Institutional racism

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Institutional racism is any system of inequality based on race. It can occur in institutions such as public government bodies, private business corporations (such as media outlets), and universities (public and private). The term was introduced by Black Power activists Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in the late 1960s.[1] The definition given by William Macpherson within the report looking into the death of Stephen Lawrence was “the collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.[2]


The concept of institutional racism re-emerged in political discourse in the late 1990s after a long hiatus, but has remained a contested concept that has been critiqued by multiple constituencies.[3] Institutional racism is the differential access to the goods, services, and opportunities of society. When the differential access becomes integral to institutions, it becomes common practice, making it difficult to rectify. Eventually, this racism dominates public bodies, private corporations, and public and private universities, and is reinforced by the actions of conformists and newcomers. Another difficulty in reducing institutionalized racism is that there is no sole, true identifiable perpetrator. When racism is built into the institution, it appears as the collective action of the population.

Professor James M. Jones postulates three major types of racism: (i) Personally-mediated, (ii) internalized, and (iii) institutionalized.[4] Personally-mediated racism includes the specific social attitudes inherent to racially-prejudiced action (bigoted differential assumptions about abilities, motives, and the intentions of others according to), discrimination (the differential actions and behaviours towards others according to their race), stereotyping, commission, and omission (disrespect, suspicion, devaluation, and dehumanization). Internalized racism is the acceptance, by members of the racially-stigmatized people, of negative perceptions about their own abilities and intrinsic worth, characterized by low self-esteem, and low esteem of others like them. This racism can be manifested through embracing “whiteness” (e.g. stratification by skin colour in non-white communities), self-devaluation (e.g. racial slurs, nicknames, rejection of ancestral culture, etc.), and resignation, helplessness, and hopelessness (e.g. dropping out of school, failing to vote, engaging in health-risk practices, etc.).

Persistent negative stereotypes fuel institutional racism, and influence interpersonal relations. Racial stereotyping contributes to patterns of racial residential segregation, and shape views about crime, crime policy, and welfare policy, especially if the contextual information is stereotype-consistent. A great percentage of white Americans rate Black Americans and Latino Americans as less intelligent, preferring to live from welfare benefits rather than work, and “more difficult to get along with socially”.[5]

Institutional racism is distinguished from racial bigotry by the existence of institutional systemic policies, practices and economic and political structures which place non-white racial and ethnic groups at a disadvantage in relation to an institution’s white members. One example is public school budgets (including local levies and bonds) and the quality of teachers, which in the U.S. are often correlated with property values: rich neighborhoods are more likely to be more 'white' and to have better teachers and more money for education, even in public schools. Restrictive housing contracts and bank lending policies have also been listed as forms of institutional racism. Other examples are racial profiling by security guards and police, use of stereotyped racial caricatures (e.g. "Indian" sport mascots), the under- and mis-representation of certain racial groups in the mass media, and race-based barriers to gainful employment and professional advancement. Additionally, differential access to goods, services, and opportunities of society can be included within the term institutional racism, such as unpaved streets and roads, inherited socio-economic disadvantage, “standardized” tests (each ethnic group prepared for it differently; many are poorly prepared), et cetera.

Some sociological[who?] investigators distinguish between institutional racism and "structural racism" (sometimes called structured racialization)[citation needed]. The former focuses upon the norms and practices within an institution, the latter upon the interactions among institutions, interactions that produce racialized outcomes against non-white people.[citation needed] An important feature of structural racism is that it cannot be reduced to individual prejudice or to the single function of an institution.

Canadian institutional racism[edit]

Exclusionary anti-Chinese immigration laws[edit]

The Canadian government passed The Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 levying a $50 Head Tax upon all Chinese immigrating to Canada. When the 1885 act failed to deter Chinese immigration, the Canadian government then passed The Chinese Immigration Act, 1900, increasing the head tax to $100, and, upon that act failing, passed The Chinese Immigration Act, 1904 increasing the head tax (landing fee) to $500, equivalent to $8000 in 2003[6] — when compared to the head tax — Right of Landing Fee and Right of Permanent Residence Fee — of $975 per person, paid by new immigrants in 1995–2005 decade, which then was reduced to $490 in 2006.[7]

