Systemic, Structural and Institutional Racism

Most white people in the US are familiar with explicit racism or racism that is a conscious choice to actively hate or discriminate someone of another race.  Most white people associate explicit racism as the main form of racism in the US and believe to support racism it has to a conscious choice like joining the KKK or using racial slurs at a non white person someone.   Explicit racism is a growing problem in this country but its a very small part of the actual racism that occurs, often unconsciously, in this country.

Today most people in the US negatively affected by racism are affected by systemic (also called institutional or structural) racism.  Systemic racism is forms of oppression and privilege that effects almost every aspect of our society to our laws, institutions, schools, justice system, media, culture, and everyday interactions.  This form of racism, although often more harmful than explicit racism, is less understood or even recognized by the white moderate majority, who often preserve and perpetuate this racism unconsciously through complicity and Complacency.

  • Racism Complicity
    • To consciously or unconsciously support, contribute or benefit from racism or racist systems
  • Racism Complacency
    • to support racism and racist systems by not challenging it


James Baldwin talks about the different types of institutional racism on the the Dick Cavett Show

Table of Contents

What is Systemic Racism
Critical Race Theory
Racism Dedefined
Power Dynamics
How Explicit Racism is a Distraction from Systemic Racism
System Justification

What is Systemic Racism

(also referred to structural or institutional racism)

According to “Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis” 

“Structural Racism: A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural
representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with “whiteness” and disadvantages associated with “color” to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.”

“Systemic racism is about the way racism is built right into every level of our society. Many people point to what they see as less in-your-face prejudice and bias these days, compared to decades past, but as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

While fewer people may consider themselves racist, racism itself persists in our schools, offices, court system, police departments, and elsewhere. Think about it: when white people occupy most positions of decision-making power, people of color have a difficult time getting a fair shake, let alone getting ahead. Bottom line: we have a lot of work to do.”

 “Culturally sanctioned beliefs, which, regardless of intentions involved, defend the advantages whites have because of the subordinated position of racial minorities”  David Wellman (1993) definition of racism

Scott Woods was quoted from the Atlanta Black Star Article, “10 Quotes That Perfectly Explain Racism To People Who Claim They’re Colorblind” saying:

“The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on the behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not. Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes Black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you.

Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another, and so on. So while I agree with people who say no one is born racist, it remains a powerful system that we’re immediately born into. It’s like being born into air: you take it in as soon as you breathe.

It’s not a cold that you can get over. There is no anti-racist certification class. It’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”

Profesor Tricia Rose identifies 5 social institutions that produce and keep racial inequality going, either intentionally, or unintentionally, through:

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Each institution is interdependent, interactive and compounding on each other

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Institutional racism in US explained through a Michael Jackson song

According to Truthout: “Any National “Conversation About Race” Must Include Black Radical Tradition”

“Black radicalism has taught that any serious “conversation about race” must address the systemic racism that results in patterns of racial inequality in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-Europeans around the world…

…Racism is a system of power that oppresses people of African descent and other non-European peoples within the United States and around the world. Systemic racism manifests itself in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-European peoples around the world.

The foundation of this system as it exists in the United States was laid down by the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in which black African people were stolen from Africa by European colonizers to work as slaves. Slaves worked in mines, rice fields or  construction or on plantations. Their labor would be used to produce commodities that were later sold in international markets for profit, which helped create modern global capitalism. Slavery was protected by robust political and legal systems that designated slaves as property to be bought and sold, rather than human beings. The system curtailed the rights of all African-Americans, including those who were not enslaved. Slaves were brutally treated with torture, lynchings, whippings, rape and other forms of cruelty inflicted upon them. This created a system of racial hierarchy that put whites on top and blacks – free and slave – on bottom.

Slavery transferred wealth from black labor to white property owners because African slaves were not paid for their work. For centuries, slavery allowed whites – including those who did not own slaves – to amass wealth for their communities, while blacks were politically and economically oppressed. This laid the foundation for a massive wealth gap between blacks and whites that persists to this day, more than a century and a half after slavery’s demise. A 2013 study by the Urban Institute found that in 2010, white families’ average wealth was $632,000, black families’ $98,000 and Latinos’ $110,000. Redlining (the practice of denying or making it difficult for residents in poor, non-white communities to receive financial services like getting a mortgage or insurance or borrowing money), gentrification, discriminatory lending practices, no access to credit, low incomes and the recent recession have all prevented – and continue to prevent – African-Americans from accumulating wealth in their communities.

Moreover, slavery had dismal repercussions for the African continent. A 2007 Harvard study by Dr. Nathan Nunn analyzed the impact of the trans-Atlantic and the older but smaller trans-Saharan, Indian Ocean and Red Sea slave trades on Africa’s economic development. Nunn found that “the slave trade caused political instability, weakened states, promoted political and social fragmentation and resulted in a deterioration of domestic legal institutions.” Additionally, the “countries from which the most slaves were taken (taking into account differences in country size) are today the poorest in Africa.” Nunn concluded, “if the slave trades had not occurred, then 72% of the average income gap between Africa and the rest of the world would not exist today and 99% of the income gap between Africa and the rest of the underdeveloped world would not exist.”

