Sacred Soil

Systems Theory & Anti-Racism
September 12, 2012, 4:56 pm
Filed under: Things Someone Should Write About

I’ve been reading a book by Friedman, one of the big thinkers in Systems Theory. I’m generally a fan. This book, Failure of Nerve is a collection of largely unedited essays that lean toward being a book. In it he explores his thoughts around leadership. There are these lovely, and sometimes disturbing moments, where it appears that Friedman could have used an editor–someone to reflect back to him that he’s coming off as grump.

In one section he gets frustrated with people who work to set boundaries around our language in an effort to protect folks from being harmed by racist and otherwise abusive remarks. He argues that the work of leaders should be to increase the self-differentiation of all folks, so that such remarks are drained of their power. Though, he’s not quite so elegant as that, nor does he appear to fully understand the passion of the movements such as the folks working on anti-racism. I experience him as merely irritated, and dismissive of the need.

So here’s my question: what are the intersections of anti-racism work and systems theory? How do concepts like self-differentiation function in the context of real violence imposed by those with power? How do we maintain non-reactive connection in the face of systems that are bent on the systematic destruction of a people? What would this look like, and how would we foster environments where this could happen? How does one interrupt racism without becoming triangulated? Would these methods be effective?

This question is threaded into another question I have about community, self-differentiation, and consensus… but that’s a post for another day. But, both of these are born of a concern or a wondering I have about the lack of women and people of color in the work of systems theory. Is this just that the field is new, and isolated, or is it that there is some fundamental critique to systems theory that I should be familiar with?

As always, I’d love to hear your ideas and the folks you might be reading on these topics.

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