The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, better known as the "Chinese Exclusion Act", replaced prohibitive fees with a ban on Chinese immigration to Canada — excepting merchants, diplomats, students, and "special circumstance" cases. The Chinese who entered Canada before 1923 had to register with the local authorities, and could leave Canada only for two years or less. Since the Exclusion Act went into effect on 1 July 1923, Chinese-Canadians referred to Canada Day (Dominion Day) as "Humiliation Day", refusing to celebrate it until the Act’s repeal in 1947.[citation needed]

Malaysian institutional racism[edit]

The Malaysian Chinese and Indian-Malaysians - who are significant ethnic minorities in Malaysia - were granted citizenship by the Malaysian Constitution but this implied a social contract that left them at a disadvantage in other ways, as Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia refers to the special "position" of the Malay people,

In 1970 the Malaysian New Economic Policy a program of Affirmative action aimed at increasing the share of the economy held by the Malay population, introduced quotas for Malays in areas such as public education, access to housing, vehicle imports, government contracts and share ownership.

Since Article 160 defines a Malay as "professing the religion of Islam", those eligible to benefit from laws assisting bumiputra are, in theory, subject to religious law enforced by the parallel Syariah Court system.

Institutional racism in Sri Lanka[edit]

There are four main ethnic groups on the island of Sri Lanka: the Sinhalese who made up 69% of the population in 1946, Indian Tamils (12%), Sri Lankan Tamils (11%) and Sri Lankan Moors (6%).[8] The discrimination against the Sri Lankan Tamil minority by the Sinhalese controlled Sri Lankan state was one of the main causes of the 26 year Sri Lankan Civil War which killed between 80,000 and 100,000 people.[9][10][11]

Immediately after independence the Sinhalese dominated government of Ceylon introduced the Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 which deliberately discriminated against the Indian Tamil ethnic minority by making it virtually impossible for them to obtain citizenship of Ceylon.[12] Approximately 700,000 Indian Tamils were made stateless.[13] Over the next three decades more than 300,000 Indian Tamils were deported back to India.[12] It wasn't until 2003, 55 years after independence, that all Indian Tamils living in Sri Lanka were granted citizenship but by this time they only made up 5% of the island's population.[8][12]

In 1956 the Ceylon government introduced the Sinhala Only Act, replacing English with Sinhala as the official language of Ceylon. The Act was a deliberate attempt to correct the perceived disproportionately high number of Sri Lankan Tamils working in the Ceylon Civil Service and other public services.[14] However, the Tamil language speaking minorities of the Ceylon (Sri Lankan Tamils, Indian Tamils and Sri Lankan Moors) viewed the Act as linguistic, cultural and economic discrimination against them.[15] Many Tamil speaking civil servants/public servants were forced to resign because they weren't fluent in Sinhala.[16] The detrimental impact of the Act on the civil/public services forced the government to relax the language laws: in 1977 Tamil was made a 'national language' and in 1987 it was made an official language.[17]

The 1971 Universities Act introduced a policy of standardization to correct disproportionately high number of Sri Lankan Tamils students entering universities. Officially the policy was meant to discriminate in favour of students from rural areas but in reality the policy discriminated against Sri Lankan Tamil students who were in effect required gain more marks than Sinhalese students to gain admission to universities.[14][15] The number of Sri Lankan Tamil students entering universities fell dramatically. The policy was abandoned in 1977.[17]

Other forms of official discrimination against the Sri Lankan Tamils included the state-sponsored colonisation of traditional Tamil areas by Sinhalese peasants, the banning of the import of Tamil-language media and the precedence given by the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka to Buddhism, the main religion followed by the Sinhalese.[14][15]

The Sri Lankan Tamils reacted to the discrimination by calling for political devolution (federalism) and staging peaceful protests but were met with violence and ethnic riots.[15] This in turn resulted in moderate Tamils calling for self determination but some young Tamils reacted by forming a number of militant groups, the most prominent being the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). By 1983 full scale civil war had erupted between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government. The civil war ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE but many independent/international observers recognised that the continued discrimination against the Tamils would leave the ethnic conflict unresolved. The United Nations Human Rights Council has urged the Sri Lankan government to "to combat discrimination against persons belonging to ethnic minorities".[18]

Institutional racism in the United Kingdom[edit]

In the Metropolitan Police Service[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the inquiry about the murder of the black Briton Stephen Lawrence concluded that the investigating police force was institutionally racist. Sir William Macpherson 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".[19] Sir William’s definition is almost identical to Stokely Carmichael’s original definition some forty years earlier. Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton 1967 were black power activists and first used the term 'institutional racism' to describe the consequences of a societal structure that was stratified into a racial hierarchy that resulted in layers of discrimination and inequality for minority ethnic people in housing, income, employment, education and health (Garner 2004:22).