After slavery ended in the 1860s, racism still persisted through the establishment of Jim Crow laws, a system that legalized racial segregation in the United States. This lasted for about a century. Jim Crow has been replaced by a mass incarceration system that disproportionately imprisons black people for nonviolent drug offenses, even though blacks and whites use drugs at roughly the same rates. Oppressive policing reflects similar entrenched racism: Every 28 hours, a black person is extrajudicially killed by a police officer, security guard or self-appointed vigilantes such as Zimmerman.

Systemic racism manifests itself in multiple facets of society. Patterns of racial inequality exist in the judicial system, the national and global economies, policing, the education system, religion, popular culture and a war machine that predominantly kills non-European peoples around the world.

As a political tradition, black radicalism would look at these phenomena and diagnose them as consequences of a racist power structure that oppresses black people. Its critique of white supremacy is radical in that it does not look at individual bigots, prejudiced beliefs, individual privileges or one political party as the root cause of black people’s suffering. The root cause of black people’s misery, to the black radical, is a racist power system, the purpose and design of which is to keep their people miserable. Reforming, improving or integrating into the racist power system is not enough for a black radical because the system is irredeemably rotten at its core. That is why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., near the end of his life, worried that black people were “integrating into a burning house.””

Examples of Systemic Racism

Police and Justice System
Non-white people are more likely to get stop by police, arrested, harmed, shot by officers that will be acquitted, convicted and given harsher sentences than white people

Whitewashing Education and History
Education curriculum that whitewashes (downplays) slavery, genocide, rape  and racism in the US while glorifying the oppressors such as both confederate and founding fathers slave owners

Confederate Monuments
Confederate monuments on public institutions being preserved by tax payers

Access to Opportunities and Wealth
Unequal access to job opportunities, good schools, higher education and wealth for non-white people

Conservative Political Narratives
Conservative political parties creating misinformed narratives and policies that imply white people are victims at the cost of non-white civil rights

Conservative Political Policies
Conservative political parties creating policies of mass Latino deportation, Muslim immigration ban, protecting police brutality against non-whites, voter suppression, etc

Religious institutions that approve and support conservative racists and white Supremacist, by labeling them “Good Christians”

Discriminatory real estate, banks, and government policies segregating communities and keeping non-white people in poorer areas.

Decades of racially biased laws and practices in the USDA that pushed non-white people off their land in the last century

Bias Media
The majority of news, TV, radio and social media in the US push racial biases in our society including unfair stereotypes and fears towards non-white people

Racial Disparities
To really understand systemic racism read about the racial disparities in this country in Police Interactions, Criminal Justice/Courts, Prison (Mass Incarceration), War on Drugs, Education, Employment, Wealth, Workplace, Voting, Housing, Surveillance, Healthcare, Media Representation





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Critical Race Theory

Wikipedia: Critical Race Theory

“Critical race theory (CRT) is a theoretical framework in the social sciences that uses critical theory to examine society and culture as they relate to categorizations of race, law, and power. It began as a theoretical movement within American law schools in the mid- to late 1980s an offshoot of critical legal studies and is loosely unified by two common themes:

  • First, CRT proposes that white supremacy and racial power are maintained over time, and in particular, that the law may play a role in this process.
  • Second, CRT work has investigated the possibility of transforming the relationship between law and racial power, and more broadly, pursues a project of achieving racial emancipation and anti-subordination.

Scholars important to the theory include Derrick Bell, Patricia Williams, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Mari Matsuda. By 2002, over 20 American law schools and at least three law schools in other countries offered critical race theory courses or classes which covered the issue centrally. Critical race theory is taught and innovated in the fields of education, political science, women’s studies, ethnic studies, and American studies

…According to the UCLA School of Public Affairs:

CRT recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture. This is the analytical lens that CRT uses in examining existing power structures. CRT identifies that these power structures are based on white privilege and white supremacy, which perpetuates the marginalization of people of color.

Legal scholar Roy L. Brooks has defined CRT as “a collection of critical stances against the existing legal order from a race-based point of view”, and says

it focuses on the various ways in which the received tradition in law adversely affects people of color not as individuals but as a group. Thus, CRT attempts to analyze law and legal traditions through the history, contemporary experiences, and racial sensibilities of racial minorities in this country. The question always lurking in the background of CRT is this: What would the legal landscape look like today if people of color were the decision-makers?

Dismantling Racism: What is Racism?
“The definition of racism offered here is grounded in Critical Race Theory a movement started in the 1970s by activists and scholars committed to the study and transformation of traditional relationships of race to racism and power. CRT was initially grounded in the law and has since expanded to other fields. CRT also has an activist dimension because it not only tries to understand our situation but to change it. The basic beliefs of CRT are:
  1. Racism is ordinary, the “normal” way that society does business, the “common, everyday” experience of most People of Color in this country.
  2. Racism serves the interests of both white people in power (the elites) materially and working class white people psychically, and therefore neither group has much incentive to fight it.
  3. Race and races are social and political constructs, categories that society invents and manipulates when convenient. In reality our differences as human beings are dwarfed by what we have in common and have little or nothing to do with personality, intelligence, and morality.
  4. Society chooses to ignore this and assigns characteristics to whole groups of people in order to advance the idea of race and the superiority of whiteness.
  5. The power elite racializes different groups at different times to achieve their economic agenda, continually and repeatedly prioritizing profit over people.

Racism Dedefined

Dismantling Racism: What is Racism?


