What is institutional racism?
October 1, 1998 — Comment
Written by CARF
Institutional racism is that which, covertly or overtly, resides in the policies, procedures, operations and culture of public or private institutions – reinforcing individual prejudices and being reinforced by them in turn.
Why do we need to distinguish institutional racism from individual racism?
The problem is that individual racial attitudes and stereotyping have often been over-emphasised to the point where the institutional level of racism is ignored. This view was encapsulated in the 1981 Scarman Report on Brixton’s riots which took the view that a few ‘rotten apples’ in the police had racist attitudes, but the majority did not. Racial awareness training has been seen as the answer, backed up with attempts to recruit more black officers. Condon has now decided that to accept institutional racism in the Met is to accuse all his officers of being racists. That is not what is meant by the term.
How is racism institutionalised in today’s police forces?
Institutional racism is shown in the clear patterns of differential policing meted out on a systematic basis against black people. The whole criminal justice system then compounds those racist patterns. Black events, black areas, black meeting places are targeted for special policing. Black people are four to five times more likely to be stopped and searched. In the last ten years, 35 black people have died in police custody in suspicious circumstances. And, when black people complain of abrogation of their rights, the whole criminal justice system – from the Police Complaints Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service to the judiciary – compounds the racism by closing ranks. No one gets found guilty of racism, no one gets suspended or punished and charges are never brought following a violent death in custody. All of these practices point to an institutional culture of racism – nurtured in the top ranks, spread through the canteen culture and reinforced in the unhealthily close relationship between police press officers and the yellow press. As a result, black people are rarely seen as victims of crime, which in turn means that racial violence is never taken seriously enough.
The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.