Summary of Racism 4.0, Civity, and Re-Constitution by Palma Strand

Summary of

Racism 4.0, Civity, and Re-Constitution

From: 42 Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly 763 (2015).

by Palma Joy Strand

Available through SSRN:

Summary Written by: Brandon S. Brown

This article explores the author’s agreement with Bryan Stevenson that racism, which is deeply embedded in American culture, has evolved over time.  Strand labels the various iterations of American racism as “operating systems,” and specifically identifies four different versions: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and the current, most evolved and updated form, 4.0, as the title suggests.  The various “versions of racism reflect a chronological progression characterized by distinctive iterations of social mores, institutions, and law” (765). 

The author’s background is important to note, as it set the stage for her to be drawn into issues of racism, prejudice, and inequality.  As a White woman who married a Black man, Strand's “biracial children drew (her) into issues of educational disparity” (765). Living in Arlington, Virginia, she participated in cultural competence trainings within the Arlington public schools, in order to assess the acknowledged achievement gaps between White students and Black and Latino students.

Before getting into the specifics of the newest “version” of racism, Strand briefly discusses the previous operating systems, which can be summarized as follows: Racism 1.0 was slavery, and the period after slavery when the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were passed, as well as the Civil Rights and Reconstruction Acts of the 1860’s and 1870’s.  Racism 2.0 was the era of violence and lynching that permeated (but was not contained to) the South during the late 1800’s and well into the 1900’s, where Whites sought to both control and marginalize their black counterparts.  Racism 3.0 can be most easily depicted by the “Jim Crow” era in the South, which pervaded the North through the “Great Migrations” and the racism that followed, and culminated in institutional protections of “incidental or systemic discrimination” and racism from the courts, as well as government-sanctioned discriminatory practices like “red-lining.”

Racism 4.0 is the current version of institutionalized racism,  which “manifests as patterns of racial disparity” (767).  Racism 4.0 does not generally result from overt, explicit, or intentional racial discrimination, but instead exists in systemic, institutionalized, non-invidious forms that are covert, implicit, and “beyond the reach of current anti-discrimination law.” (797) This new manifestation of racism is identified by Bryan Stevenson as the mass incarceration of Black men, but can also be characterized by extremely disparate outcomes in education, health, economic resources, housing, and employment as well. 

Like all advanced operating systems, Racism 4.0 has both “hardware” and “software” that contributes to its functionality by working together.  The author states, “I see two distinct though intertwined strands of causation, each of which has two aspects.  The first strand consists of personal interactions, what we might think of as the ‘software’ of Racism 4.0.  The first aspect of these personal interactions, implicit bias, is anti-Black; the second, White privilege, is pro-White.  The second strand is comprised of social structures, what we might think of as the ‘hardware’ of Racism 4.0.  Again, the first aspect of these social structures, structural racism, is anti-Black; the second, white advantage, is pro-White” (771).

Strand describes the specifics of the software and hardware, and how they operate independently, offering evidence of implicit bias and white privilege as normally-occurring processes and describing the specifics of structural racism and white advantage..  Strand calls the hardware components “two sides of a single coin.  The coin in this metaphor represents access to actual resources that make a tangible difference in the quality of people’s lives” (773).  An understanding of history and the previous operating systems shows that public policies and government-protected instances of racism have led to a Black citizenry in America which simply has less than its White counterparts.  That deprivation is the hardware which supports the software, or that which the software of implicit bias and White privilege runs. Strand observes that Racism 4.0 “operates primarily through unconscious acts of myriad individuals and the automatic reproduction of advantage and disadvantage that have arisen over time from past collective discrimination” (779).  The only way to combat this complex and covert system, she says, is to develop new responses to these new, complex manifestations of racism. 

Strand sees “civity” as a way to do this. “Civity--people working together to tackle complex civic challenges—emerges from relationships of respect, empathy, and trust across social dividing lines and the vibrant civic networks that result from those relationships.” (765) The Civity Initiative, co-founded by Strand and Malka Kopell, “reinforces the insights that equity is fundamental to a healthy democracy and that both equity and democracy are rooted in relationships as well as in formally enacted law.“ (764)

One way to strengthen civity is by creating bridging relationships through storytelling.  Creating new threads, by people telling their stories to others who are unlike them, can institute an overarching collective story which creates feelings of relevance and meaning.  “Bridging relationships enable the emergence of a larger ‘we’ from numerous smaller ‘we’s’” (780).  These new relationships can only be created by using a “power-with” approach.  By utilizing power-with in the processes of creating bridging narratives, Strand believes that cross-racial civic relationships will form and begin to heighten the collective awareness of privilege that can rework widely-held stereotypes, associations, and biases.  By doing this, new relationships are created, which in turn produce new collective stories, and eventually result in new collective identities. 

The work cited above is said to be the beginning to reprogramming the software of Racism 4.0, but the last two sections of this article call for “Rewiring the Hardware” and “Re-Constitution.”  The hardware piece needs to be done by instituting affirmative counter-measures to structural racism and white advantage so that they do not continuously reproduce themselves, as they have for hundreds of years.  This will take massive public investment, which will need to be forward-looking in order to build collective strength for the next generation.  This can be done through regionalizing metropolitan areas—“systemic reforms to shift local jurisdiction toward seeing their interdependence with their regional neighbors and acting out of that understanding” (791).  A recognition of economic, social, and cultural human rights is a must. Strand cites the United States not becoming a signatory to the ICESCR (International Covenants on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights) as adopted by the UN, as proof positive that the American rhetoric of equality unfortunately (far) surpasses the reality.

In order to engage in the Re-Constitution that Strand envisions, conversations at multiple levels must begin with “loves” and “doubts” as opposed to political ideologies.  Citing Parker Palmer, “if you’re not humanly connected, you have no chance to pursue…complex issues communally in a way that might be transformative” (796).  The state of the civil society, especially when splintered and rife with conflict, is reflected in the governing bodies through the stories that emerge.  Only with civity is it possible to change those stories, and thereby dismantle institutional and systemic racism, Strand concludes.