The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, and the public’s response to it, were among the major factors that forced the Metropolitan Police to address its treatment of ethnic minorities. More recently, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair said that the British news media are institutionally racist,[20] a comment that offended journalists, provoking angry responses from the media, despite the National Black Police Association welcoming Sir Ian’s assessment.[21]

In psychiatry[edit]

According to the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism, scholars have drawn on a 1979 work by social psychologist Michael Billig - "Psychology, Racism, and Fascism" - that identified links between the Institute of Psychiatry and racist/eugenic theories, notably in regard to race and intelligence, as for example promoted by IOP psychologist Hans Eysenck and in a highly publicised talk in August 1970 at the IOP by American psychologist Arthur Jensen. Billig concluded that "racialist presuppositions" intruded into research at the Institute both unintentionally and intentionally.[22] More recently in 2007, the BBC reported that a "race row" had broken out in the wake of an official inquiry that identified institutional racism in British psychiatry, with psychiatrists, including from the IOP/Maudsley, arguing against the claim,[23] while the heads of the Mental Health Act Commission accused them of misunderstanding the concept of institutional racism and dismissing the legitimate concerns of the Black community in Britain.[24] Campaigns by voluntary groups seek to address the higher rates of sectioning, over-medication, misdiagnosis and forcible restraint on members of minority groups.[25]

Institutional racism in the United States[edit]

The U.S. property appraisal system, created in the 1930s, originally tied property value and eligibility for government loans to race. Thus, white-majority neighborhoods received the government's highest property value ratings, and white people were eligible for government loans. Between 1934 and 1962, less than 2 percent of government-subsidized housing went to non-white people.[26]

Governmental, social, and educational policies also have been charged with institutional racism, i.e. it affects general health care and AIDS health intervention and services in non-white minority communities. The over-representation of minorities in disease categories (including AIDS), is partly related to racism, according to J. Hutchinson. In a 1992 article, he describes how the federal government’s national response to the AIDS epidemic in minority communities has been slow, showing insensitivity to ethnic diversity in preventive medicine, community health maintenance, and AIDS treatment services.[27]

Standardized testing has also been considered a form of institutional racism, because it is believed to be biased in favor of people from particular socio-cultural backgrounds. Some minorities (such as blacks and Hispanics) have consistently tested worse than whites on virtually all standardized tests, even after controlling for socioeconomic status. The achievement gap between white and black or Hispanic students mirrors the gap between the two groups in a variety of IQ tests, many of which are designed to be culturally neutral.[28] In any case, the cause of the achievement gap between black, Hispanic, and white students has yet to be fully elucidated.

Although approximately two thirds of crack cocaine users are white or Hispanic, a large percentage of people convicted of possession of crack cocaine in federal courts in 1994 were black. In 1994 84.5% of the defendants convicted of crack cocaine possession were black while 10.3% were white and 5.2% were Hispanic. Possession for powder cocaine was more racially mixed with 58% of the offenders being white, 26.7% black, and 15% Hispanic. Within the federal judicial system a person convicted of possession with intent to distribute powder cocaine carries a five-year sentence for quantities of 500 grams or more while a person convicted of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine faces a five-year sentence for quantities of five grams or more. With the combination of severe and unbalanced drug possession laws along with the rates of conviction in terms of race, the judicial system has created a huge racial disparity.[29]

Institutional racism in South Africa[edit]

In South Africa institutional racism has been a powerful means of excluding from resources and power any person not categorized or marked as white. Those marked as black were further discriminated against differentially, with Africans facing more extreme forms of exclusion and exploitation than those marked as coloured or Indian. One such example of institutional racism in South Africa is Natives Land Act, 1913, which reserved 90% of land for white use and the Native Urban Areas Act of 1923 controlled access to urban areas, which suited commercial farmers who were keen to hold labour on their land. Africans, who formed the majority of the population, were relegated to barren rural reserves, which later became homelands.[30]