An attitude based on limited information, often on stereotypes. Prejudice is usually, but not always, negative. Positive and negative prejudices alike, especially when directed toward oppressed people, are damaging because they deny the individuality of the person. In some cases, the prejudices of oppressed people (“you can’t trust the police”) are necessary for survival. No one is free of prejudice.Examples: Women are emotional. Asians are good at math.


The systematic subjugation of one social group by a more powerful social group for the social, economic, and political benefit of the more powerful social group. Rita Hardiman and Bailey Jackson state that oppression exists when the following 4 conditions are found:

  • the oppressor group has the power to define reality for themselves and others,
  • the target groups take in and internalize the negative messages about them and end up cooperating with the oppressors (thinking and acting like them),
  • genocide, harassment, and discrimination are systematic and institutionalized, so that individuals are not necessary to keep it going, and,
  • members of both the oppressor and target groups are socialized to play their roles as normal and correct.
Oppression = Power + Prejudice


  • access to resources
  • the ability to influence others
  • access to decision-makers to get what you want done
  • the ability to define reality for yourself and others


  • an interlocking set of parts that together make a whole
  • an established way of doing something, such that things get done that way regularly and are assumed to be the ‘normal’ way things get done
  • runs by itself; does not require planning or initiative by a person or group


  • a leg up, a gain, a benefit

​The idea (ideology) that white people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of white people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. While most people associate white supremacy with extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazis, white supremacy is actually ever present in our institutional and cultural assumptions that assign value, morality, goodness, and humanity to the white group while casting people and communities of color as worthless (worth less), immoral, bad, and inhuman and “undeserving.” For more, go to the white supremacy culture page.


  • Race is a social and political concept, not a scientific one.
  • Even though this is true, race is a powerful political, social, and economic force. Race was and is constructed for social and political purposes, in large part to divide and conquer poor and working white people from poor and working People and Communities of Color..
  • The term ‘white’ was constructed to unite certain European groups living in the U.S. who were fighting each other and at the same time were a numerical minority in comparison to the numbers of African slaves and Native peoples.
  • In order to justify the idea of a white race, every institution in this country was and is used to prove that race exists and to promote the idea that the white race is at the top of the racial hierarchy and all other races are below, with the Black race on the bottom. All institutions were and are used to promote the idea of white supremacy.
  • All European immigrants did not and do not become white at the same time (Irish, Italians, Jews). Becoming white involves giving up parts of your original culture in order to get the advantages and privileges of belonging to the white group.
  • This process continues today.


  • Racism = race prejudice + social and institutional power
  • Racism = a system of advantage based on race
  • Racism = a system of oppression based on race
  • Racism = a white supremacy system

Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.

Three Expressions of Racism

The ways in which the dominant culture is founded upon and then defines and shapes norms, values, beliefs and standards to advantage white people and oppress people of color. The ways in which the dominant culture defines reality to advantage white people and oppress People of Color. The norms, values, or standards assumed by the dominant society that perpetuate racism. Examples: thin, blond, white women as the basis for our society’s standard of beauty; women on welfare assumed to be Black or Brown and portrayed as irresponsible while white collar fraud in the business community is costing the US hundreds of billions of dollars a year; requiring people to speak English historically (Indigenous peoples) and today (people from Central and South America) as a way of deliberately destroying community and culture.

The ways in which the structures, systems, policies, and procedures of institutions in the U.S. are founded upon and then promote, reproduce, and perpetuate advantages for white people and the oppression of People of Color. The ways in which institutions legislate and structure reality to advantage white people and oppress People of Color. The ways in which institutions —  Housing, Government, Education, Media, Business, Health Care, Criminal Justice, Employment, Labor, Politics, Church – perpetuate racism. Examples: People of Color under-represented and misrepresented on television, racially biased standardized tests used to determine who will be admitted to higher education programs and institutions, historic and ongoing breaking of treaties with indigenous Native American communities, reliance on low-paying undocumented immigrant labor by farms and factories.

The ways in which we perpetuate a  nd/or assume the idea that white people are inherently better and/or People of Color are inherently inferior on an individual basis. The ways in which white people act out of racist implicit bias. Examples: calling someone a racist name, making a racist assumption.

Another related analytical framework is The Four I’s of Oppression.



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Power Dynamics


Racism = Prejudice + Power

This definition was first proposed by Patricia Bidol-Padva in 1970 in her book Developing New Perspectives on Race: An Innovative Multi-media Social Studies Curriculum in Racism Awareness for the Secondary Level.

SJWiki: Prejudice Plus Power

“Racism is prejudice plus power. On the basis of this definition, while all people can be prejudiced, only those who have power are really racist. African Americans, Latinos, Asians and American Indians the powerless in American society can be and often are most prejudiced toward Whites on an individual basis, but they are not racists at the structural, institutional level. Within this understanding of racism, to be a racist you have to possess two things:

  • 1) socioeconomic power to force others to do what you desire even if they don’t want to, and
  • 2), the justification of this power abuse by an ideology of biological supremacy.

Keep in mind that what often is described as racism in society today, is really nothing more than prejudice and discrimination. While a Black or Latino person, through the use of a gun and/or intimidation, can force a White person to do as he as an individual desires, this is an individual act of aggression, not a socially structured power arrangement. At present, however, only Whites have that kind of power, reinforced by a belief in an ideology of supremacy, both of which constitute the basis of racism in America today…

…The concept of prejudice plus power frames forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, and other positions of societal disfavor as perpetrated by those in power against those that are not in power. Just disliking someone or not favoring someone because of their race, gender, or other trait is not enough to oppress them; some form of power has to back the opinion that reflects it into multiple aspects of an environment rather than just a relational conflict.

