Internal vs External Infrastructure

After my post from earlier this week, I got into a fascinating conversation about whether social justice work should focus more externally – on shared projects and improving institutions – or internally – on checking your own biases and privilege.

I may have just left it there, but yesterday someone else raised the same point in a conversation about building civic infrastructure to confront racial bias.

There’s nothing in the police manual that says officers need to treat people of color more aggressively than white people, one person argued, so the real need is for police officers to work on removing their own internal biases.

Someone else countered with excellent examples of how the external system really does increase and perpetuate racial bias among officers – they are trained as paramilitary, trained to expect the worse case scenario, and, yes, even trained to treat low-income neighborhoods as more dangerous.

Of course, the external v. internal debate is not really a zero-sum game, though there is an important question as to where we should collectively focus our resources and attention.

Focusing too much on either has its dangers: too internally focused becomes little more than navel-gazing without any real action or systemic change; too externally focused provides policy bandaids which do little to mitigate the day to day biases and microaggressions which people of color experience constantly.

But if the best path lies somewhere in between, it still raises an interesting challenge as to how to navigate that journey.

I imagine creating more spaces for shared work, with more spaces for self-reflection and improvement. I imagine creating structures and institutions which encourage us to improve ourselves by working together for the express purpose of working better together.


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