Why Is Institutional Racism so Important to Our Understanding of Racial Inequalities in Britain Today?

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Why is institutional racism so important to our understanding of racial inequalities in Britain today?

The Commission for Racial Equality has stated that institutional racism involves a process by which a range of public and private bodies systemically discriminate against people of ethnic minorities. Sivanandan, the director at the Institute of Race Relations defines institutional racism as "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."

It can be defined as established law, practices and customs which in practice systemically reflect and produce racial inequalities within society. It has been noted that discrimination can occur irrespective of the intent of the individuals or the institution simply due to the fact it becomes rooted in widely shared values, attitudes and beliefs. Therefore cases of institutional discrimination are difficult to police without the fact that being acknowledged that racist outcomes are occurring without the actors knowledge. It becomes an invisible process, which inevitably may be unintentional but puts up barriers and selection/ promotion processes which result in the disadvantage of members of minority ethnic groups. There is indeed a sustained attempt to see unwitting prejudice, thoughtlessness and deployment of racist stereotypes as located in the norms and values through which many ethnic minorities become disadvantaged in many spheres of life. Institutional racism can be both direct and indirect, cases brought under the Race Relations Act 1976 provides good examples of both forms of discrimination on racial grounds, but often arising out of unintentional thoughtlessness, stereotyping or ignorance. Stereotyping has been acknowledged as critical to the way in which racism become institutionalised in everyday practices and procedures (Phillips, 1998, vol 14 p146). The disparate elements of racism and bigotry in institutional racism in an integrated manner, leads one to find it is often functionally integrated, but should not be used to label the individuals as ‘racist' but to be acknowledged as being a problem for the organisation as a whole. Law (2004) believes that stereotypes and biases underlying institutional racism are forms of cultural and historical constructs; these have been formed during colonial history and become rooted in beliefs and attitudes of everyday society. Therefore throughout the generations energies and attitudes can come to encompass unconscious forms of racial discrimination. Since the 1960s the notions of institutional racism has been developed, is has now been acknowledged that it does not necessarily mean that racism is declared, but yet that that it may be present in the consciousness of people who may have been seen more as agents than actors. Carmichael and Hamilton have been key thinkers on the forms of institutional racism; they state that it maybe overt and individual or covert and institutional. Overt may be in an explicit form, whereas covert racism does not need to appear to be intentional, but becomes implanting in everyday functioning of an organisation (Wieviorka, 1995).

Scarman (1981) drew attention to the problem of police racism but also in doing so he defined institutional racism as ‘over racist policy consciously pursued by an institution' (cited in Lea, 2000 p.220). Scarman also responded to the suggestion that ‘Britain is an institutionally racist society' (Lea 2000) by stating he rejected the notions that Britain is a society is knowingly being institutionally racist. But he agreed with the suggestion that practices may be adopted by public bodies and private individual which are unwittingly discriminatory against ethnic minorities (para 2.22).

For Macpherson there are three categories of racism which link to issues of racial inequality, firstly, racism of overtly...
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