What is institutional racism?

In the US, there were several incidents in quick succession that triggered a new discussion about institutional racism in the police and the judiciary: the shooting of a black teenager and the choking to death of a black man by police officers. In both cases, the officers were not indicted. Here you will find a Guardian article on the case.

Individual discrimination can be traced back both to individual persons who approve of an inhuman, misanthropic world view and to those who perceive themselves as open- minded and culturally aware. Derogatory remarks to PoC illustrate a racist attitude. To deny adolescents entry to a nightclub due to their categorisation as Arabs or Turks shows this attitude in a concrete discriminatory act. These exclusions emanating from individuals are therefore referred to as individual racism.

The concept of institutional racism was developed in the United States in the 1960s. This analysis was increasingly taken up in Europe from 1999 onwards.

In 1993, 18-year-old black teenager Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death at a bus stop in London. The British police had evidence that the act was racially motivated, also testimonies with regard to suspects were available. Nevertheless, the perpetrators were never brought to justice and the victim's family was treated inappropriately and insensitive by police officers. Similar misconduct by the German police occurred in the investigation of nine murders of immigrants, which - as is well known - were murdered by the far-right terrorist group 'National Socialist Underground' (Nationalsozialistischer Untergrund, NSU) and not, as the police suspected for a long time, by other immigrants.

In response to the death of Stephen Lawrence, the British Parliament set up a committee of inquiry into police behaviour in the aforementioned murder case. The report, published in 1999, formulated a definition of institutional racism for the first time:

Institutional racism is “[t]he collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional services because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people.“ Targeted policies and measures can counteract this institutional racism.

This definition moves away from the concept of the individual perpetrator, who deliberately excludes and discriminates against others, and focuses on the impact of an institution's internal mechanism. Individual actors are only part of a complex structure that operates in its entirety. Although individual actors have a (positive or negative) influence on the functioning of the institution, they can only change it to a certain extent for the positive or the negative.

Institutional racism is far more difficult to recognize than individual forms of discrimination and requires different approaches to address the issue.

In addition, there are structural forms of racism that are caused by unequal treatment through democratically adopted and state-legitimised legal norms. The lower social security benefit rate for asylum seekers until the summer of 2012 or the mandatory residence (the legal obligation of asylum seekers not to leave the area of ​​their competent authority), which applies in some federal states, are examples of structural racism. This will not be further dealt with in this dossier.

© Büro zur Umsetzung von Gleichbehandlung e.V. 2018