While systems are created with intention- the intention to protect children; the intention to investigate a crime; the intention to promote public safety.
Often times these intentions are executed through institutions which are underpinned with misogyny, patriarchy, racism and xenophobia. What happens when your identities are conflated with criminality? Statistics time and time again show us that people of color are over represented in prisons and child welfare involvement while simulatenously underrepresented in government and attainment of higher education. It might feel as though the latter is pushing upstream against the currant. Which begs the question can systems that were designed by the dominant culture; exist for those that outside of that culture?
While systems can go through a process of reparations there are still lingering generational traumas and suspicions that question- will the system actually help? I humbly propose that the system is not the solution: at least not the only solution. We can put millions of dollars and vast amounts of energy into improving social systems so that outcomes for people of color are more equitable and this is important work. Yet, what if there needs to alternative systems? For example, In unbanked communities; if a bank will not give you a loan to start a business wouldn't you ask your friend or community? For decades people who have been marginalized have created alternatives where a mainstream system puts up barriers. Or what if there are needs that a system was never meant to fulfill completely. Can child welfare replace the family? Can police bring about peace in a city? Can the criminal justice system ensure public safety?
Systems can only deal with problems identified by the system. If people are unwilling to engage a system because of the perceived harm the system will do to them; then there must be alternatives while also creating systems that are more just and equitable. The people who run systems, often are people with power, privilege and resources. If people of color are not represented at these levels what reassurances are there that the scales will tip in favor of people of color? Or that decisions made can reflect the experiences of people who utilize public systems.
People with privilege always have the option of private- private schools, private transportation, private health insurance and can divest from public systems. What investment people with privilege do have in these systems is very abstract and theoretical. Decisions seem to be made in an abstract vacuum, that tangibly change another persons life. In other words, I may care about food stamps in theory but if the country decided tomorrow that food stamps were eliminated I would not go hungry-this is class privilege. Or a more recent example, if school lunches were eliminated who's children would go hungry?
As a county we also have not answered the fundamental question of Am I my brother's keeper? If my sister is sick and cannot afford treatment do we as a county have the will to provide it? If my child desires an education but happened to be born into a family that cannot afford it, are the child's dreams deferred? As Americans it feels that we like the "idea" of a safety net; but we have not decided whether its worth the cost.
Where does this leave us? I believe there are different actions that must be taken. First, to continue to fight and advocate for equitable public systems. Second, to create alternatives and innovations that engage people that have been disenfranchised and marginalized and place them at the center of the dialogue rather than as an afterthought. Third, there must be a will to speak truth to power and not slink back quietly when injustice occurs. Because the system by itself does not hold the solution, there must be insiders in the system and outsiders of the system that continue to challenge it, mold it and hold it accountable to its positive intention not only for some but for all.