Institutional and Systemic Racism 101

So, the first thing to ask is whether these appalling numbers[1] are the result of personal, intentional acts of racial dislike, or of unconscious discrimination caused by conditioning.

Perhaps something even more fundamental is going on, to do with how society is organised. In other words, are people from ethnic minorities being made miserable by racist bullies, or are they being funnelled towards certain limited life choices without anyone, white or not, being fully aware of the reason? Are there other, pre-existing social inequalities that ethnic minorities tend to be clustered around, for some reason? Is racism the cause or the result?  

I think this last possibility is what is meant by Institutional or Systemic Racism. Immigration status might be an example: Britain’s colonial past means that much permanent immigration has been from her former, non-“white” colonies. More recent arrivals in this country are less likely to be embedded in institutional support networks, with fewer advantageous social or professional connections. Immigrants have often been recruited to do less desirable jobs and have been willing to accept lower pay to do them than locals, partly because much immigration is driven by disadvantage at home. The well-off have less reason to move. Those that do are unlikely to arrive with money or other assets, like high levels of education, to get them started. As all the best properties are already bagsied, they may have to make do with less desirable and more crowded accommodation, from our aging housing stock. For all these reasons, disadvantage may be more concentrated in recent immigrant communities which also tend to be the racial minorities.  

And our experience of institutional racism, and the social ghettoization it leads to, will, no doubt, lead many of us to make unpleasant and unfair generalisations. We’ll make assumptions and jump to conclusions after the most cursory glances, based on the most superficial details of people’s appearance, skin colour, accent and manner. Unfortunately, that is human nature. We are tribal and suspicious of difference. We must all be hyper-aware of our negative tendencies, and resist these impulses.

BUT it is important to remember that Systemic Racism itself isn’t an accusation that can be levelled at an individual. It’s an explanation of why some people might make racist assumptions, but you can’t say, “There is Institutional Racism and it’s your fault.” The term was coined precisely to explain why inequalities persist despite it being nobody’s fault.

Everyone ought to resist racism and work hard to redress the imbalances in our society whenever they can. 

But only people who actively support Racism should be condemned.


[1] see previous post

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