The manifestation of prejudice when installed by those in power into social systems or institutions is called institutional oppression

…A common assertion is that this definition of oppression disqualifies those with less social privilege from criticism, eg. only white people can be racist, only men can be sexist, only cisgender people can be transphobic, only able people can be ableist. However, this is a very simplistic understanding and focuses on distasteful concepts i.e. the “right” of those with more privilege to call reverse racism or misandry or protest being called cis. The words of an oppressed class have very little power to cause any sort of detriment to those with social privilege; calling a white person a “cracker” doesn’t impact their chances of being hired in the USA, identifying a cisgender person is not linked to the murder rate or medical care denial rate of cisgender people, and a woman proclaiming that men are encouraged to act irresponsibly doesn’t change the amount of boys entering higher science or computer education or bear implications for the rape statistics of men and boys. However, for people of color, trans people, and women these things are provably true.

Singling out a person with a major axis of privilege may be rude, but the major impact of it is limited to some hurt feelings. Singling out a person without that axis of privilege for systematically disfavored traits supports and normalizes vast systems that take away their life opportunities and often lead to acts of violence against people of their same demographic. These acts, for less privileged individuals are the bulk of microaggressions, or cumulative, frequent small expressions of oppression that can result in internalized oppression and damage to mental-health and well-being that those on axis of greater privilege do not experience.”

The African Exponent: Can Blacks be Racist?

EdChange: The Undergirding Factor is POWER Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism

“As the dawn of the 21st century nears, racism‹the most important and persistent social problem in America and in the world today‹is on the rise in increasing ways. Whether we are talking about ethnic cleansings, group hatred or retraction of equity laws under the guise that these are unfair, the underlying issue is the same. One group, threatened by the perceived loss of power, exercises social, economic and political muscle against the Other to retain privilege by restructuring for social advantage. Such actions and efforts call for an understanding of the basic concepts of prejudice and racism, and how to lessen their destructive effect.

At the heart of prejudice lies two concepts: ignorance and fear. All of us tend to have prejudicial attitudes towards others. This type of prejudice or “pre-judgment” is based on ignorance. It is a normal human response to racial, social, sexual and other forms of differences, because all human beings tend to prejudge others on the basis of limited knowledge, especially if they are different from us. Thus we are all prejudiced, and virtually none are exempt. Most of what passes for prejudice in society is the result of ignorance of other groups and their way of life and social condition. Because of the way American society is presently structured, most Whites have almost no conceptual idea nor first-hand experience of life in the African American and Latino communities. This is because the prevailing norms of separation and segregation that prevent people of different racial/ethnic groups from interacting with each other in a meaningful and positive way, perpetuate this ignorance of groups, which in turn gives rise to attitudes of prejudice. In light of such a common human condition, the advice of a former seminary professor of mine is most helpful and worthy of practice: “The mark of a mature mind is the ability to suspend judgment until all the evidence is in.”

The other factor is fear, and this one goes much deeper than ignorance, for its strikes at the root of prejudice, the issue of privilege and power. What makes racial prejudice so sinister is not just the act of prejudging a person or a group. Prejudice is an inflexible, rational attitude that, often in a disguised manner, defends privilege, and even after evidence to the contrary will not change, so that the post-judgment is the same as the pre-judgment.. In the definition of prejudice, the indictment is greater for post-judgment than for pre-judgment. If you don¹t have post-judgment in your definition of prejudice you don¹t know what you are talking about. This is because racial prejudice is the refusal to change one’s attitude even after evidence to the contrary, so that one will continue to post-judge people the same way one pre-judged them. This is the due to the fear of losing the power of privilege. In prejudice people are basically defending privilege of position and thus stand to gain emotionally, culturally, socially and economically from an attitude of prejudice towards others. Whenever people sense that these privileges are threatened they become fearful of the Other and react. The old adage applies here: “A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still.” Prejudice thus becomes the mental framework to protect from fear, thereby safeguarding a position of social advantage and privilege over others defined as different, and therefore, undeserving. People find great social and economical benefit from being prejudiced. And as long as these gains are forthcoming, people will continue to maintain their prejudice, in spite of the evidence to the contrary, for prejudice is more visceral than cerebral.

Prejudice operates on three levels:

1. The Cognitive Level‹What people believe about others, their stereotypes. Stereotypes are a set of exaggerated and inaccurate generalizations about a group or category of people that is either favorable or unfavorable, which are often emotionally toned and not susceptible of modification through empirical evidence. These generalizations are maintained because they are a shared belief receiving strong support from one’s reference groups. Stereotypes are the social scripts we have in our heads about others and the roles we believe they should play in our socially constructed world.

