Institutionalized Racism and its Implications on Human Rights

What is Institutionalised Racism, and how does it affect minorities?

Institutionalized racism affects actions and regulations on ethnic considerations to subordinate and control a racial group. In contrast, racism manifests itself in various ways, such as verbal or even physical violence directed towards someone of a particular racial or cultural heritage. Other forms of discrimination are more difficult to detect, but they exist; as per a standardized form. This can be observed within schools or workplaces that discriminate against individuals, including children, based on their race. This perception of minorities being dissimilar from white people leads to discrimination in various social institutions and is referred to as ‘systematic’ or ‘institutional’ racism.

When a white terrorist attacks a black church and kills nine (as in the Charleston church shooting), it is an act of individual racism that is strongly condemned by most of society. But as thousands of other children of minority groups die each year due to a lack of adequate food, housing, and medical care and are mentally, socially, and intellectually impaired due to neglect and discrimination, this function of institutional racism is ignored by many.

It is institutional racism that leaves black and other minorities trapped in decrepit ghetto housing estates, prey to exploitative slumlords, dealers, loan sharks, and oppressive real estate agents regularly. The system either pretends it is unaware of the above case or cannot do something substantial about it. The system does not solely affect the black community. In this current era of movements and multiculturalism, we have seen the creation of what can only be defined as an international society, therefore affecting all minority groups. While institutionalized racism is mainly characterized by active and systemic pro-white practices and procedures, many unconsciously or even consciously back politicians and organizations that uphold institutionally discriminatory practices harming minorities.

Institutionalized racism in the education system

Discrimination and racial profiling toward black and other minority students start during childhood. Several reports have found that many teachers perceive minority students as academically weaker than white peers with similar grades. Minority pupils are also much more likely to attend schools in low-income areas, strongly linked to academic performance, due to a scarcity of educational opportunities. Furthermore, zero-tolerance disciplinary programmes, such as mandatory suspensions or expulsions for nonviolent or drug-related violations, exacerbate the school-to-prison system. Although these disproportionate rates and intensity for punishment begin in childhood and continue throughout the school years for many children in minority groups, it mainly affects black children.

Institutionalized racism in housing

In the United States and many other countries, homeownership and high-quality, sustainable rental housing is essential vehicles for asset creation and financial well-being. However, these efforts have almost entirely only been utilized by white households. In many cases, many minority groups are deprived of accessing wealth-building opportunities. In the USA especially, historical and continued migration, isolation, and discrimination prohibit minorities from securing and maintaining their own houses and accessing stable, accessible housing, exacerbating the long-standing gap in access to public services. The establishment of Chinatowns throughout the United States is perhaps the clearest but least recognized example of government-backed segregation. These were not formed as a result of a natural propensity to segregate but rather as a result of numerous federal, state, and municipal policies preventing Chinese Americans from thoroughly engaging in the housing and job markets of the United States.

When black war veterans returned from World War II, the Federal Housing Administration denied them mortgages because they were deemed “higher risk” by banks and the federal government. These practices were revised in the 1960s, but the inevitable damage had happened. The homeownership surge, fuelled by the federal government’s desire to stimulate the economy, purposefully and unconscionably hindered Black homeownership, preventing generational prosperity or class mobility from occurring as it did in white America.

Institutionalized racism in employment

Despite some impressive increases in ethnic minorities’ employment rates, substantial inequalities exist. In a study conducted by Bertrand and Mullainathan (2004), the researchers mailed similar resumes to employers in Boston and Chicago using racially recognizable names to indicate race, and white characters elicited a 50% higher response rate. Furthermore, their research found that enhancing applicants’ skills favoured white applicants but not ethnic minorities, resulting in a broader racial difference in response rates for those with higher abilities. Wilson et al. (1995) found that graduates from ethnic minorities are 70% more likely than whites with comparable characteristics to face involuntary unemployment after adjusting for age, education, urban area, and profession. Such difference rose with higher levels of education. All of this indicates that workplace discrimination persists at a broader level, with ethnic minorities clustered in occupations with lower degrees of stability and authority and fewer prospects for promotion.

Institutionalized racism in politics

Politics has also been a system perpetuating ideas of race ideals with questions of ethnicity, belonging, citizenship, and British/European/Western boundaries. All of this demonstrates that race is a subject that is present in policymaking, even though politics claims to be ‘colour-blind’. The US voting system is one-way institutionalized racism is illustrated in politics; the mechanism is responsible for the systemic segregation and repression of black and other minorities. According to a new Center for American Progress study, 9.5 million American adults, most people of colour, lacked full voting rights in 2016. The inability to actively engage in the electoral process or nominate candidates that respect common principles creates a loss of elected power for minority groups in predominantly white societies. The Electoral College, for instance, is to account for two presidential elections in the past 20 years being won by candidates who received even fewer votes. Established to defend and maintain the dominance of Southern states whose official population counts were much smaller than those of the North due to a large number of disenfranchised citizens such as slaves living in the South; the Electoral College, two centuries since its establishment, preserves white supremacy and disadvantages a large portion of the electorate, especially for Black people in Southern states.

