“I can’t breathe”: How you can impact systemic racism in the communities you serve

And how FaithX can help

By the Rev. Ken Howard

By now, most of you who follow our blog have had a chance to read the press release about the High Impact Award FaithX received for our work in mapping and mitigating systemic racism.

And while we are totally honored and excited to be recognized for the impact of our work, we would be even more excited to help more congregations and judicatories to make an impact on systemic racism in the neighborhoods they serve.

So this article is about how our approach to mapping and mitigating racism works and how we can help you employ that approach to confront systemic racism from your congregation or judicatory.

We begin by defining systemic racism

We have centered our work on a definition of systemic racism that is plain and simple:

Systemic racism is when a social system is structured in such a way that it disadvantages a particular race or ethnicity to the advantage of another

In other words:

You don’t have to be a racist to be complicit in systemic racism

The advantage of this definition is that we don’t have to convince people to accept the label of “racist” in order to begin the work of understanding and mitigating the effects of systemic racism in their own backyards. This is important because racism is constructed upon a false, pernicious, and nearly unconscious US/THEM meaning narrative that has been lodging itself more deeply into hearts and minds over centuries. And because of this, recovery from systemic racism requires us to begin to construct a new, true, more infectious, and more enduring WE/US narrative to displace the old one.

This starts with awareness that systemic racism not just exists and has an impact but also that it exists in their neighborhood and that it impacts them personally and people they know.

Here’s how it works…

The week after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, we prepared a series of 10 side-by-side maps* demonstrating the relationship between Race and Ethnicity on the one hand and various real life social issues on the other. You can find all 10  maps by clicking here, but I’m going to show you just three: pandemic vulnerabilityunemployment, and poverty.

Here is a map of downtown Minneapolis displaying African American neighborhoods (orange), Latinx/Hispanic neighborhoods (green), and White neighborhoods (grey):

Now, examine this map of those same neighborhoods compared to areas of high vulnerability to COVID-19 (purple).

And now, a map of those same neighborhoods compared to areas of high unemployment (the dark purple areas):

And finally, the same neighborhoods compared to areas of high poverty (tan).

What does it look like to you?

The statistical probability that just these three factors would coincide with those same neighborhoods by accident is more than 800,000-to-1. Meanwhile, the chances of all ten of the vulnerability factors showing the same pattern is more than 300-billion-to-one. In other words, there is virtually no chance unless it was baked into our social system and structure.

This is only the first in a longer step-by-step process we walk congregational leadership teams through to identify the specific impacts in their neighborhoods, which of those impacts their gifts and charism have prepared them to engage, what are their next steps, and what resources exist that might be helpful to them.

What kinds of areas does this approach work in?

We have done this work effectively in urban, suburban, and rural areas, as well as in entire judicatories.

Interested in learning more about how we can help?
Contact us here



* Maps produced by Ken Howard of FaithX using MapDash for Faith Communities by Datastory.