Institutional Racism

“Racism” is considered any action, intentional or unintentional, that is based on race or skin color and subordinates an individual or group based on skin color or race. Racism can be enacted individually or institutionally. While individual racism consists of overt acts by a person that subordinates a person or group – “institutional racism” tends to be more subtle but no less destructive. Institutional racism involves polices, practices, and “normal operating” procedures of institutions that have a disproportionately negative effect on the access of people of color to services and opportunities. However, in its most pervasive form and the most difficult to address are policies, practices, and procedures that have a non-race-based rationale but nonetheless have a disproportionately negative impact on people of color. It is important to note that intent is irrelevant; the focus is on the result or impact of the behavior. Once an institution becomes aware of the discriminatory impact of its policies and practices and yet fails to change the policies and practices, then the issue can be deemed both institutional and individual racism. As a result, “institutional racism” is often evident as inaction in the face of need.

As described in the book, “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation” by Kwame Ture and Charles Hamilton:

“When White terrorists bombed a Black church and killed five Black children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But, . . . [when] Black babies die each year because of the lack of proper food, shelter, and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally, and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the Black community, that is the function of institutional racism.”

Now What

  1. Regardless of intent, our policies and procedures made at the Department, School, and/or College levels that disproportionately negatively impact students of color?
  2. What strategies are in place to periodically review and if appropriate revise policies and procedures?
  3. As an individual, what steps might you take to raise awareness about a policy or procedure that negatively impacts a certain demographic group?


Better, Shirley (2007) Institutional Racism: A primer on theories and strategies for social change.

Gorski, Paul ( 2011) White Privilege and Native American: Race, racism and the Law.

Jones, Camara Phyliss (2000) Levels of Racism: A Theoretic Framework and a Gardener’s Tale.

Rothstein, Richard (2017) The Color of Law.