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Forms of Institutional Racism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 4261 words Published: 30th Jul 2019

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Racism can be described in a variety of ways. Racism in its power perspective is dangerous for minority members as they are always victimized by the control and use of power by majority against them. The criminal justice, the society, the academic fields and the job market all are regulated by the dictates of the powerful dominant because these institutions are molded in racial overtones.

Interpretations and Dimensions of Racism

The traditional way of viewing racism is that racism is an action or an action-oriented belief that is used to elevate a racial category against another; a superlative race compared to an inferior race. Such assumptions managed to get some pseudo-scientific rationale on the basis of biological differences between the races. Another interpretation of racism in the context of civil rights and black liberation movement is the any action or thought that s designed to put the blacks at disadvantage

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Dr. King wanted to overthrow the phenomenon of racism. He hated the idea of racism that was used from ages to push back and deprive the rights of blacks and that treated them discriminatorily; He envisioned and struggled for a society where race is not a standard to judge people, their morality and intellect; where people’s talents and qualities are not determined by the color of skin. He wanted to the eliminate unfairness and prejudice and stereotypes and the social systems that advocate and perpetuate racial profiling.

On the contrary, members of minority groups cannot be racist like those from the majority group because racism has certain power dimensions that are manipulated and utilized by the dominant group to their advantage. They can claim employment positions, and political careers, superior education and social acknowledgement that articulates and operationalizes white supremacy in all structural and institutional spheres of life. The minority members cannot get those advantages by simply exhibiting their hatred and discontent against the whites because ultimately power is owned, exercised and enjoyed by majority.

Evidence or Racial Disparity in Educational Inequality

America’s racist identification is conspicuous in educational inequality impacting children’s future. Jonathan Kozol, author of The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of  Apartheid Schooling was frustrated and disheartened by the coexistence of two different and unequal school systems along class and race lines in the country that point to the discriminatory policy of the government, accentuating the educational gap between the groups. He went to a southside Chicago elementary classroom not distant from Harper. He found the deplorable condition of children from lower class background where there is little hope for achievement of higher education. After nine years, the majority of children will be attending the Manley High School that has a graduation rate of only 38 percent. But 14 of 23 children would be drop-outs and only four could make to go to college and sadly one of four could actually graduate while three of twelve boys would be serving sentences in prison.

Kozol toured 60 schools in 30 school districts and discovered that some of them were absolutely backward mimicking condition in the third world and strangely a short distance away there were wonderful, well-built and well-resourced schools. He noticed the segregation of schools with the concentration of Black and Hispanic students in schools where very few white students are present. Despite the Supreme Court declaration for integrating its schools, American public schools are segregating again where it is found proportion of black children in white-dominated schools at a much lower level since 1968. Kozol based his findings on the studies of Harvard professor Gary Orfield and his colleagues. The reasons for the widespread segregation are due to the non-enforcement of Court orders of desegregation programs in major cities as these are deemed non-functional to decrease the educational difference between white and minority students; insufficiency of white students to implement integration strategies; increased immigrants population and opposition to integration on grounds of losing community solidarity. Kozol is also concerned with the academic pressures on teachers for preparing high-stake tests imposed by No Child Left Behind sacrificing subjects such as music, art, social science, and history.

According to Kozol, the most tangible reason for the unequal difference in the educational experiences and outcomes of children is money. The school funding is disproportionate and discriminatory with consistently similar wide gaps in every metropolitan area showing a deliberate pattern of negligence and indifference so that rich schools are spending more than twice per pupil compared to poor schools. The rich children enjoy all the luxuries and amenities that are furnished by high property tax bases and federal deductions and the suburban parents are pacified that school funding and increasing educational allotment would not improve the situation (Tischler, 2013). As a result, there is deep-seated deprivation in education or health care sector.

Children’s academic accomplishment or the lack of it has enduring consequences. It will influence their future situations on the labor market, their future earnings and even the future of their own children. There are large-scale differences in investment in white and minority schools. The unequal distribution of educational resources in terms of classroom teachers, libraries produce inequalities in the opportunity for educational achievement. There is evidence that lower academic achievement among racial, poor and ethnic minorities are driven by school effects while lower achievement of white students are driven by non-school effects (Dworkin & Stevens, 2014). The increasing gap in test scores by social class further indicates that social class is the independent variable in the literature of educational inequality in the United States.