The French Hijabi Ban is also an example of institutionalized racism. The government outlawed overt religious symbols in public schools. The hijab in classrooms and government offices is indirect discrimination against many minorities and poses an offence to their cultural identities. Other examples of institutional racism can also be observed with many regulations related to citizenship. Therefore, the Ius Soli, citizenship by birthplace, was the default universal practice for acquiring citizenship in Europe until the early nineteenth century. Its origins were intertwined with the concept of a nation’s supremacy. They had an operational simplicity that prevented stateless citizens in different territories of early modern European states. As slavery slowly was abolished, the Ius Sanguinis, or the racialization of citizenship, was also gradually introduced in many countries. The racialization of citizenship limits or entraps certain minorities into poverty. They might fail to be awarded full rights and liberties that would otherwise be given if in possession of citizenship; this can be in education, work, or healthcare.

Institutionalized racism in the healthcare

Health treatment is primarily a humanitarian initiative; unfortunately, medicine has a legacy of racism. Asians were considered weak, Down syndrome was associated with a supposedly inferior Mongoloid race, and black men were refused syphilis treatment. The relics of some of these racist ideologies are still present in society. Many doctors, for instance, still believe that black people have thicker skin or that they can tolerate a higher level of pain, ideas that were used to justify the treatment of black slaves.

                                                       This reflects in the healthcare treatment of many minorities. For instance, African-American women are three or four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes. Evidence suggests that doctors devote less time to Black patients than white patients, do not listen as closely, and are more likely to ignore complaints or symptoms.

Institutionalized racism in the police and judiciary

The police and the judiciary are also social structures where institutional racism can be readily found. There are currently 2.3 million black people detained in US prisons, hospitals, and other criminal justice institutions. This figure is exceptional by most standards, especially considering that only 13.4% of the US population is black. Implicit racism can exist even in those who oppose overtly racial sentiments, and it can be seen in both whites and minority groups. Implicit racial prejudice is a pervasive set of automatic and implicit associations that can influence how even fair-minded strategies are applied. However, according to statistics, black children were more likely than white children to be apprehended in 2018/2019, and black adults were almost ten times more likely to be detained and searched. While police may have fair reasons to presume the possession of a firearm to conduct a stop and search, racial bias causes many to mistake an ambiguous object in the hands of a black male for a weapon. In other words, the appropriate force needed can vary based on the individual’s race. We can see how subconscious prejudices could reinforce discrimination by subtly determining who is considered suspect, who is arrested and searched, who is deemed a threat, what determinations of reasonable force are made, who is determined to be armed and threatening, and who is killed. Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd, an innocent Black man, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. This lethal use of force by the now-former Minneapolis cop has reignited a heated controversy over police brutality and racism. The fact is we know that, through housing patterns, through employment, through wealth, through a whole range of other things, so often, ethnic minorities end up with harsher treatment from law enforcement. Police abuse against black and other minorities is a shocking manifestation of the racial violence inflicted by the criminal justice system daily, and the police incident that resulted in Floyd’s death occurred within a broader sense of racial injustice.

A breach of Human Rights?

You might be thinking, yes, institutionalized racism is ‘bad’, but how can all of this represent a breach of human rights? The implications of social inequality in one domain or at one point in time have more significant consequences by aggregation of disadvantage. Let us explore institutionalized racism from a historical context with Haiti, for instance. Saint Domingue, now known as Haiti, was once France’s largest exporting colony. After the revolution in 1803, Haiti became the first sovereign Latin American republic. Only a few are aware that Haiti was forced to compensate France for 150 million francs to gain diplomatic recognition. Not only was Haiti one of the first autonomous colonies in Latin America, but it was also one of the first independent colonies led by ex-slaves, black ex-slaves. The institutionalized racism of many western countries led to the adoption of various structurally violent policies to trample Haiti and any other signs of black slave emancipation. Haiti is not a failed country today not because of its lack of resources or capacity, but due to the systemic violence ignited and perpetrated by institutional racism. Minorities live shorter lives than their white counterparts; not because they are prone to disease, but they are more likely to face health-harming factors, such as inaccessible or biased health care services, poor schooling, and education programmes, unemployment, dangerous work, unhealthy housing, and abusive, contaminated communities. All these constitute inherent harm to any individual, but institutionalized racism means these factors include liability specifically to ethnic minorities.

                                         The Human Rights Convention guarantees equal rights and liberties to all citizens, regardless of colour, nationality, gender, or social class. This is a universally accepted principle, and structural segregation and racism are gross violations of it. Nonetheless, minority groups continue to be denied their equality in various social settings daily. Every human being requires respect, empathy, and the opportunity to live a complete and meaningful life; institutionalized racism contradicts this. It reinforces bigotry, undermines, and hides its hand in the process. This is why it is critical to address it and identify it as a violation of Human Rights.

Are we pushing for a change? So how can we make for change?

Fighting what you cannot see is difficult, so institutional racism gets less scrutiny than interpersonal racism. Since it is so entrenched in our culture, it seems impossible to eliminate, similarly with existing institutions such as patriarchy. UK higher education expert Sofia Akel previously said: “‘institutions must be able to participate in honest reflection, study, and a clear awareness of the full scope of institutional racism in their organizations before they can begin to address the problems and embed reform.”

Giusy Lawani is an honours student at the University of Durham, where she is pursuing a degree in Oriental Studies with components in international relations. Giusy, a first-generation university student, has been an outspoken advocate of international peace, cooperation, and human rights. She previously volunteered for the United Nations Development Programme and worked as an intern at the United States Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights. Proficient in English, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, and with elementary knowledge of French and Portuguese, she seeks to be a global leader and to provide the groundwork for the socio-economic development and equality of marginalised communities. Giusy is from Italy.

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