Disrupting Systemic Racism

Rust cog in a machine
Cog (Levine, 2013).

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about systems lately. If you think in terms of a thermostat, you set the temperature, the AC or heat kicks on, when the temperature gets to the desired degree, the AC or heat system holds the temperature constant until you manually change (or disrupt) it again. You are external to the AC or heat system, put you participate in its output of cooling or heating. In many ways, this as a way to think about dismantling systemic racism.

Spinning system of cogs as a brain
Cog (Stcynine, 2008)

Another way to think about it, are cogs in machines. You take one cog out and the system may fall apart or work less efficiently. Sometimes cogs rust, teeth break, or get stuck, and the only way to break them free is to apply some oil and a use wrench, chisel and hammer, or what ever tools you have to remove the cog.

I used to think that dismantling systems requires working within the system to change it. But that is only partially true. Sometimes it takes one person to step outside of the system to to apply the oil and disrupt the system enough so those that participate within the system can change it. In other words, it takes both internal and external work. Internal work may be examining how you see through your own positionality. As a white-skinned cisgendered male, I had to examine how my own colorblindness was itself a racist assumption. As someone who works within many systems such as academia, faith-based, and community systems, I am able to speak into them against systemic racism because others have been brave enough to step out of those systems. Externally, as a white-skinned Queer male, I try to be a visible witness against systemic racism and speak into the white-skinned male supremacist patriarchy in hopes to influence someone to think differently about systemic racism. Realizing that I alone cannot change the world, I may influence someone who has authority and power within the system to change how it operates.

How will you disrupt systemic racism today?

Hand holding a single giant cog.
Giant cog (Pet, 2005).


Levine, A. (2013, October 7). Cog [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/gt3aLn). CC BY 2.0.

Pete. (2005, June 28). Giant_cog [Photograph]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/2Y7EH). CC BY-SA 2.0

Stcynine. (2008, December 4). Cogs [GIF]. Flickr. (https://flic.kr/p/5GidGv). CC BY 2.0.

Author: Dr. Cook-Snell

PhD in Education, Instructional Design and Technology, and Lecturer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA

Leave a Reply.