What is Institutional Racism?

Institutional racism implies that racism does not just exist on an individual level, but an institutional level as well. It is sometimes referred to as structual or systematic racism. Basically, racism can be inherent in institutional systems of government bodies, schools, universities and businesses.

Unfortunately, I have found evidence that historically, institutional racism has been in existence in the UK. In this article, I explain how cases of racism, including the Stephen Lawrence case and the Oldham riots have forced UK government bodies to rethink their educational and policing systems to ensure that systematic or institutional racism is minimised.  Reports such as the Macphereson Report and the reports on Community Cohesion have attempted to resolve problems relating to institutional racism in the UK. The success of these reports, and whether institutional racism still exists in the UK is a whole new debate.


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Popular and Instituitional Racism

David Gillborn sees the need to differentiate between popular and institutionalised racism.   Popular racism combines the belief in the sub-division of the human race, or discrete human races with the belief that races are not equal, the users own race being supposedly superior.   This is racism in its crudest form, yet individuals and groups who would denounce this popular racism might still act in ways that disadvantage one or more ethnic minority groups.  

The term institutionalised racism was initially used by Black power campaigners Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton (1967) to highlight the ‘active and pervasive operation of anti-black attitudes and practices’ not only at an individual, but also an institutional level.[1]   The understanding of institutional racism in the UK is much more specialised.  The CRE stated that,

“For too long, racism has been thought of in individual psychological terms reducible to the actions of prejudiced individuals.   The concept of institutional racism draws attention to the structural workings of institutions which exclude black people regardless of individuals’ attitudes.”[2]

It is this kind of Racism that was later evident from in the Stephen Lawrence case when a full report was produced six years after his death.

[1] Gillborn, p.4-5.

[2] CRE, 1985, p.2-3.

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The Case of Stephen Lawrence

Stephen Lawrence, a young black A Level student, was murder by a gang of white youths in 1993. He had been waiting at a bus stop with a friend when the youths attacked him without provocation. The police did not investigate the murder properly and the murderers did not get arrested. The parents of Stephen Lawrence were outraged by the treatment their sons’ murder had received by the police and demanded justice through an inquiry.

The MacPhereson Report

In 1999, the MacPherson Report identified that institutional racism existed within the Metropolitan Police Force and that this was the cause of the poor treatment in relation to Stephen Lawrence’s murder inquiry. It also identified that poor relations between the police and ethnic groups should be improved through improved racism awareness training for officers. Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, acknowledged with a ‘sense of shame’ that institutional racism existed within his force, but that it was unintentional, rather than conscious in its application.

Repeated Recommendations?

It is interesting to note that the MacPherson Report recommended that the National Curriculum in schools should be adapted to reflect society by valuing cultural diversity. This was also a recommendation of the Swann Report, 1985, which was made impotent by the Education Reform Act, 1988

Race Riots of Oldham

Racial tension was heightening in the late nineties and the turn of the Century.  The ‘Oldham riots’ were a short intensive period of rioting in Oldham, Greater Manchester in May 2001.  This was the worst race-related violence recorded fifteen years prior.[1]   The riots of Oldham were the first major riots of the ‘summer of violence’ which saw similar racially motivated violence in the Northern towns and cities of Bradford, Leeds and Burnley.   The most violent rioting occurred in the Glodwick area of the town which is a multi-ethnic district of Oldham.  

[1] The previous race related rioting was the sectarian violence seen in Northern Ireland.

Community Cohesion

Such racial incidents in the UK heightened ‘ethnic minority’ concerns and forced the education system, among other considerations, to be reconsidered.   The main outcome of the ‘Summer of Violence’ in 2001 was the result of Community Cohesion.   The Community Cohesion Review Team (CCRT) was set up to identify good practice, key policy issues and new and innovative thinking in the field of community cohesion. Members of the Community Cohesion Review Team were Ted Cantle (Chair), Andrew Rowe, Baroness Uddin, Bob Purkiss, Darra Singh, Mohammad Taj, Humera Khan, Daljit Kaur, Bob Abberley, Dave Hey and Ahtsham Ali.

The Terms of Reference were specifically:

‘To obtain the views of local communities, including young people, local authorities, voluntary and faith organisations, in a number of representative multi-ethnic communities, on the issues that need to be addressed in developing confident, active communities and social cohesion.

To identify good practice and to report this to the Ministerial Group, and also to identify weaknesses in the handling of these issues at local level.’ [1]

In the outline of strategy, the CCRT advised that a well resourced national debate, heavily influenced by younger people, be conducted on an open and honest basis. This should also be used to develop a solid and permanent infrastructure to give younger people a bigger voice and stake in democratic activity. The resulting principles of a new citizenship should be used to develop a more coherent approach to education, housing, regeneration, employment and other programmes.  In order to combat ignorance, the CCRT propose that each area should prepare a local community cohesion plan, as a significant component of its Community Strategy, which should include the promotion of cross cultural contact between different communities at all levels. The opportunity should be taken to develop a programme of ‘myth busting’.   The CCRT believed that a new Community Cohesion Task Force should be established to oversee the development of local community cohesion strategies and the implementation of the proposals set out in the report.[2]

The CCRT recommended 67 practical measures in total, set out under headings of Peoples and Values, Political and Community Leadership, Political Organisations, Strategic Partnerships, Regeneration Programmes, Initiatives and Funding, Integration and Segregation, Younger People, Education, Community Organisations, Disadvantaged and Disaffected Communities, Policing, Housing, Employment, The Press and Media.[3]

[1] Community Cohesion: A report of the Independent Review Team, Chaired by Ted Chantle, 2001.  p.5.

[2] Community Cohesion: A report of the Independent Review Team, Chaired by Ted Chantle, 2001, Section 2.14-2.18, p.11

[3] Community Cohesion: A report of the Independent Review Team, Chaired by Ted Chantle, 2001, Section 2.14-2.19, p.11-12.

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