Racial dilemma. Racial discrimination is felt and depicted by black intelligentsia on a deep metaphysical level. In the first essay, “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” of The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Du Bois autobiographically wrote about the dilemma that all Black Americans experience; a persistent problem the world has asked all his life: “How does it feel to be a problem?” He retrieves the memory from his boyhood when for the first time he became conscious of the existence of the problem. The boys and girls in his school came up with the play of exchanging wonderful visiting cards among themselves but a white girl immediately rejected Du Bois’s card because of his black skin color. He realized that a massive veil of color separated him from the rest of the children and that he did not belong to them. As a result, he was puzzled and troubled by the dichotomy of two identities, an American, a negro; the juxtaposition of double-consciousness, two parallel thoughts, two warring ideals and two souls. This was an important revelation to him as it represents a turning point in his life, a lesson that weighed on him the entire life that he was atypical.

Du Bois recalls this story to reinforce the fact that white children are indoctrinated in racial prejudice to create a wall of segregation from blacks. This veil acts as a bulwark to strengthen their elite position and serves as an instrumentality of discrimination so that the blacks understand and accept their minority position in society and even so blacks feel isolated from mainstream American character. The result is that blacks are dubiously bifurcated with respect to their coming to terms with double perceptions, being African and American at the same time.

The veil is the psychic partition that separates Du Bois from the white world. It is the borderline that he cannot trespass onto to enter the white terrain whereto has no access to; it is the epiphanic moment of the white girl’s refusal to accept his visiting card when unexpectedly he becomes cognizant of the insurmountable veil of racial categorization and hierarchization in America. The veil “is suggestive of the idea that the experience of alienation was familiar to him, that he had been ‘shut off’ before” although such experiences “never affected the quality of his life” (Butler, 2003, p. 32). All of a sudden, the veil turned into a burdensome demystification for him since so long he remained oblivious of the enormity of the social demarcation and psychological barrier.

Du Bois’ interpretation of double-self centers round the idea that color line evokes different self-formation among racializing and racialized groups. In fact, the concrete and everyday experiences of racialization provoked him to investigate the critical race theory.  His theory of double consciousness indicates three components. First, it indicates the veil or the color line acting as the curtain where the subjects are situated on both sides and experience their social world. Itzigsohn and Brown (2015) described, “Whites project their own constructions of Blacks onto the veil, and in this way the veil works as a one-way mirror: those on the dominating side of the veil see their projections of the racialized reflected on it” (5). Alternatively, the Blacks have to adapt themselves to the projections of the whites onto the veil. The second element is the sense of twoness that suggests that in the process of self-formation, the racialized plays the dual roles of two different worlds; the black world which they intersubjectively create behind the veil and the white world which toughens them through indifference and unrecognition. The third element of the theory of double consciousness is the self-imagery of the racialized, seen through the manifestation of the other world that not only normalizes their dehumanizing experiences but also offers the opportunity to peep into the white world.

Police brutality and racism. Daily occurrences of injustice and oppression against blacks only reinforce the scathing side of racial America. On 26th February, 2012 on a rainy night a Black teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot dead by a Hispanic guy named George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. Just before the shooting, Zimmerman called 911 to report that a suspicious boy was loitering. Zimmerman and Martin got engaged in a fight and the former shot Martin. When arrested, Zimmerman reported to the police that he shot in self-defence. Under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, Zimmerman was released which stipulates that a citizen can use deadly force in the face of danger. Protests and demonstrations were made demanding Zimmerman’s arrest and even President Obama expressed condolence for Martin’s family. Zimmerman was color biased and wrongly fired Martin. Zimmerman was convicted on the ground of second-degree manslaughter. Further, the case was complicated by the fact that there were no witnesses to the murder. The six-woman jury did not find Martin guilty of Martin murder. Protesters criticized Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law and racial profiling issue associated with the case.

