Institutional racism

racism rooted in society's history

Institutional racism (also known as systemic racism) is defined as policies and practices that exist throughout a whole society or organization that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race or ethnic group. It manifests as discrimination in areas such as criminal justice, employment, housing, healthcare, education and political representation.


  • She (Kamala Harris) was fusion politics indeed. She was the second Black woman to be the vice president on a major ticket, first on the stage to debate. You know, I couldn’t help but go to the Book of Exodus, where it talked about where God said, “If you don’t let my people go, I’m going to cause flies to come as a sign of what’s wrong. But I won’t let the flies be on the people, but the fly will be a symbol that you’re just wrong. You’re lying. Let my people go.” And Trump and Pence need to let the people go. They’ve been holding poor and low-wealth people hostage, essential workers hostage. It’s time for a change in this country.
  • Police brutality against people of color is a spectacular form of the racial violence that our nation’s criminal-justice system inflicts every day. If we back up, we will see that the police encounter that led to Floyd’s death takes place within a larger context of mass incarceration. Presently, there are 2.3 million people housed in the country’s prisons, jails and other criminal-justice facilities. By most measures, this number is remarkable. It means that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world. China comes in second, imprisoning 1.7 million people–over half a million fewer people than the U.S., in a country of 1.4 billion. The U.S. number translates to the imprisonment of 698 people for every 100,000. This rate dwarfs the incarceration rates of the countries that the U.S. usually thinks of as its peers. Indeed, the rate at which the U.S. incarcerates its population is roughly six times the highest rate of incarceration among Western European nations. While these numbers, in and of themselves, might be disconcerting, they become even more disturbing when we consider the racial geography of the U.S.’s prison population: people of color, particularly black people, are disproportionately represented among those who are incarcerated. While black people constitute 12% of the U.S. population, they constitute 33% of the prison population. Thus, black people are dramatically overrepresented in the country’s prisons and jails. Meanwhile, white people make up 64% of the U.S. population, but they make up just 30% of the prison population.
  • Mass incarceration means that this country approaches its problems through the criminal-justice system. When faced with a social ill, our nation responds by building more prisons and jails. Because incarceration is the tool that we use to address societal problems, we have erected few limitations on the police’s ability to keep the social order. Police can stop whomever they want to stop whenever they want to stop them. They can investigate things that have no relation to the reason for the stop. They can use force. They can kill. [...] The criminal-justice system evidences the way a society that should care for and protect its people instead leaves black people susceptible to harm and with little control over their well-being. It does so through the tragically high numbers of black people who are in prisons and jails, in the disproportionate rates of incarceration of black people, in the violence of the tactics that governments have used to police communities of color, in the frequency with which black people’s encounters with the police end in death and in the infrequency with which police officers are indicted and convicted for killing black people. Proof of this country’s racial hierarchy is everywhere. May we dismantle it in all its cruel, life-ending forms.
  • Critical Race Theory is the “study” of this so-called systemic racism, if by “study” we mean “treasure hunt to find racism in everything.”
    • James Lindsay, "On the Absence of Systemic Racism"
  • The point is to show the public that, like so much else in their repressive order, the label “systemic racism” is just another arbitrary tool, another potent bit of calculated rhetorical malice, by which they might effect their intended ends.
    • James Lindsay, "On the Absence of Systemic Racism"
  • Users of the phrase seldom offer any evidence beyond citing a fact about racial disparity while asserting shadowy structural causes that are never fully specified. We are all simply supposed to know how “systemic racism,” abetted by “white privilege” and furthered by “white supremacy,” conspire to leave blacks lagging behind. American history is rather more subtle and more interesting. Such disparities have multiple, interacting causes, ranging from culture to politics to economics and, yes, to nefarious doings of institutions and individuals who may well have been racist. But acknowledging this complexity is too much nuance for those alleging “systemic racism.”
    • Mark J. Perry “Glenn Loury on the Irony of ‘systemic Racism” April 29, 2021 on
  • Unfortunately systemic racism seems to ripple through our social institutions and into our daily social interactions, whether in Congress or at a coffee shop down the street from the Capitol. [...] Systemically, we know that Black people compared to whites are more likely to attend schools with less funding per student, less likely to obtain a job because of our “Black-sounding” name or even when attending an Ivy League university, less likely to obtain a home loan (even when having the same credit score), have their homes appraised for equitable value, more likely to experience pregnancy complications and maternal mortality, and more likely to have contact with police and the criminal justice system. Systemic racism inhibits (rather than prohibits like in the past) people’s ability to actualize all aspects of the American Dream. This occurs even for highly-educated Black people with high incomes and no criminal record. In fact, research documents that white people with a criminal record are more likely to get called back for a job than Black people without one.
  • Systemic racism is not simply a thing of the past. It is up close and personal in the present. Racism may be no more transparent in an institution with the least representative racial progress like the Senate. There have only been 11 Black senators in roughly 232 years. Clearly, the Senate is the exact space we need people with the courage to say the blunt, honest truth about our nation’s past and present. Only then can we actualize a future where systemic racism does not exist. It is imperative for a truth, reconciliation, and reparative process to commence. This starts with atoning for the enslavement of millions of Africans whose descendants continuously fall systemically behind, whether they end up being the lone Black Republican senator or a Black police officer who might have the power to pull him over. We must have the courage to speak truth to power and one of the places it starts is in Congress. “If not now, then when?”
