Explained: What is Institutional Racism?

There are many different types of racism in the world today, including institutional racism, individual racism, cultural racism, systematic racism, and ideological racism, just to name a few forms. Institutional racism is especially important to talk about. So, let’s talk about it. 

It has been several weeks since George Floyd was killed in broad daylight after Derek Chauvin (and three other officers at the scene just stood by, watched, and did nothing to stop Chauvin) knelt on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The encounter was filmed by multiple witnesses at the scene, and once the videos showing Floyd’s gruesome and horrific death were posted on social media, they generated global attention as many were left feeling irate about another murder of an African American by a white police officer. 

Floyd’s death sparked a series of protests around the world against police brutality, lack of police accountability, and racism in policing. Aside from the ongoing protests, a lot of people are also spending time educating themselves on race, the Black Lives Matter movement, and different forms of racism─like institutional racism, systematic racism, and representational racism. 

With all of that said, listed down below is an extensive look into what institutional racism is, its origins, which areas of society it develops in, examples of it, and resources you can use to help yourself get a better understanding of what it is. 

What Is Institutional Racism?

According to Racial Equity Tools, institutional racism is defined as the “systematic distribution of resources, power, and opportunity in our society to the benefit of people who are white and the exclusion of people of color.” In addition to people of color, institutional racism also affects ethnic and minority groups, such as Native Americans and Asians. 

Racial Equity Tools also notes that the racism that exists in the world today was built on a, “long history of racially distributed resources and ideas that shape our view of ourselves and others.”

The Origins of The Term “Institutional Racism”

The term “institutional racism” was first used in 1967 in Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton’s book (which was released on October 23 of the same year) Black Power: The Politics of Liberation. Carmichael and Hamilton’s book focuses on the Black Power movement, offers insights into the roots of racism in the United States, and proposes an idea of reforming the traditional political process for the future. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation is also a profound read if you’re learning more about the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

In the book, Carmichael and Hamilton wrote that while individual racism is easily identifiable as a result of its visible nature, institutional racism is less detectable because of its “less overt, far more subtle” nature. The duo also mentions that institutional racism “originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than [individual racism].” 

Areas of Society Where Institutional Racism Develops:

As I said earlier, institutional racism is a form of racism that is expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. This form of racism is displayed in the way policies and laws are crafted and put into practice through society’s institutions and organizations.

Institutional racism is displayed in disparities in many areas of society, such as education, criminal justice, employment, wealth, income, housing, health care, and political power to name several factors. 

Notable Examples of Institutional Racism:

Racial Equity Tools also named several examples of how institutional racism occurs in the United States, which includes internment camps, segregation in the southern parts of the United States, Indian reservations, residential schools (for Native Americans), settlement, and slavery. 

See Also

From all of the examples of institutional racism that I listed above, only Indian reservations (see the photo below) and residential schools still exist in today’s world. Although the majority of these institutes do not exist anymore, they have still had long-term impacts on our society. As Racial Equity Tools notes: 

“As a result of institutional racism, racial stratification and disparities have occurred in employment, housing, education, healthcare, government and other sectors. While many laws were passed in the mid-20th century to make discrimination illegal, major inequalities still exist.”

Notable examples of institutional racism occurring in society today include racial profiling by law enforcement officials, under- and mis-representation of certain racial groups in the media, certain housing contracts (most notably, restrictive covenants), and bank loaning policies (for example, redlining). 

Resources You Can Use To Learn More About Institutional Racism:

There are many accessible resources out there for people to learn more about and have a better understanding of what institutional racism is. These resources include books, articles, movies, and podcasts. Here are a few to check out:

Books:

Movies and Podcasts:

  • 13th – The documentary is available on both Netflix and YouTube.
  • The Hate You Give – Also read the book of the same name. The photo below is a poster of the movie. (Movie)
  • 1619 (Podcast)
  • Code Switch (Podcast)

Articles:

If you want to have a better grasp and understanding of institutional racism, I highly recommend that you use the resources I listed in the last section for some guidance! 

After reading through this article, do you have a better understanding of what institutional racism is? Let me know down below in the comments section!

Featured Image Source: https://blavity.com/teaching-while-black-exposing-institutional-racism-at-claremont-middle-school-in-oakland?category1=education
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Brianna Oard

I am currently a senior at The University of Miami. I will graduate in December 2021 with a major in Journalism and minor in Sports Administration.

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