Institutional racism

Institutional racism

Institutional racism (or structural racism or systemic racism) refers to a form of racism which occurs specifically in institutions such as public bodies, corporations, and universities. The term was coined by black nationalist, pan-Africanist and "honorary prime minister" of the Black Panther Party, Stokely Carmichael. In the late 1960s, he defined the term as "the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin". [Race, Richard W. [ "Analysing ethnic education policy-making in England and Wales"] , Sheffield Online Papers in Social Research, University of Sheffield Department of Sociological Studies.]


Institutional racism is distinguished from the bigotry or racial bias of individuals by the existence of systematic policies and practices within the institution, that have the effect of disadvantaging certain racial or ethnic groups. Certain housing contracts (see restrictive covenants) and bank lending policies (see redlining) are seen as forms of institutional racism. Other examples can include racial profiling by security and law enforcement workers, use of stereotyped racial caricatures by institutions (such as "Indian" mascots in sports), the under- and mis-representation of certain racial groups in the media, and barriers to employment or professional advancement based on race.

Some have distinguished between institutional and structural racism. With the former focusing on the norms and practices within an institution and the latter referring to the interaction between institutions that produce racialized outcome. One of the things that is important about structural racism or structured racialization is that it cannot be reduced to individual prejudice or the single function of an institution. It is also important to note that once a structure is in place, it is likely to impact not just specific racialized groups but the entire population. Structural racialization also bring into focus many of the institutional arrrangements that are often identified as American exceptionalism such as the lack of a labor party, weak unions and a fragmented government system. Structural racialization borrows from system theory which looks at the interaction between institutions or entities and rejects reductionist thinking. There is a mutual and cumulative causation instead of a single cause. The use of the systems approach for structural racialization also call into question of rather race or class in the United States is more important. Instead, it suggests that there is an interaction between race and class and they have an impact both on institutional design and meaning.

Examples of institutional racism

Examples from U.S. history can help clarify the nature and effects of institutional racism.
#In 1935, the U.S. Congress passed the Social Security Act, guaranteeing an income for millions of workers after retirement. However, the Act specifically excluded domestic and agricultural workers, many of whom were Mexican-American, African-American, and Asian-American. These workers were therefore not guaranteed an income after retirement, and had less opportunity to save, accumulate, and pass wealth on to future generations.
#The U.S. property appraisal system created in the 1930s tied property value and eligibility for government loans to race. Thus, all-White neighborhoods received the government's highest property value ratings, and White people were eligible for government loans. Between 1934 and 1962, less than 2% of government-subsidized housing went to non-White people. [ [ "Where Race Lives"] , "", PBS, 2003]

These examples depend not on the individual, isolated, and idiosyncratic beliefs or biases of individuals, but rather on biases embedded in social structures and in institutions. Moreover, in the first example, no "race" was specifically named to be excluded from the Social Security Act, but the Act effectively allowed wealth benefits to accrue to certain racial groups and not to others. There need not be, therefore, any explicit intent associated with institutional racism in order for it to benefit certain races over others.

The use of standardized testing has also been termed institutional racism by some commentators, who claim that this kind of assessment is significantly biased towards people of a certain cultural and social background, with the supposed result that in much of the Western world racial minorities tend to score lower.

Charges of institutional racism have been applied to other governmental, social, and educational policies as well. For example, institutionalized racism affects general health care as well as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) health intervention and services in minority communities. The over-representation of minorities in various disease categories, including AIDS, is partially related to racism. The national response to the AIDS epidemic in minority communities has been slow, showing an insensitivity to ethnic diversity in prevention efforts and AIDS health services. [ Hutchinson J. "AIDS and racism in America", "Journal of the National Medical Association", Feb. 1992 Feb pubmed|1602509]

Institutional racism in the UK

In the Metropolitan Police Service

In the UK, the inquiry following the murder of Stephen Lawrence found the investigating police force to be institutionally racist. Sir William Macpherson of Cluny used the term as a description of "the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin", which "can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people.". [ [,,941167,00.html "Metropolitan police still institutionally racist"] , The Guardian, 22 April 2003] This definition is almost identical to that used by Stokely Carmichael.

The Macpherson Report, and the public reaction to it, were a major factors in decisions of the Metropolitan Police to address the issue of institutional racism.

Recently the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair has also called the media institutionally racist, [ [ "Met chief accuses media of racism"] , BBC, 26 January 2006] a comment which provoked a heated response from the media despite being welcomed by the Black Police Association. [ [,14173,1696070,00.html?gusrc=rss "Met chief labels media institutionally racist"] , The Guardian, 27 January 2006]

Institutional racism in Sri Lanka

When the British conquered the island of Sri Lanka, they discriminated against the majority Sinhalese population (74% of the total population) because of their unwillingness to work for the British Who|date=April 2008. The minority Tamils were easier to control than the Sinhalese, so they were granted an elevated status in Sri Lankan society by the British Who|date=April 2008. The impoverished majority Sinhalese population suffered a lot of discrimination during the colonial period Who|date=April 2008. When the British left the power went back to the hand of the Sinhalese majority Who|date=April 2008.

In Sri Lanka Tamils were discriminated at certain levels. In 1956, the Sinhalese government introduced 'Sinhala Only Act', which replaced English with Sinhalese as the official language of Sri Lanka. “Quotas” were introduced to stop Tamil students entering universities. LTTE terrorist attacks on the Sri Lankan army unleashed riots against Tamils living in South were to North and East of Sri Lanka. Huge number of Tamils fled the country for good leaving all their property and wealth behind.

In the late 80's, as a token gesture to blunt international criticism, the use of Tamil was permitted in the north and east of the island, where the Tamil homelands are located.

However, with the government and military, the use of the Tamil language in government has not been systematically reduced over the years. This was not an intentional eradication of a language as claimed by the LTTE. Fact|date=April 2008

A number of states including USA, UK, EU, India, human rights groups and media organisations have begun acknowledging that Tamil grievances do exist. Many Who|date=April 2008 have asserted a need to recognise Tamils’ fundamental rights - to live free from discrimination and language rights amongst others.

The most prominent recent convert to this ‘Tamil grievance’ position has been the United States, which in a promising step forward, acknowledged the legitimate political aspirations of the Tamil people.

See also

*Affirmative action
*Ketuanan Melayu
*State racism
*Teaching for social justice
*Race and health
*White privilege



* Stokes, DaShanne. (In Press) [ "Legalized Segregation and the Denial of Religious Freedom"]

External links

* [ ERASE Racism] A multifaceted definition of institutional racism
* [ Institutional Racism Instructional] A detailed "instructional" on the functioning of institutional racism
* [ Race: The Power of an Illusion] Interactive resource tracing the history of race in America and the effects of institutional racism
* [ Defining Institutional Racism] Definition and history of the term
* [ Paying the Price: The Human Cost of Racial Profiling] On causes and effects of institutional racism in the Canadian criminal justice system
* [ Arabic Workers Network] Eliminating prejudice against Arab and Muslim Australians
* [ Newham Monitoring Project] Monitoring racist incidents and statutory response, especially policing, in East London
* [ Weaver v NATFHE (now part of UCU)] Racial discrimination case - tribunal reports and documents. Also known as the Bournville College Racial Harassment Issue.
* [ Equality of Tamil a facade]
* [ Indictment against Sri Lanka]

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