Public sentiment against legal powerlessness was high and blacks perceived them as the differential treatment of law. The verdict day was observed by ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and the Blacks lost all faith in legal neutrality of the country. Some people felt the ineffectuality of law deserves it to be taken in one’s own hands. So some people like Joe Chimungu tweeted “Take the law into your own hands if they won’t serve it equally.” The partiality of law made mockery of justice and people felt the urge to retaliate’

The digital media demonstrated the most formidable legal protest with Facebook and Twitter sharing information about Trayvon’s death and gathering public support for Trayvon. The public reaction regarding legal alienation took three different dimensions. On the one hand “while many people felt no longer protected by their own legal system and experienced strong feelings of legal powerlessness’; others also experienced a sense of ‘legal value isolation” meaning that was a large gap between legal values and people’s sense of justice. Nevertheless, some realized legal cynicism or no necessity to abide by law.

The legal alienation was comprehended and expressed in different forms. Some people joined in demonstrations and protests to register their disapproval and some people posted their opinion on social media sites. Many others supported the two legal petitions that were filed against the events of the case. In comparison, only a handful people participated in riots or other law-breaking program. These three formats are designated as voice, loyalty and protest. Hence the majority of protests were either cynics or loyalists while only a few were outsiders.

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The analysis of the case shows that Zimmerman outweighed Trayvon. Zimmerman was carrying a loaded semi-automatic pistol and Martin was carrying a bag of Skittles, a watermelon drink and his cell phone; Martin was seventeen year old but Zimmerman was ten years older than Martin. There was no reason for Zimmerman to get panicked and threatened that he shot an unarmed boy mainly because he was black. The Florida law was absolutely discriminatory to declare that the appearance was potentially dangerous enough to fire on Martin. This behavior of Zimmerman to criminalize and dehumanize Martin and labeling him as an outsider and then calling 911 was totally appropriate of racial profiling. Annamma (2015) noted that during the call Zimmerman “constructed a narrative description of Trayvon Martin as the ‘other’ —as a threat and as deviant or impaired—based solely on the observable evidence that Martin was Black, male, and holding something near or in his waistband.”

The stereotyping of Martin as a dangerous Black male was further strengthened by disciplinary records of Martin’s high school, Zimmerman’s justification of self-defence, and Trayvon’s cell records and social media profile. It had been found from school records that Martin had been suspended from school for drug abuse but the information leaking by the school was illegal and beside school records had nothing to do with the night of killing. Publication of school records to build criminal biography of black youths is increasingly being used as a strategy to target them and additionally school authority trapped him and other black youths disproportionately in hyper-surveillance and criminalization.

The question is why Zimmerman’s testimony should be given importance so much in the eye of law. The legal system should be neutral in deciding the criminality of the crime and why should Zimmerman be released on the basis of his skin-color. Stand your ground laws are utterly hopeless in ensuring justice to the victims and have been frequently termed as shoot first laws because it gives unconditional power without any responsibility.

The NYPD officer James Frascatore who assaulted former tennis player James Blake this week has had a history of force accusation. The Guardian reported that the officer had committed at least five offenses in seven month period in 2013. The New York Times and New York Daily News carried out extensive investigations to elicit information about the disreputable service of the officer. What is striking is the racially charged attitude of the allegations with two cases of harsh dealing with Black men. The incident clearly points out the severe nature of racial profiling in American law enforcement system. Countrywide criticism swept across regarding the profanity of treating minority people. Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton quickly apologized to Blake and that is what disturbs official responsibility with regard to less famous people. The NYPD once again proves the racially prejudiced targeting of racial and ethnic groups. In a joint statement, the police officials accepted their guilt and called for implementing reforms to train officials and build the trust between police and people.

Racial profiling. Racial profiling is the characterization of individuals based solely on his or her race or color and such classification is generally initiated by law enforcement bodies to stop and convict motorists. The phenomenon of racial profiling in America demoralizes the humanitarian goals and the democratic spirit of the nation since it perpetuates negative racial stereotype which is detrimental to maintain a fair and just society. Racial profiling is a burning issue between police and public. Police authorities are tempted to justify criminality by dint of race or color. They are prone to identify offenders based on race, ethnicity or national origin instead of judging credible information about unlawful behaviour of individuals. Thompson (2008) recounted the meaning of the term ‘racial profiling’ as enshrined in the End Racial Profiling Act of 2001 as “the practice of a law enforcement agent relying, to any degree, on race, ethnicity, or national origin in selecting which individuals to subject to routine investigatory activities, or in deciding upon the scope and substance of law enforcement activity following the initial routine investigatory activity, except that racial profiling does not include reliance on such criteria…” (107th Congress, 2001).

