Entry by Lauren Nader
The term “institutional racism” describes societal patterns and structures that impose oppressive or otherwise negative conditions on identifiable groups on the basis of race or ethnicity. Oppression may come from business, the government, the health care system, the schools, or the court, among other institutions (Head, 2020).
It can also be defined as ‘the racial attitudes found in a ethnic group’s traditions, beliefs, opinions, and myths that are firmly ingrained in the very fiber of the ethnic group’s cultural paradigm, where such traditions, beliefs, opinions, and myths have been practiced and sustained for so long, that they are accepted as common facts, understood to be normal behavioural practices whereas, such practices in effect marginalize, and demonize the human worth of another ethnic group’ (OHCHR, n.d.).
When investigating the origins of the term, ‘institutional racism’, it is important to recognise Stokely Carmichael. A figure who widely advocated for the rights of Black people within the US in the 20th century. In fact, he coined the term in the late 1960s because ‘he had grown tired of white moderates and uncommitted liberals who felt that the primary or sole purpose of the civil rights movement was white personal transformation. Carmichael’s primary concern—and the primary concern of most civil rights leaders at the time—was societal transformation, a much more ambitious goal’ (Head, 2020). He strongly believed that change could be achieved in order for Black people to receive the treatment that they deserved. In 1966, Carmichael announced that in 1968 he would run for president, during his Black Power Speech at University of California, Berkeley (YouTube, 2015). This statement alone carries a large portion of hope and determination for Black people and other people of colour. Whilst White people were largely doubting him at the time during a predominantly racist United States, Black people were looking up to him. Future politicians would consider him an aspiration and believe that if he could have a dream as such, then they could too. This is exactly why representation is important. If one individual sees another individual who looks like them or holds similar traits to them reaching for success, then they are more likely to want to also strive for this.
It is important to acknowledge that a ‘British institution that has most frequently been charged with institutional racism is the police’ (Subramanian, 2021). Throughout history, there have been a number of cases where Black people have been wrongly accused of committing crimes merely due to the colour of their skin. In fact, government data reveals that, ‘between April 2018 and March 2019, there were four stop and searches for every 1,000 white people, compared with 38 for every 1,000 black people’ (Grimshaw, 2020). The difference among the statistics is not one that is shocking because of the knowledge that racism is evident within institutions, however what is extremely disturbing is that this data is quite recent. If the British Government does not alter the workings of institutions such as the police force then this will result in a backwards society. They should learn from their mistakes and discover solutions in order to put an end to the injustices that they have long caused. It is not fair that society thrives on white supremacy and if this continues then they are heading towards a dangerous future; a future where predominantly white countries deem racism acceptable.
Within higher education
Institutional racism is evident among universities within the UK whether this be through lecturers treating certain students differently based on skin colour or white students receiving a much more positive university experience than students of colour. For instance, BAME students often face unequal treatment and are not given the same opportunities to thrive or attain first-class degrees, in compassion to their white peers. Studies have shown that international students ‘who experience racism have gone back home’ (Brown and Jones, 2013), withdrawn from modules (Constantine et al,. 2005) and suffered mental health problems (Bradley, 2000; Zewolde, 2021, p23). This is extremely alarming because it means that students who have worked hard to move to another country and who may be already struggling with adjusting to a different environment, must endure the added challenges of racial discrimination. They should not be segregated from the rest of the students. Instead, they should be made to feel accepted and appreciated. Students should perceive them as equal to themselves, they are also individuals who are attending British universities to learn. They should not be made to feel different.