2. The Emotional Level‹The feelings that the Other arouses in an individual. These may be negative feelings of fear, dread, caution, fight or flight; or positive feelings of joy, solidarity, and we-ness, depending on how the Other is viewed. The deep well out of which these feelings rise is filled with early memories of encounters with others or with behaviors and beliefs we were socialized, which surge to the surface when the Other is encountered. The emotional level is the most important level because even after the cognitive level has been challenged and undermined, we still hang on to prejudice at the emotional or affective level because of the psychological need it fulfills‹the need to feel superior, which in actuality is a state of inferiority. Much of this can be attributed to an educational system in this country that has deprived most White Americans of their ethnic heritage, by touting the experience of one group‹the English‹as the norm for all. Thus, Nathan McCall is correct when he declares that “the education system in this country has failed white people more than it¹s failed anybody else. It has crippled them and limited their humanity. They¹re the ones who need to know the most about everybody because they¹re the ones running the country. They¹ve been taught so little about anybody other than white people that they can¹t understand, even when they try.” When Whites see persons of color expressing pride in their heritage there is a sense of estrangement because they cannot do the same except in some generic “American” heritage. The result is an attack on multiculturalism and the need for a sense of psychological superiority expressed in prejudice at the affective level.

3. The Behavioral Level‹The tendency to engage in discriminatory behavior. Discrimination is the unequal treatment of individuals or groups on the basis of some, usually categorical, attribute, such as race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, or social class membership. Prejudice is an attitude, however. When it results in an action, it becomes discrimination. Both together form the basis for racism. Prejudice is an attitudinal bias, while discrimination is a behavioral bias.

The privilege that prejudice rationally defends is a product of racism. Racism, however, is more than just prejudice and discrimination combined. Racism is a socially constructed reality at the heart of society¹s structures. Racism is the deliberate structuring of privilege by means of an objective, differential and unequal treatment of people, for the purpose of social advantage over scarce resources, resulting in an ideology of supremacy which justifies power of position by placing a negative meaning on perceived or actual biological/cultural differences. Racism and prejudice are not mental illnesses or psychological problems people have. Neither are they the product of “psychological abnormalities.” Both are rational, cultural and structural phenomena to defend power. Racism goes beyond prejudice (an attitude) to structure this power advantage politically, economically, culturally and religiously within a social system, whether it be simple (as in personal bias) or complex (as in the role apartheid played in South Africa), which gives social advantage to some at the expense of others perceived to be inferior and undeserving.

In its essence, racism is culturally sanctioned strategies that defend the advantages of power, privilege and prestige which “Whites have because of the subordinated position of racial minorities.” This deliberate political, economical, religious and sociocultural structuring of privilege, does not take place in some moral vacuum. It has behind it the moral force of an ideology of supremacy, an ill-will that claims racial superiority and pride of position. By ideology I mean a system of ideas and beliefs about the universe, to which a people adhere in order to justify their attitudes and actions. This ideology can have a religious or a scientific basis, depending on which one shapes our worldview. Nevertheless the outcome is the same, where one group benefits and the other does not.

Ever since the European restructuring of the world from the 16th century on, racism has become affirmative action for whites. It is both an attitude and an act of structural superiority, which justifies its very existence by giving biological differences, such as skin color, texture of the hair, physical features; or cultural differences such as language, religion, ethnicity, or accent, a negative value and meaning. This negative meaning then legitimizes treating the Other as inferior to oneself or ones group. The result is an objective (visible, measurable, tangible), differential (there is an obvious difference between groups), and unequal treatment (the difference in treatment is not the same), where one groups gets consistently short-changed. The working definition for both racism and sexism is the same. Both refer to evil perpetrated against others. The only difference is that in racism color is the excuse for oppression, while in sexism it is gender. But racism has very little to do with color, just like sexism has little to do with sex or gender. Biological differences are not the problem; they are merely the excuse for oppression. Let me illustrate.

No person of color has ever suffered discrimination because of the color of their skin. If color were the problem then the solution would be to change your skin color, an action which persons of color throughout history have often attempted, because of the wrong assumption that the problem was the color of their skin. Yet, the problem is not skin color, but systems that perpetrate evil against others and then justify that evil by blaming the victims. There is nothing wrong with the color black, brown or yellow. It is not skin color that forms the basis for discrimination, but the negative meaning given to the color of skin. “Color is neutral; it is the mind that gives it meaning.” Neither are women discriminated against because of their gender. If gender were the problem then the solution would also be to have a sex-change operation. But the problem is not gender but systems which benefit men at the expense of women and then justify the evil perpetrated by putting the blame on gender. Women are discriminated against because of the negative meaning given to their gender. It is not our gender or skin color that we have to change, but systems of oppression that benefit some groups at the expense of others. This whole process is what William Ryan calls “blaming the victim.” It is an ideological process that justifies inequality by finding defects in the victims of inequality. The logical outcome of analyzing social problems in terms of the deficiencies of the victim is a simple formula for action: Change the victim!…

…The Issue is Power: Both Material and Moral:

Racism, however, is more than an ideology, a belief system or a negative attitude towards others arising out of prejudice. If that alone were the case, then racism would be “reduced to something which takes place inside human heads, and the implicit presupposition here is that a change of attitude which will put an end to racial oppression can be brought about by dialogue, by an ethical appeal for a change of mentality.” But such an understanding ignores the real factor behind racism (as well as sexism) Power! Racism‹and sexism‹are not about color or gender; they are about Power! They can thus afflict anyone of any gender, color, community, culture, or country, who craves power above the need to respect the Other. At the heart of racism (as well as sexism) lies the concept of group competition‹the quest for power.

