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Institutional Racism

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism is a major threat to civil society. It has the capability to shake the very foundation on which the concept of multiculturalism has been laid. Let us know more about the topic in detail...
Rahul Pandita
Institutional racism can be defined as any form of racism that exists within institutions such as government establishments, universities, legal systems, corporations, etc. Racism is generally categorized as individual - pertaining to the individual; institutional - related to institutions; and systematic - a value system which tends to encourage racism. The term 'institutionalized racism' was coined by Stokely Carmichael, a black nationalist and one of the leading figures of the Black Panther Party. Stokely Carmichael believed that institutional racism was a bigger threat than other forms as it led to a 'collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their color, culture or ethnic origin.'

One of the biggest reasons that makes racism by institutions a major challenges is the fact that rather than it being a thought or an act of a particular individual or a group, it is a collective act of a society and encourages racial stereotyping. Institutional racism creates systematic policies in an institution that have the ability to subordinate certain racial or ethnic groups. Ethnic and racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, housing contracts, bank lending policies are some examples of this form of racism. Other examples of racism by institutions are caricaturing certain ethnic and racial groups in popular culture, limiting employment opportunities, giving priority to people of a particular color in healthcare and educational fields, etc. Institutions, on the other hand, have always denied these charges, but the facts are there for all to see. People from different ethnic beliefs are more likely to be stopped and searched. Let us now take a look at some examples from history which can help in understanding the effects of this form of racism.

Examples of Institutional Racism

The Social Security Act of 1935 guaranteed income to millions of Americans after retirement, but it specifically excluded people working as domestic help or in the agricultural sector. Most of these people were Mexican-Americans, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. These workers were left out and had no access to any type of government assistance after retirement. The US property appraisal system of 1935 promoted eligibility of white people for government loans. According to statistics, non-white people received less than 2% of government subsidized housing assistance.

In Canada, racism by institutions came to a forefront when the government of Canada passed the Chinese Immigration Act in the year 1885 that levied a tax of $50 on any Chinese citizen coming to Canada. When the Act didn't prove useful in checking Chinese immigration to Canada, the government passed certain other acts which increased the tax up to $500 in 1904. In 1923, the Canadian government passed The Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which placed an outright ban on entry of Chinese people to Canada. The Act had various repercussions and was subsequently repealed in 1947.

Police authorities in UK were accused of being lethargic in the Stephen Lawrence murder case. Stephen Lawrence was a black British teenager who was stabbed to death when he was apparently waiting for a bus. The murder was said to have been committed because of racial motives. The Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service were accused of being biased in their attempts to get the five arrested people convicted. In 1999, an inquiry commission headed by Sir William Macpherson came to the conclusion that the police department was institutionally racist. This is claimed to be one of the most important moments in the modern history of criminal justice in Britain. On 18th May, 2011, it was declared that one of the accused and another man were to stand for trial for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

As mentioned before, this form of racism is hard to deal with as unlike individual racism, it is not overt. Its roots are so firmly grounded that institutions sometimes are not even conscious that they are engaging in it. Though policy-makers claim that a lot has changed, the fact remains that it will take a collective effort from all us to stop this imminent threat.