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IDIC: What Does Systemic Actually Mean?

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Systemic is a commonly used word, especially when discussing big ideas and problems. However, it’s important to recognize what the word means rather than guessing based on the life the word has taken on.

Systemic means relating to the entirety of a system rather than a portion of it. Since it affects the entire system, it can be incredibly difficult to remove something affecting it. For example, there are systemic infections that the medical field has to treat.

Socially, systems develop around commonalities, such as culture, ethnicity, and religion. Corporately, systems develop around efficiency. In nature, ecosystems develop as the sum of all the organisms.

Systems and things that have become systemic are incredibly hard to change. Whatever needs to change is part of every piece in the system. That’s a lot of pieces to change, and these days, change is even harder since people want it to happen instantly.

For the purposes of this blog, we’ll use Critical Race Theory (CRT) to explain. CRT is over four decades old, and it is an academic field. It looks at race and ethnicity as social constructs and then studies how they relate to laws, politics, and society.

For example, CRT ties how the centuries of legal precedent in the United States is based on African Americans as enslaved people and then as second-class citizens. The weight of all that history on the side of the system makes it challenging to overturn.

Additionally, there is a social component to the challenge. It’s always easier to go with the system than it is to go against it. Going against the system also carries consequences, as the advocates for equality have shown.

As the literature about CRT has proven, the process of change is also convoluted and often designed to protect itself. That’s part of why the challenges to it also take so much time and frustrate so many.

These are just a few examples of why it can be challenging to tackle something that is systemic. We can always learn more about the various problems. We can always examine ourselves to see if we’re perpetuating things. We can change ourselves. If we have the energy, we can participate in these movements to change it for everyone.

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