Ending Racism Requires Systems Change

Recently, Rev. Alex Gee, wrote an incredible personal story about his Justified Anger about racism in Madison.  The story’s publication on the front page of the Capital Times has sparked many fruitful conversations about how to end enduring racism in a city where most would expect that such problems would be minimal.  After I read his compelling story (and I strongly recommend that you read it as well), I reached out to Rev. Gee to meet him and discuss how we might work together to transform the important conversation his article has started into enduring systemic change.


We met for coffee the day before Christmas, which I am sure must be a very busy time for any Pastor preparing for his church’s most important holiday.  But his commitment to ending racism in his life long town inspired him to take an hour out of his day to meet me and start what we both hope will be a fruitful relationship.

Of course, neither of us is naive enough to think that ending racism in Madison is an easily accomplished task.  After all, given its liberal, progressive history, if it were easy to end racism in Madison, it would have been done long ago.

Sadly, however, the markers of racism pervade our bastion of liberalism.  An examination of the available data tells the story only too well.  Whether it is the gigantic gap in our schools, with Black students graduating over 30 percentage points lower (55%) than White students (86.7%), or the juvenile arrest rates with Black juveniles being arrested at a shocking rate of 46.9% compared to the White arrest rate of 7.7%.

While some might jump to the conclusion that these horrific statistics are evidence of internal problems in the African-American community, Rev. Gee’s article reveals that the problems of racism are deeply rooted in systemic attitudes and perceptions about people of color.  Indeed, Rev. Gee himself has been a victim of racial profiling, as the Madison police dared to question him in his own car in his own church’s parking lot, investigating what he was doing there!  On another occasion, when he was questioned by the police while at a local bank, Rev. Gee asked why he was stopped.  A police officer told this honorable man of the cloth that it was because he fit a drug dealer profile!  It does not take a deep understanding of racism to understand that the only reason Rev. Gee fits a drug dealer profile, is that this well dressed professional happens to be black.

Thus, without enduring systemic change in the multiple layers of our society: schools, police, courts, housing, employment, and health care, the problem of racism is simply not going to go away.  The task is not easy, but if our nation can elect a Black President, surely we can bring the legacy of racism to an end in a liberal college town.

As I have written previously, systems change requires persistence.  It must start with how we treat our youth in school as generational change begins with the newest generation.  That means we must put an end to the schools to prison pipeline, which starts by ending the practice of routinely suspending students for mere disruptive behavior. Of course, if we do not resist the racism of low expectations, we will be doomed to stay mired in this painful cycle of low achievement rooted in racism.

After my meeting with Rev. Gee, we exchanged messages about how we both hope to work together on this important issue.  I felt truly blessed when Rev. Gee said that he “was inspired” by our meeting.  Indeed, Systems Change Requires Inspiring Action.  

In the coming weeks, I hope to work with Rev. Gee to bring together key community leaders to take his inspirational article from starting many important conversations to truly ending racism through systemic change.

For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.


13 thoughts on “Ending Racism Requires Systems Change

  1. Very well written Jeff and I agree with most, also I read Rev. Alex Gee’s opinion on link to Cap Times and also very good and I am sure that he has experiences in Madison that are unique only to males of African descent. Jeff in your paragraph-2 you stated that Christmas is the most important Christian Holiday and that for any Christian is not true, of all Christian remembrances only one is the most important, and that is Easter. The birth of any child is important, but it is the forgiveness of Sin that was accomplished by Christ on the Cross and the resurrection that is why there are Christians. Easter is also Passover with the deepest meanings, our Last Supper was the Seder meal. All present there were Jews that were also followers of Jesus.

    I also agree with you on the Madison Schools in what appears to be a very liberal place. The marginalization of People of Color and Latino’s within those 90-square miles, makes even a redneck like myself notice the racism.

  2. Fair enough, Pete. As a Jew growing up in Christian America, it often seems as if Christmas is the most important Christian holiday, but I do understand that the resurrection celebrated on Easter is the most important for many religious Christians. In any event, Rev. Gee was clearly taking time out of a very busy day to spend an hour talking about this important topic with me.

  3. I’m white, grew up in Milwaukee, and have a PhD from the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison. Born in 1943, I grew up in a culture that took racism for granted. I hate that I know the racist words for “Eenie Meenie Miney Mo” but am thankful that my granddaughters sing a modern version and don’t know the words that I can’t erase from my memory. Yesterday, a son and his wife (one white and the other black) gave birth to my newest granddaughter and that gives me great hope for a better future. Thanks for keeping us aware of this important issue by sharing Rev. Gee’s story. President Obama recently noted that all black men growing up in America have heard the click of car doors locking as they cross the street. We can be better than that – we just have to want to be better.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story, Judie. Yes, we do have to want to be better, but in addition, we have to hold those who have responsibility for the systems that are holding people of color and others behind accountable for their refusal to allow true equality to reign.

  5. The racism in the schools and in the streets is horrible. What surprises me is the racism from black police officers against black citizens as well. With that being said, both people of color and white people have to work on the racism issue. It’s not all one sided. My son is NOT racist, knew the home he was going to purchase was in a mostly black area of Madison, but didn’t think it would be a problem since he has friends of all ethnic backgrounds. Because he is 1/2 Caucasian and 1/2 Arabic he has definitely been racially profiled as well. His house has been targeted, as well as cars parked in front of his home. Profanity scraped into the paint, moon roofs shattered, a bullet hole in a drivers side window. Madison is better than this, Thank you Rev. Gee for helping with this problem.

  6. Stereotype Threats keep people down. It is something I work at overcoming each day. Racist images are everywhere you turn…media!

    “Bastion of Liberalism”, “liberal college town” seems demeaning. I am a liberal. Do you want me to turn away? I’ll work hard, but I’m no martyr.

  7. No, I certainly don’t want liberals to turn away. These are common terms which Madisonians readily accept. Nobody needs to be a martyr. In the end of the day, leaders of various institutions, e.g., police chief, DA, school superintendent, need to held accountable for achieving results which demonstrate a reduction in racism.

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