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Institutional Racism

Despite living in the 21st century and a supposedly modern world, the spectre of racial prejudice and discrimination is still an implacable subject in present-day discourse. Often not as overt or straightforward as the days gone by, modern day racism exists on a far more insidious level. This comes with newer and more difficult complications in attempting to root out racist thought processes in our everyday lives, because like it or not, there are several discriminatory activities and occurrences on a daily basis that we may or may not even notice happening around us. An incredibly stark image is drawn when we start to take into account just how deeply entrenched, and institutionalised racism is, in our civic and social structures.

The men who coined the term, Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, recognised the less perceptible and subtle nature of institutional racism, compared to more outright discriminatory expressions by individuals, and how it “originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than individual racism”. (Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967). Imagine entire political, civic and educational systems treating people a certain way based on their ethnicity, skin colour etc. Think about how endless and persistent negative stereotypes fuel entire systems to view certain people in a certain way and to treat them with fewer rights than their peers. Disparities in wealth, different outcomes in criminal justice cases, unequal employment opportunities, limits on education: All of these and more are factors that play into the structured nature of institutionalised racism. Carmichael and Hamilton listed some prominent examples of this.

“When white terrorists bomb a black church and kill five black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city – Birmingham, Alabama – five hundred black babies die each year because of the lack of power, food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community, that is a function of institutional racism. When a black family moves into a home in a white neighbourhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which most people will condemn. However, it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation or is, in fact, incapable of doing anything meaningful about it” (Carmichael & Hamilton, 1967)

This specific type of structured racism also frequently goes unnoticed by the individuals expressing it, mainly because these patterns are so deeply ingrained in a person’s unconscious social and civic interactions. That being said, when an entire organisation fails to provide equal services and rights to people based on their colour or ethnicity, it can be strongly regarded as falling under this regimented ambit of racist thought. Stamping out these issues thus becomes a difficult job for people, as identifying and recognising such patterns requires careful thought, introspection and, most importantly, deconstruction of the structures of power that have allowed these prejudices to flourish.

However, we need to recognise that institutional racism is born out of an enduring colonial legacy that is further animated in the 21st century by neo-liberal and post-colonial desires and thought processes. The legacy of colonialism is baked into every facet of every culture on the planet and has had an incalculable impact on human civilisation. That is why it is so difficult to appropriately and effectively dismantle these dominant structures of racism that govern so many aspects of human life. However, that does not mean that one should not attempt to do so, no matter how daunting the task ahead might seem.

References • Carmichael, Stokely & Hamilton, Charles V. (1967). Black Power: Politics of Liberation (November 1992 ed.). New York: Vintage

Thank you for reading!

~Article by Siddharth Sinha, Logolepsy Blogger

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