Institutional Racism

not a crime

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 color, culture or ethnic origin".


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. As with the more general term of "racism", "institutional racism" carries with it a socially negative connotation which can make accurate classification contentious.


1 Examples of institutional racism
2 Institutional racism in the UK
2.1 In the Police Service


Examples of institutional racism

Three 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.

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. Detractors of this view point out that the tests are usually intended to determine the aptitude of the candidate for the subject that is being tested, and if it so happens that a particular racial minority has a lower than average aptitude (just as if a particular racial minority has a higher than average aptitude) then that is simply a fact and as such cannot be racist, institutionally or otherwise.
Charges of institutional racism have been applied to other governmental, social, and educational policies as well. For example, the eagle feather law (50 CFR 22), which governs the possession and religious use of eagle feathers, has met various legal challenges and charges of racial discrimination due to the law's strict limitation of the possession of eagle feathers to members of only one ethnic group, Native Americans.

Institutional racism in the UK
In the 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 organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, 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.". 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, a comment which provoked a heated response from the media despite being welcomed by the Black Police Association.

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.

Declarations against racial discrimination

Racial discrimination contradicts the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence, the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen issued during the French Revolution and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed after World War II, which all postulate equality between all human beings.

In 1950, UNESCO suggested in The Race Question —a statement signed by 21 scholars such as Ashley Montagu, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gunnar Myrdal, Julian Huxley, etc. — to "drop the term race altogether and instead speak of ethnic groups". The statement condemned scientific racism theories which had played a role in the Holocaust. It aimed both at debunking scientific racist theories, by popularizing modern knowledge concerning "the race question," and morally condemned racism as contrary to the philosophy of the Enlightenment and its assumption of equal rights for all. Along with Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (1944), The Race Question influenced the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court desegregation decision in "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka".

The United Nations uses the definition of racial discrimination laid out in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted in 1966:

...any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.(Part 1 of Article 1 of the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination)

In 2000, the European Union explicitly banned racism along with many other forms of social discrimination:

Article 21 of the charter prohibits discrimination on any ground such as race, color, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, disability, age or sexual orientation and also discrimination on the grounds of nationality.




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Created by:

Salauddine Mohammed Faruque on July 25,2007, last updated on 20.07.2010









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