More modern forms of institutional racism in South Africa are centered around interracial relationships. Opposition to interracial intimate relationships may be indicative of underlying racism, and that conversely acceptance and support of these relationships may be indicative of a stance against racism.[31] Even though the prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act was repealed in 1985, the term "mixed" continued to exists, thus carrying forth the inherent stigmatization of "mixed" relationships and race. Consequently, discourse is a framework that realizes language can produce institutional structures and relations. However, language constitute who we are, interact with others and understand ourselves.So discourse is viewed as inextricable link to power and necessarily more than a medium utilized to transmit information.[31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “Stokely Carmichael and Pan-Africanism: Back to Black Power”, Journal of Politics, Vol. 35, No.2 (May, 1973), pp 386-409.
  2. ^ "The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, Report of an inquiry by Sir William MacPherson of Cluny (The MacPherson Report): Chapter 6". The Stationery Office. February 1999. Retrieved 6 January 2011. 
  3. ^ PHILLIPS, CORETTA. "Institutional Racism And Ethnic Inequalities: An Expanded Multilevel Framework." Journal Of Social Policy 40.1 (2011): 173-192. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 February 2012.
  4. ^ Jones, J. M. (1997). Prejudice and Racism (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
  5. ^ "Race, Ethnicity, and the Health of Americans." July–August 2005. Web. 27 February 2012. <>.
  6. ^ Inflation data (Consumer Price Index) since 1914, by Statistics Canada, are at the Bank of Canada inflation calculator
  7. ^ CIC Fee Schedule, accessed 2006-12-02 Archived August 22, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ a b "Population by ethnic group, census years". Statistical Abstract 2008. Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka. 
  9. ^ Pasricha, Anjana (11 September 2009). "United Nations Calls for Faster Resettlement of War Refugees in Sri Lanka". Voice of America News. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  10. ^ "Letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on His Trip to Sri Lanka". Human Rights Watch. 21 May 2009. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  11. ^ "Up to 100,000 killed in Sri Lanka's civil war: UN". ABC News (Australia). 20 May 2009. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  12. ^ a b c "Statelessness in Sri Lanka". UNHCR in Sri Lanka. Retrieved 11 October 2009. [dead link]
  13. ^ "Ethnic Conflict of Sri Lanka: Time Line - From Independence to 1999". International Centre for Ethnic Studies. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  14. ^ a b c R.L. Pereira (October 1983). "Sri Lanka's pogrom". Issue 128. New Internationalist. Retrieved 11 October 2009. [dead link]
  15. ^ a b c d McConnell, Deirdre (7 April 2009). "Background to brutality". Red Pepper. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  16. ^ Raychaudhuri, Sumana (6 February 2009). "Will Sri Lanka Drive the Tigers to Extinction?". The Nation. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  17. ^ a b Wickremasinghe, Nira (2006). Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History of Contested Identities. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 0-8248-3016-4. 
  18. ^ MacInnis, Laura (27 May 2009). "Sri Lanka urged at U.N. to ensure aid reaches Tamils". Reuters. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  19. ^ "Metropolitan police still institutionally racist", The Guardian, 22 April 2003
  20. ^ "Met chief accuses media of racism", BBC, 26 January 2006
  21. ^ "Met chief labels media institutionally racist", The Guardian, 27 January 2006
  22. ^ Psychology, Racism & Fascism: An On-line Edition
  23. ^ "Race row in mental health service". BBC News. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  24. ^ Commentary on institutional racism in psychiatry, 2007
  25. ^ Black Mental Health UK - Campaigns
  26. ^ "Where Race Lives", Race: The Power of an Illusion, PBS, 2003
  27. ^ Hutchinson J. "AIDS and racism in America", Journal of the National Medical Association, Feb. 1992 Feb PubMed 1602509
  28. ^ "The Black-White Test Score Gap Christopher Jencks, Meredith Phillips. "The Black-white Test Score Gap." p. 63.
  29. ^
  30. ^ Bozalek, Vivienne. "The Effect Of Institutional Racism On Student Family Circumstances: A Human Capabilities Perspective." South African Journal Of Psychology 40.4 (2010): 487-494. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 May 2012.
  31. ^ a b Jaynes, Claire. "The Influence Of The Family On Interracial Intimate Relationships In Post-Apartheid South Africa." South African Journal Of Psychology 40.4 (2010): 396-413. Academic Search Premier. Web. 3 May 2012.



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