What is institutional racism?

What is institutional racism?


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.

Related links


Miscarriages of Justice UK

National Civil Rights Movement


The Monitoring Group

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

6 thoughts on “What is institutional racism?

  1. What i first thought when i read this article was that this was alot of Anarchist crap. I read it again and again to see if i was just being cinical, but i wasn’t. Arguing about if he should have been allowed to enter our country is stupid. Almost as stupid as being an enviromentalist. Seeing the United States being called “impeirialists” and “criminal” angers me to the point were i felt it warrented a comment. If he wanted to live in the US he should have gone through the legal process.

  2. Antonio Gramsci: Hegemony – The various arms of the state: ensuring status quo of control. Police are only an arm of the state. They are a tool of organised systemic control that is for the most part portrayed as ‘trust worthy’. When it is not, other uses of state will be used to again retain control under all even if these are racist acts.

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