The experience of a train journey by an African-American teacher during the decade of 1990s from New York to Baltimore is an example of the controversial topic. Kops (2006) narrated the incident about the teacher’s harassment when she was stopped outside the station by two African-American policemen while they interrogated her and inspected her luggage. The policemen considered it as part of their job refuting their racial prejudice obsession. Supporters of racial profiling point out that minority groups including African-Americans and Latinos commit more street crimes than whites. Researchers favour racial profiling as an effective tool to catch drug couriers, car stealers and robbers. Tamra and Morgen (2009) referred to the Minnesota House of Representatives report that released interesting information about issues and methodology of racial profiling in law enforcement. It showed that minorities complain more of racial profiling even though law enforcement agencies deny its occurrence.

Law enforcement community insists that behavioral aspects and circumstantial indicators other than race or ethnicity play important role in determining the approach to investigation. The 9/11 terrorist attack provided strong defence in favour of racial profiling. People began to encourage racial profiling in order to combat terrorist attack on U.S. soil because the terrorist belonged to a common racial background. Tamra mentioned that people suspected political correctness because it discounted national security by making amends for personal rights and injustices against people of certain, race, gender or people. However, these people are disregarding the importance of civil liberties protected by U.S. Constitution and are promoting discrimination and racism. American history is marred by innumerable instances of the practice of racial profiling where minority members have either been detained or questioned because of the color of their skin.

There is no denying the fact that stopping someone solely on account of race or ethnicity is evidently an act of discrimination. A traffic stop is most likely illegal if race is used in sketching a general profile such as a young African American male driving a BMW. The three different scenarios in the backdrop of which racial profiling is configured are war on drugs, out of place and a crackdown on crime (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2012).  The Drug Enforcement Administration through its “Operation Pipeline” typecast African-Americans and Hispanics as drug traffickers. Secondly, the alien factor also conditions the racial profiling. An African-American in a white neighborhood or vice versa increases the tendency of racial categorization. Such an inclination ignores the legitimacy of professional business or acquaintances of people in particular vicinity. Third and last criterion is an aggressive policy of law enforcement in a high-crime locality especially African-American or Hispanic community. President Bush during his Address to Congress in 2001 declared his determination to end racial profiling in America.

The history of racial profiling is rooted in the racialization processes in the United States. The Civil War did not end the white interests. Racial profiling has become an institutionalized practice among police official to fight crime. Schultz (2009) maintained that the practice of profiling can be traced back to the mid twentieth century when specialists were employed to conceptualize some psychological illustration of crimes already committed. Racial profiling perpetuates racial division because it hinders mobility of minorities and establishes segregation in social living.

The news of racial profiling came to fore in the media around mid to late 1990s. New Jersey State Police had been first reported to stop and detain motorists on grounds of racial profiling. Schultz commented that soon statistics accumulated regarding racial profiling cases in New York City, Denver, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, Minnesota, south Florida and Maryland. “Driving while black” raises legal questions regarding violation of equal protection or due process clauses of Fourteenth Amendment. On the other hand, some people argue that stops were not deliberate attempts to single out individuals on account of their race or skin color rather they were aggressive policing to seize criminals

Racial profiling occupies a significant place in criminal justice system and it is one of the foundational aspects of law and law enforcement in the United States. Glover (2009) stated that conventional criminology literature on racial profiling fails to admit the social curse of racism in the United States. Racial profiling research received an onset with the filing of several lawsuits by motorists of color who were disgusted with discriminatory practice and sought legal remedies. This set the political background and the subsequent incident of brutal beating of Rodney King in 1991 broadened the setting. The third factor was the increasing rate of drug and violence-related crime that led to zero tolerance and “broken windows theory” by law enforcement authority.


Racism is deeply entrenched in the social fabric of U.S society to such an extent that schools promote hidden curriculum to perpetuate social inequity. The reason Martin was blacklisted in school records. The whites have historically criminalized and victimized blacks on racial profiling ground. Moreover, laws give more power to whites to segregate and label them as exits.


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  • http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/sep/11/james-blake-arrest-officer-history-excessive-force
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/11/nyregion/james-blake-new-york-police-officer.html


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