What is power? Power in its essence is the capacity to act.. Sociologically, power comes in two forms, as coercive and as choice. In its coercive form it is the capacity to act in a manner that influences the behavior of others even against their wishes. This is material power, the most prevalent and destructive form of power in society today, and appeals to the baser qualities of human beings, because of competition over scarce resources. Power as choice, on the other hand, is the capacity to act in a manner that influences the behavior of others without violating free moral choice. This is moral power, which appeals to the higher faculties of humankind. This type of power gives rise to true power. “True power is knowing that you can, but you don¹t.” To practice this form of power is the height of self-control. Once one understands that racism at its core has to do with power, one will then recognize that at the root of racism lie two important elements‹the material and moral basis of oppression…

…Prejudice by itself does not constitute racism, however. Neither does power by itself. But when people use their position of power, be it political or institutional, to reinforce their prejudices and to enforce them so that as a result of their racial prejudices the life chances, rights and opportunities of others are limited, the result is racism. Thus, the simplest definition of racism then is: Racism is prejudice plus power. On the basis of this definition, while all people can be prejudiced, only those who have power are really racist. African Americans, Latinos, Asians and American Indians‹the powerless in American society‹can be and often are most prejudiced toward Whites on an individual basis, but they are not racists at the structural, institutional level. Within this understanding of racism, to be a racist you have to possess two things: 1) socioeconomic power to force others to do what you desire even if they don’t want to, and 2), the justification of this power abuse by an ideology of biological supremacy. Keep in mind that what often is described as racism in society today, is really nothing more than prejudice and discrimination. While a Black or Latino person, through the use of a gun and/or intimidation, can force a White person to do as he‹as an individual‹desires, this is an individual act of aggression, not a socially structured power arrangement. At present, however, only Whites have that kind of power, reinforced by a belief in an ideology of supremacy, both of which constitute the basis of racism in America today.”

Note to My White Self: One Last Try At Explaining Racism To White People

“Finally, no thorough discussion of racism can avoid questions of power.  While any person of any color can be inconsistent, inattentive and careless in their attitudes and behaviors toward people of a different color, only those with power can systematically damage and diminish the lives of those whom they disdain.  In a society where white people have controlled the levers of power, racism is a direct product of white society.

White people can be inconsistent, inattentive and careless in their behavior toward people of color with little risk or consequence.  We can treat a Latino worker with disrespect without censure.  We can be inattentive to a police officer without danger.  We can be careless about racism without any effect on our quality of life.  This is not true for people of color.  A person of color who complains about disrespect is often fired.  A person of color who is inattentive to a police officer can be killed.  A person of color who is careless in their interactions with white people will eventually be punished.  This power differential turns common bias and prejudice into an uniquely white ailment – systemic racism.”


Everyday Feminism: Why Reverse Oppression Simply Cannot Exist

“If you think of it in the form of a hierarchy, you’ll see that yes, all people can experience stereotyping (assumptions that all people in one group are similar), prejudice (dislike toward a group based on those stereotypes), and discrimination (refusing access to resources based on that prejudice).

However, only oppressed people experience all of that and institutionalized violence and systematic erasure. See, and that’s why it’s not possible to be sexist against men.

Because you can stereotype men. And you can be prejudiced against men. And you can also discriminate against men. And none of that is okay! But oppression – because it is institutionalized and systematic – is another level entirely.

Allow me to explain – by going back to piece that I wrote on thin privilege and a resource that I use therein. “Oppression,” I write in that piece, “is a special kind of problem.” And there are four reasons why.

1. It Is Pervasive

It is woven throughout social institutions, as well as embedded within individual consciousness. This isn’t about one person being a jerk to another. This isn’t about one woman making “misandrist” jokes on Twitter. This isn’t about that one time you saw a black cop pull over a white guy for seemingly no reason.

This is about a cultural value that is systematic in that it exists within the very fabric of our society and is practiced (albeit often subconsciously) in the very institutions we’ve been taught to trust – you know, like the exclusive, white-cis male-written dictionary.

This is about an attitude that is so deeply embedded in our minds that we act on it without thinking. This is about a force that surrounds us and influences our relationships to ourselves and others.

For example, watch what happens if you make a “sexist” joke about men. How many men will run to defend that #NotAllMen do that thing? But if you make a sexist joke about women, how many of those men are running to women’s defense?

Hell, how many women are running to women’s defense? And how many of the few women who do are then told that they “can’t take a joke?” People are more willing to be complicit around sexist jokes because the cultural belief that women are something to laugh at is widespread.

2. It Is Restrictive

That is, structural limits significantly shape a person’s life chances and sense of possibility in ways beyond the individual’s control. Check out these examples of male privilege, white privilege, Christian privilege, straight privilege, and thin privilege.

By virtue of not having access to these privileges, the lives of oppressed people are limited. Women, for example, are likely to be brought up to believe that their worth is tied directly to their beauty – that no matter how smart, successful, or accomplished they are, their lives are still restricted to their sex appeal.

Want a really great example of the ways in which oppressed people’s lives are restricted? Take a look at the school-to-prison pipeline, just one of many terrible ways in which the prison industrial complex limits the lives of people of color.

Meanwhile, in most states, same-gender couples still can’t adopt children without going before a judge for approval – which is entirely out of their control. And in many cases, trans and gender non-conforming people can’t use a public bathroom safely, securely, and without question. Talk about restriction!

I could go on, but you get it now, right?

3. It Is Hierarchical

That is, oppression positions one group as “better” than another. Dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups. As a thin person, for example, and therefore someone who isn’t oppressed by fatphobia, this can look as simple as not being passed over as a dating prospect.

