Letter from the Editor:
Systems and Stressors

We live in a culture that is driven by systems, visible and invisible. For example, our homes are connected to an electrical grid that distributes power according to the systems that determine its purpose as well as its payment. Great efforts go into planning, development, and maintenance, and the delivery to our home for lighting and heating and cooking and entertainment comes at a cost to us—which we (usually) willingly pay. Roads, food distribution, travel, education, religious observances—so much of what we participate in as individuals is participating in systems.

And yet systems, while they can appear strong and unassailable, can fail when they receive inputs that do not “make sense” or that are not accounted for. Try running an electrical grid that’s dependent upon natural gas during a record cold snap together with deliberate refusal to connect to a larger national grid—the result is an entire state whose population freezes in their own homes, with some even dying from the lack of heat.

It didn’t take much in terms of stress to break the electrical grid. Too much cold, too much draw, no extra energy supplies—and the system collapsed entirely, delivering no energy at all.

All it took was a series of cascading events that were unplanned for.

I was thinking about this in considering the entrenched system of racism in America. It looks unassailable—even the worldwide protests after the on-camera murder of George Floyd have done little to effect real change in our political choices and budgets. The system accommodated the protests, corralled them, sealed them off, and reduced them to mere outrage.

Systemic racism is still here and looks to be eternally present.

But I have a theory that perhaps what we’re doing, while useful in many ways, isn’t stressing systemic racism at the right points. Similar to the way a state electrical grid failed because of too many cascading issues that eventually overwhelmed its operation, I’m wondering if perhaps we need to rethink how and what we are doing to achieve justice so that we can somehow overwhelm the system where it’s not expecting stress.

Perhaps the protests and books and letter-writing and speeches and corporate commitments—while good!—are not the right way to create a situation of cascading stressors that will overwhelm and shut down the system.

But I don’t know for sure what the right things are. Friends tell me that when about three percent of the public engages in disruptive protests, the systems bend to accommodate the protests, enough so that odious policies and laws are changed as the system attempts to survive. But I wonder if there are other things besides public protests that we can be doing that can work towards that goal of achieving equality.

Perhaps it will take us white people simply being much more willing to risk our acceptance in white society by speaking out directly about actions of systemic and personal racism as we encounter it. Perhaps it will take the consistent push for equality in our churches and jobs and communities and even our families. Perhaps it will take much more physical effort in finding and registering more voters and spending the money to get voters to the polling stations. These are all ways that we white people can engage in stressing the system so that it must respond by changing.

The system that exists can’t handle the situation when the main benefactors (white people) start hollowing the system out from the inside or stop responding with complacency to useless offers of “change.” I’m thinking that we should be looking to these disruptive actions more so that we can overwhelm and then eventually break the system so that we might establish a better one.

What do you think? Where would you like to put yourself into the grid so that you can stress it to bring it down for a better, more robust community based on equality and inclusion?

In This Issue

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If you could have only twenty Black authors, I would select these.

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Despite hardships, disenfranchisement and racial violence, Black communities and businesses continued to persevere and thrive

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Final Thoughts

Love one another.

Stephen Matlock
Our Human Family, Senior Editor

Top photo by Evelyn  Paris on Unsplash

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