  • “[Critical Race Theory proponents] teach that racism defines America and that systemic racism plagues our country’s institutions . . Critical race theorists seek to remedy what they describe as ‘systemic racism’ by turning back the clock on race relations and promoting a race-based view of the world.”
    • Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts from his official website
  • Racism is both overt and covert. It takes two, closely related forms: individual whites acting against individual blacks, and acts by the total white community against the black community. We call these individual racism and institutional racism. The first consists of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury or the violent destruction of property. This type can be recorded by television cameras; it can frequently be observed in the process of commission. The second type is less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts. But it is no less destructive of human life. The second type originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than the first type.
  • 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 proper 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 neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which many people will condemn—at least in words. But 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.
  • Institutional racism relies on the active and pervasive operation of anti-black attitudes and practices. A sense of superior group position prevails: whites are “better” than blacks; therefore blacks should be subordinated to whites. This is a racist attitude and it permeates the society, on both the individual and institutional level, covertly and overtly. “Respectable” individuals can absolve themselves from individual blame: they would never plant a bomb in a church; they would never stone a black family. But they continue to support political officials and institutions that would and do perpetuate institutionally racist policies. Thus acts of overt, individual racism may not typify the society, but institutional racism does—with the support of covert, individual attitudes of racism.
  • Black people in this country form a colony, and it is not in the interest of the colonial power to liberate them. Black people are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens. Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relation to the white society. Thus institutional racism has another name: colonialism. [...] Black people in the United States have a colonial relationship to the larger society, a relationship characterized by institutional racism. That colonial status operates in three areas—political, economic, social.
  • This is why the society does nothing meaningful about institutional racism: because the black community has been the creation of, and dominated by, a combination of oppressive forces and special interests in the white community. The groups which have access to the necessary resources and the ability to effect change benefit politically and economically from the continued subordinate status of the black community. This is not to say that every single white American consciously oppresses black people. He does not need to. Institutional racism has been maintained deliberately by the power structure and through indifference, inertia and lack courage on the part of white masses as well as petty officials. Whenever black demands for change become loud and strong, indifference is replaced by active opposition based on fear and self-interest. The line between purposeful suppression and indifference blurs. One way or another, most whites participate in economic colonialism.
  • Indeed, the colonial white power structure has been a most formidable foe. It has perpetuated a vicious circle—the poverty cycle—in which the black communities are denied good jobs, and therefore stuck with a low income and therefore unable to obtain a good education with which to obtain good jobs. [...] They cannot qualify for credit at most reputable places; they then resort to unethical merchants who take advantage of them by charging higher prices for inferior goods. They end up having less funds to buy in bulk, thus unable to reduce overall costs. They remain trapped. In the face of such realities, it becomes ludicrous to condemn black people for “not showing more initiative.” Black people are not in a depressed condition because of some defect in their character. The colonial power structure clamped a boot of oppression on the neck of the black people and then, ironically, said “they are not ready for freedom.” Left solely to the good will of the oppressor, the oppressed would never be ready. And no one accepts blame. And there is no “white power structure” doing it to them. And they are in that condition “because they are lazy and don’t want to work.” And this is not colonialism. And this is the land of opportunity, and the home of the free. And people should not become alienated. But people do become alienated.
  • The core problem within the ghetto is the vicious circle created by the lack of decent housing, decent jobs and adequate education. The failure of these three fundamental institutions to work has led to alienation of the ghetto from the rest of the urban area as well as to deep political rifts between the two communities. In America we judge by American standards, and by this yardstick we find that the black man lives in incredibly inadequate housing, shabby shelters that are dangerous to mental and physical health and to life itself. [...] Urban renewal and highway clearance programs have forced black people more and more into congested pockets of the inner city. Since suburban zoning laws have kept out low-income housing, and the Federal Government has failed to pass open-occupancy laws, black people are forced to stay in the deteriorating ghettos. Thus crowding increases, and slum conditions worsen. [...] Here we begin to understand the pervasive, cyclic implications of institutional racism. Barred from most housing, black people are forced to live in segregated neighborhoods and with this comes de facto segregated schooling, which means poor education, which leads in turn to ill-paying jobs.
  • The assertion that blacks must rely on white people to solve all their problems by somehow ending systemic and institutional racism is both nonsensical and self-defeating. By focusing on the past and present sins of white America as the source of all our problems, we ignore the enemy within, and that which is in our power to change. We turn a blind eye to the destruction within our communities that is consuming more of our lives than the Klan ever did, even at the height of its power.
    • Woodson, Robert L, Sr. "Media's Racial Narrative Targets Whites, Harms Blacks; An insistence on 'systemic' racism tells minority communities they have no power over their own lives." Wall Street Journal (Online); New York, N.Y.. 16 Apr 2021.

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