Resisting racism’s evil, infectious spread

"As a systemic problem, racism lurks in quiet assumptions held by many people. Racism usually abhors loud displays of prejudice. They threaten its power by raising people’s concern." Photo: Lightspring/Shutterstock

People of the dominant culture sure don’t like hearing anything that hints they might be even a little racist. Folks quickly protest, “I am not a racist.” Others angrily ask, “Are you saying that I am a racist?!” This appears to be based on a misunderstanding of what racism is: a systemic problem more dangerous than any individual’s bad attitudes or prejudice. Part of the real danger of racism is the way it hides out in commonly held assumptions and polite agreement across a whole culture. It infects and deforms all of us.

Many people think of racism only as a gross display of objectionable prejudice by a person or persons against another person or people of a different race. Although this is certainly bad, it is not the real danger of racism. As a systemic problem, racism lurks in quiet assumptions held by many people. Racism usually abhors loud displays of prejudice. They threaten its power by raising people’s concern.

Take, for instance, the widely held assumption that Indigenous peoples are primitive. This idea, based in ethnocentric and culturally biased notions of proper and desirable behaviours, has spread among Western peoples and across their cultures. Place this idea across a culture—in governance and in church practice and teaching—and you have, without much fanfare, laid the foundation of mayhem, destruction and death. In such a simple idea, racism hides by looking like wisdom or compassion. This is what systemic racism is like—ideas that are quietly held by large groups of people, including the people who are the objects and victims of the bias. Over time, racism hides and abides in the various structures of our common life and culture.

The Scriptures describe systemic evils like racism as principalities and powers. St. Paul asks us to put on the whole amour of God to struggle with these things that we know and encounter today in institutions, ideologies and images. Confronting racism is a basic and fundamental aspect of our discipleship—to do good and to resist evil.

The question is not, “Am I a racist?” Sadly, we all have traces of that thinking in our minds and hearts. The question is, “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”


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Mark MacDonald
Archbishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous archbishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.


  1. I’m kind of left not knowing how to respond to this, apparently I can’t say “I am not racist”, as it seems you have made that assumption for me, so that is out. I have interacted with a lot of different races of people and have never treated any of them with contempt and have gotten along with all of them as I treated them as I treat others of my own race. What more can I do? Our son had football friends that were indigenous and black and they were always welcomed in our home and treated with no prejudice. What more can I do? Before you assume me a saint, there are things about other cultures that I don’t like, but when I interact with the person I am not concerned about their culture, it is how we treat each other face to face that counts to me.

  2. The whole point, Harold, is to make “systemic” into a viable philosophy to promote victimology. If our individual actions are not the problem, then the activists need to create the problem elsewhere. Macdonald doesn’t say why thinking of a culture as “primitive” (meaning: having the characteristics of the earliest stages of civilization) causes death and destruction. Presume he’s referring to anything done in the last 300 years to bring indigenous culture into the modern age. This incorrect trope not only negates any good accrued to modernisation but also says it would have been better to just have left everything the way it was. Anything else is racism. You can try to make a philosophy out of this but it negates the reality of how you clearly described your own life. You can get more grants, funding and other money by blaming “institutions” , which are not, according to Macdonald, made up of people. It’s “ideas that are quietly held by large groups of people.” Well isn’t each one in the group thinking this? So isn’t each individual responsible? How does an idea hurt anyone? It’s the action taken as the result of the idea that should be at issue. But MacDonald can’t define “racism” as individual actions because, well, there almost aren’t any he can point to. This is the sorry state we’re in where “non-indigenous” people are to blame for all the current ills of the world. It’s a lie.I’m not a racist and no institution I am part of is racist. We should stop focusing on imaginary evils and start helping individuals.


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