Have you ever perused the Craigs List personal ads section? I have. (I swear it was for a grad school assignment.) And I don’t remember ever once seeing a “NO THIN CHICKS” disclaimer. But “No BBW?” You’ll find that everywhere. That’s a way that I benefit from fat discrimination.

You can also look at the ways in which colorism (or shadeism) affects communities of color if you want to see an oppressive hierarchy at play. Because of white supremacy and the lingering impacts of colonization, people with lighter skin are considered more attractive – which also allows them more access to other positive associations, like wealth and intelligence.

In order for one group to be on top, there are many others who have to fall underneath. That is oppression.

4. The Dominant Group Has the Power to Define Reality

That is, they determine the status quo: what is “normal,” “real,” or “correct.”

Take my dictionary example from earlier: If white men are in charge of defining the confines of our common language, then they are in charge of that aspect of our reality. Another huge way that this works is in a lack of diverse media representations.

If you are a disabled child growing up and watching television, and all you’re ever exposed to are able-bodied people as the norm, then what does that inform you about your own existence?

Further, if men are in control of the media (and they are – over 95% of clout positions in media are held by men), then what does that do to stories about women? If narratives about women are being controlled by men, is what’s being told about women really accurate — or is “correct,” “normal,” “real” womanhood being defined (and confined)?

One group having the opportunity to define the world is a lot of power. And power is the flipside to oppression. When people in power are stereotyped or discriminated against – awful as that is – it isn’t the result of subjugation, regardless of what the dictionary tells you. Those negative attitudes toward privileged people aren’t pervasive, restrictive, or hierarchal.

That is, they aren’t losing out on anything just because someone’s words, actions, or beliefs were hurtful – or even harmful. And that’s a significant difference.

Oppression cannot exist without a force of power behind it. And this is exactly why the idea that a dominant group being subjugated is so laughable – because what force is driving it?”


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How Explicit Racism is a Distraction from Systemic Racism

According to The Daily Dot: White people need to confront systemic racism, not ‘alt-right’ extremists

“White nationalists and blatant racists have become the perfect scapegoats—a group that the rest of white America can righteously point to as the “true racists.” A group that most white Americans are willing to mobilize in large numbers against and express moral outrage about. A group, when in action, can make other white people hear what people of color have been saying all along—that race continues to be a problem.

But when presented with this difficult reality that racism has always been in the very fabric of everything this country does, whites collectively offer little more than simple, self-serving solutions: Denounce the racist act, distance oneself from blatantly racist individuals and groups, maybe march. These “answers” only fuel the white pride/white hero narrative, however—the assumption being that through such basic acts, white people can bring “equality and justice for all.”

Meanwhile, systemic racism rages on…

…today, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and Stormfront members are far from Black people’s greatest immediate threat. The prison industrial complex, which has claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Black people for-profit, is. The predatory banking system, which has decimated the Black middle class and wiped out the collective hope for the growth of generational wealth, is. White liberals, who claim to be “colorblind” while simultaneously gentrifying neighborhoods of color, are. Individuals, both right- and left-leaning alike, who become rich from these racist systems and use their money to influence politics, definitely are.

For example, there was a prison population boom between 1980 and 2015 that saw the number of people incarcerated in America increase from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million. Of that 2.2 million, Black people account for 1 million of the inmates, making up nearly half of the prison population, despite comprising only 12-13 percent of the American population. Stats like these prompted Michelle Alexander to write the book The New Jim Crow, which likened the modern incarceration of Black people to the racist Jim Crow era. She proved that a deeply racist structure was at work in the American justice system that preyed on Black people. And this deeply racist structure, which has claimed the freedom of thousands, made members of both sides of the political aisle rich…

…Benefiting from systemic racism isn’t just for white executives, either. Cities that have become the beacons of white liberalism and progressivism have outpriced most Black people, pushing them to the fringes. Though white liberals seem open to addressing racism, race-based income inequality and the absence of affordable housing drives this trend. Despite the white liberal desire for diversity, media rooms, classrooms, and workplaces remain deeply segregated. And then there is the plain fact that both white liberals and conservatives often deny the racism (and the impact of that racism) that Black people face on a daily basis, just to assuage their own guilt.

In truth, if more were being done by whites as a whole to dismantle systemic racism, a few hundred men carrying tiki torches would be inconsequential in the grand scheme of equality. Liberal and conservative America needs to know that Black people do not need saving from white nationalists. We need to be saved from the systemic racism being perpetuated by all of white America. The subtle, often-unowned racism that requires white self-reflection, culpability, true allies, and hard work to dismantle.”

Teen Vogue: How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy”

“White people benefit from white supremacy. Period. Peggy McIntosh spelled this out for us in 1989, but apparently we’re still not quite getting it. Her famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” lays out undeniable ways that it is simply easier to be white in this country, like always having a boss who is a fellow white person, or, you know, being able to eat Skittles at night without getting shot. Most white people didn’t ask for this privilege. Actually, that’s the whole idea. White privilege is an inherent advantage that easily goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. Rather than stuffing down the sense of shame associated with this obvious unfairness, why not work to even the playing field?

Look, getting a job because your name is Geoff is not the same thing as joining the KKK, but that privilege is precisely the thing white supremacists were working to reassert in Charlottesville. They chanted about not being “replaced.” Their very existence is grounded in insisting on a moral claim to this country as a superior race. They want to continue having every possible advantage based on the color of their skin; that’s practically the mission statement. Most white people are at least aware that they benefit from white supremacy, and yet we stuff down these painfully obvious truths, tending to our cognitive dissonance like a paper cut that won’t heal, worrying more about being called racists than the effects of racism itself.”


