systemic racism has been embedded in our culture since America’s inception. There are many of us who so vehemently despise change that we would sacrifice our very existence in order to maintain the hegemonic social contract that exists between the races.
Racial disparities are a consequence of U.S. history, of the biases and stereotypes created by that history, and of the still strong divisions in lived experience between groups that we call “races.” It is impossible to tell the full story of racial disparities without considering the full range of racialized historical and current factors that shape everyday life in the United States. The ravages of slavery, Jim Crow, forced migration, and policies that enforced unequal treatment placed African Americans and most people of color at an economic and social disadvantage that persists to this day. In fact, there are those who long for the days when racial disparities were more overt and pronounced than they are today. Regardless of where Americans fall on the racial disparity spectrum, all of us have become comfortable with the status quo!
Implicit biases are deep-seated attitudes that operate outside conscious awareness that may even be in direct conflict with a person’s stated beliefs and values. Changing those biases and the institutions created because of them implies that the problem of disparities is not simply one of individual behavior. It is a problem that is rooted in institutional structures and practices. Given how embedded racism is in institutions such as healthcare, policing, contracting, employment and banking to name a few, a significant shift in the system’s policies, practices, and procedures is required to address institutional racism and create change to reduce racial disparities. It is impossible to fully conceptualize the breadth, depth and complexity of racism and its relationship to various disparities. Therefore, it is necessary to identify where and how to intervene. Dismantling racism requires a systematic intervention process designed to shed light on where and how to intervene in each system to address wide ranging disparities. It becomes important to begin addressing the complex and multiple causes and faces of oppression, and the many ways it is affecting individuals and communities. Having people with different perspectives on the problem collaborate on addressing it is critical for accurate problem identification and creating a solid foundation for systemic change. The cause of problems, particularly pervasive problems like healthcare disparities, are often larger than individuals. Systemic problems are rooted in institutions, making institutional oppression an important concept to consider when addressing any form of societal, institutional, or community change. Creating systemic change to address racism and other forms of institutional oppression is not a linear process, nor can all the necessary change strategies be anticipated from the beginning.
Dr. King notes: ‘‘...the line of progress is never straight” or comfortable.
As human beings our behavior typically defaults to the path of least resistance! There will be immeasurable resistance when it comes to changing ingrained biases and institutions. Therein lies the biggest obstacle, us!