Protests ... protests ... protests ...

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Added: Wed, 03/24/2021 - 3:59pm
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Fred Ryan
Éditorialiste Invitée
Guest Editorialist

Big national issues affect us all. “Idle No More”, “Me Too”, “2SLGBTQ”..., "Black Lives Matter”, “Defund the Police” and other era-defining social upheavals will mark these years, almost as much as will the COVID pandemic.  
These protests shine light into the darker recesses of modern societies. Their successes will lead to repair and legislation. Yet will they remedy our worst practices, given that these problems are ancient, thoroughly integrated with our habits and attitudes, and given that in many cases they actually protect the profits and life-styles of various elites? Do these movements for justice and change actually focus our attention on the social and economic causes of today's multiple tragedies - or just to the surface manifestation of them, to individual injustices or atrocities? Perhaps.
Today's protests have led to naming the injustices as "systemic" rather than as individual. There are plenty of bad actors, but until the system facilitating them is cleaned up and made responsible, individual acts will continue.
However ... caution! Claiming every nasty act is the result of something “systemic” reduces individual responsibility. Besides, "systemic" is too vague an accusation for it to be very helpful.
The label “systemic” needs standards. To be “systemic” the transgression must manifest itself across some "system". If Quebec's health system
is "systemically racist", as has been charged, that racism should appear across “the province. Does it? It's common to find Anglophones who believe Quebec's agencies are “systemically anti-Anglo”; they cite many examples - plenty! - of anti-anglo prejudice. But to claim that all government agencies are systemically racist or anti-Anglo demands a much broader test of truth than a few outrages, no matter how shocking. Individual outrages do not prove “systemic” prejudice.
Worse, making it a system's problem takes agency away from the minorities who feel oppressed, and removes responsibility from those acting terribly. What can you and I do - or local bureaucrats - if the whole structure is at fault? Wouldn't it be more profitable if each of us were to look at our own actions through the lens of racism or misogyny? Then we ask why a particular agency seems friendly to such
nastiness.
Yes, there must be appeal measures, no place for bad actors to hide, but we must all be responsible for our own actions. Calling it "systemic" is a way of blaming others, blaming a huge bureaucracy, near-impervious to change,
and insulating ourselves from taking responsibility for our mistakes. It also insulates the bad actors. They remain responsible, even if there's a culture which permits it. Why put our target out of reach? 
And when we're shocked at certain actions, why not start with the
mirror? We should be able to identify responsibilities. Blaming a near-untouchable system is a desperate step. Not the first.