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System Justification

System Justification

“Another way people rationalize the status quo is through the use of stereotypes. When people perceive threats to the predominant system, they are more inclined to cling to and back the existing structure, and one way of doing so is by means of endorsing stereotypes that rationalize inequality. If one considers oneself a member of a higher social status group (economic standing, race, gender) he or she will hold favorable stereotypes about their group and less positive ones toward lower status outgroups. As perceived legitimacy of the system or threat to it increases, members of both disadvantaged and advantaged groups will be more motivated to utilize stereotypes as explanatory rationalizations (no matter how weak) for unequal status differences. Those that belong to disadvantaged groups will tend to associate positive characteristics (favorable stereotypes) to high status members and lead low status group members to minimize negative feelings about their low status. Thus, stereotype endorsement as system justification is consensual and holds a palliative function. This is true for both the ingroup and outgroup. Stereotypes also deflect blame of unfair status differences from the system and instead, attribute inequality to group traits or characteristics”  Wikipedia

Atlantic: Why the Myth of Meritocracy Hurts Kids of Color

“Brighton Park is a predominantly Latino community on the southwest side of Chicago. It’s a neighborhood threatened by poverty, gang violence, ICE raids, and isolation—in a city where income, race, and zip code can determine access to jobs, schools, healthy food, and essential services. It is against this backdrop that the Chicago teacher Xian Franzinger Barrett arrived at the neighborhood’s elementary school in 2014.

Recognizing the vast economic and racial inequalities his students faced, he chose what some might consider a radical approach for his writing and social-studies classes, weaving in concepts such as racism, classism, oppression, and prejudice. Barrett said it was vital to reject the oft-perpetuated narrative that society is fair and equal to address students’ questions and concerns about their current conditions. And Brighton Elementary’s seventh- and eighth-graders quickly put the lessons to work—confronting the school board over inequitable funding, fighting to install a playground, and creating a classroom library focused on black and Latino authors.

“Students who are told that things are fair implode pretty quickly in middle school as self-doubt hits them,” he said, “and they begin to blame themselves for problems they can’t control.”…

…Barrett’s personal observation is validated by a newly published study in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development that finds traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem and an increase in risky behaviors during their middle-school years. The research is considered the first evidence linking preteens’ emotional and behavioral outcomes to their belief in meritocracy, the widely held assertion that individual merit is always rewarded.

“If you’re in an advantaged position in society, believing the system is fair and that everyone could just get ahead if they just tried hard enough doesn’t create any conflict for you … [you] can feel good about how [you] made it,” said Erin Godfrey, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University’s Steinhardt School. But for those marginalized by the system—economically, racially, and ethnically—believing the system is fair puts them in conflict with themselves and can have negative consequences.

If the system is fair, why am I seeing that everybody who has brown skin is in this kind of job? You’re having to think about that … like you’re not as good, or your social group isn’t as good,” Godfrey said. “That’s the piece … that I was trying to really get at [by studying] these kids.”

The findings build upon a body of literature on “system justification”—a social-psychology theory that believes humans tend to defend, bolster, or rationalize the status quo and see overarching social, economic, and political systems as good, fair, and legitimate. System justification is a distinctively American notion, Godfrey said, built on myths used to justify inequities, like “If you just work hard enough you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps … it’s just a matter of motivation and talent and grit.” Yet, as she and her colleagues discovered, these beliefs can be a liability for disadvantaged adolescents once their identity as a member of a marginalized group begins to gel—and once they become keenly aware of how institutional discrimination disadvantages them and their group…

…“I do think that there’s this element of people think of me this way anyway, so this must be who I am,” Godfrey said, adding that the behaviors—things like stealing and sneaking out—reflect stereotypes perpetuated about youth of color. “If you’re [inclined] to believe that things are the way they should be, and [that] the system is fair, then you’re maybe going to accept stereotypes about you more easily.”…

…“If young folks see themselves being discriminated against, they’ve been told that a system is fair, and they experience things that are unfair, they will begin to reject this particular system and engage in behaviors that will not be to their betterment,” he explained. Stovall said it’s critical to guide young people from “defiant resistance”—defying what they’ve learned to be untrue regarding a just and fair system for all—to “transformative resistance”—developing a critical understanding of the historical context of U.S. society. Educators, he said, play a crucial role in this work.


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Learn More

Aspen Institute: Glossary for Understanding the Dismantling Structural Racism/Promoting Racial Equity Analysis

Encyclopedia: Institutional Racism

Note to My White Self: One Last Try At Explaining Racism To White People

Citizenship and Social Justice: Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston

Atlanta Black Star: 10 Quotes That Perfectly Explain Racism To People Who Claim They’re Colorblind

EdChange: The Undergirding Factor is POWER Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism

Ben & Jerry: 7 Ways We Know Systemic Racism Is Real

Coffee, Current Events & Politics in Luqman Nation: Power vs. Morality – The Different Responses of White and Black People In Conversations About Racial Issues

Daily Dot: White people need to confront systemic racism, not ‘alt-right’ extremists

Vogue Teen:  How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy


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Follow Campaign

Race Forward

Black Lives Matters

Color of Change

Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW)

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)

Sentencing Project


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