Institutional racism can also result in a detrimental effect on an individual’s career. It should be noted that ‘data generated from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in 2012-2013 revealed that out of 17,880 professors, only 85 were black, 950 were Asian, 365 were “other” (including mixed race). The majority of 15,200 were white’ (The Runnymede Trust, 2015). One of the reasons for this is because they do not feel comfortable within their workplace. It can be a negative and unsafe environment as many are treated as the lesser amng society and essentially bullied for being non-White. Another reason for this is because ‘BME academics at top universities across Britain earn on average 26% less than their white colleagues’ (Croxford, 2018). If they are struggling to work, and instead trying to simply ‘survive’ as University of York Katy Sian Sociology lecturer describes her work days as being able to ‘survive my workplace for the past 12 years’, then why would they be keen to work in a British university? (Sian, 2019). The job role is one that automatically becomes unattractive because trouble is naturally attached to it for staff of colour. Institutional racism in the university should therefore be further explored as it essentially shapes the university experience of ethnic minority groups, whether they are students or staff.
Croxford, R. (2018). Ethnic minority academics earn less than white colleagues. BBC News. [online] 7 Dec. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-46473269
Grimshaw, R. (2020). Institutional racism in the police: how entrenched has it become? | Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. [online] www.crimeandjustice.org.uk. Available at: https://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/resources/institutional-racism-police-how-entrenched-has-it-become
Head, T. (2020). What Is Institutional Racism and How Is It Relevant to Us Now? [online] ThoughtCo. Available at: https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-institutional-racism-721594
Office for National Statistics (2011). Population estimates by ethnic group and religion, England and Wales – Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/uk-population-by-ethnicity/national-and-regional-populations/regional-ethnic-diversity/latest
Office for National Statistics (2019). Ethnicity and National Identity in England and Wales – Office for National Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/culturalidentity/ethnicity/articles/ethnicityandnationalidentityinenglandandwales/2012-12-11#:~:text=Within%20the%20White%20ethnic%20group%2C%20the%20North%20East%20had%20the
OHCHR (n.d.). OHCHR. [online] Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/Racism/WGEAPD/Session27/submissions-statements/mdshahid-systemicracism.pdf
Sian, K. (2019). Extent of Institutional Racism in British Universities Revealed through Hidden Stories. [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/extent-of-institutional-racism-in-british-universities-revealed-through-hidden-stories-118097
Subramanian, S. (2021). The UK is free of institutional racism, a government race report claims. It’s wrong. [online] Quartz. Available at: https://qz.com/1991251/a-brief-history-of-institutional-racism-in-the-uk-and-us/
The Runnymede Trust (2015). The Runnymede Trust | The experiences of Black and minority ethnic academics. [online] Available at: https://www.runnymedetrust.org/blog/the-experiences-of-black-and-minority-ethnic-academics
Wong, B., Elmorally, R., Copsey-Blake, M., Highwood, E. and Singarayer, J. (2020). Is Race Still relevant? Student Perceptions and Experiences of Racism in Higher Education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 51(3), 1.
YouTube (2015). APM Stokely Carmichael Black Power Speech at University of California, Berkeley. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifH5X9dYzG8
Zewolde, S. (2021). Racism and Othering in International Higher Education: Experiences of Black Africans in England. Centre for Global Higher Education working paper series, Oxford, 23.
New Jersey State Bar Foundation (2020). Explaining the Roots of Institutional Racism. [online] Available at: https://njsbf.org/2020/05/20/explaining-the-roots-of-institutional-racism/ (an article explaining how institutional racism can be put to an end)
Socialist Worker. (2022). My Name is Leon—institutional racism through the eyes of a child. [online] Available at: https://socialistworker.co.uk/reviews-and-culture/my-name-is-leon-institutional-racism-through-the-eyes-of-a-child/ (a description of BBC one-off drama ‘My Name is Leon’ which is based on the life of mixed-heritaged 9-year-old Leon as he is confronted with state racism – available to watch on BBC iplayer)
YouTube. (2017). A feast of African-American culinary contributions, baked into the South’s DNA. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6l8jRF-eGA&t=3s (an interview with African-American Southern food writer Michael Twitty who explains how slaves must be considered in conversations about the roots of American food)
Questions to ask:
- What is your position within the institution?
- Have you ever experienced institutional racism?
- What advice would you give to someone experiencing institutional racism?
- What do you think you could physically do for them?