Institutional racism comes from ‘othering’, not just from hate. We need to recognise the dignity of difference.

Institutional racism has come, in Britain, to be understood as

the collective failure of an organisation to provide and appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.

Those words come from the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.  The elements of institutional racism lie, not so much in the expression of direct or personal discrimination, as in the actions of institutions – acts, processes and the promotion of outcomes which are discriminatory.

Both the leading candidates in the electoral contest have been criticised,  with some reason, for making stereotypical or prejudiced comments about race.  Boris Johnson has made offensive comments about Muslims, women, homosexuality, Liverpudlians, Africans, ‘orientals’ and heaven knows what else.  Jeremy Corbyn is accused more often of condoning racism more than of making racist statements,  with the main exception of accusing Jews of not understanding British irony; but the racism he has appeared to wave aside includes accusations of conspiracy, divided loyalties, sinister influence and Holocaust denial.   I don’t think we can appeal for ‘zero tolerance’ of inappropriate comments, because – like going ‘back to basics’ in moral conduct – it asks more of us than we’re capable of living with.  Everyone has some prejudices,  even if we might hope that public figures would think twice before they gave vent to them.

We should be more directly concerned with about the levels of institutional racism that have been on display in both the Conservative and Labour parties.  Both parties have factions who want to deny that there is any problem.  Some right-wing commentators have  claimed that Islamophobia has been invented; Labour supporters often refer to ‘smears’ (itself a racist accusation, claiming that complaints are based on deliberate fabrication and conspiracy).  The Conservative leaders promised to hold an inquiry into anti-Muslim hatred, and have backtracked; Labour stands accused of  institutional racism and a toxic environment.  We need to understand the effect on institutions that is produced, not by racial hate as such, but by ‘Othering’ – painting minority groups, such as Jews or Muslims, as alien.  The damage is done not when we call people names, but when we accuse them of alien patterns of thought, divided loyalties, dishonesty and ulterior motives.  Those, rather than outright racial hatred, are the sentiments which lead to denial, rejection and the inability to deal with justified complaints.


One thought on “Institutional racism comes from ‘othering’, not just from hate. We need to recognise the dignity of difference.”

  1. Useful clarification as have been thinking about this in context of recently announced public inquiry in to death of Sheku Bayoh. Quite a few folks, including retired police officers writing to the press, don’t really “get” what “ir” is about.I view it from a different angle. If we are self-aware enough, most folks will be at least partly aware of their conscious biases. For example: I was reared in a white Protestant Scottish upper working class household (we lived in bought house and had car when most didn’t). I attended a “Proddy” school at a time when overt racism, sectarianism, sexism, sexual orientationism and every other ism was “normal”. I grew up believing essentially that most authority figures including the police acted fairly. It has taken a lot of living, education, exposure to folks from different backgrounds, spiritual “training”, conscious effort to expunge or at least dilute the effect of these earlier influences. Many of my contemporaries will be “further behind”; a few more enlightened in their diversity than I. “Othering” sums it up well; most of us will, at some conscious or subliminal level, “other”-view folks from different paths, cultures. When this is aggregated in to an “organisational culture” then it can become institutional. What’s important as a society is that we recognise and try to deal with it, intelligently and compassionately. However, often it is either ignored or it breaks out in “shouting” & “calling out” between people who are often quite obviously very angry! I have done some “non violent comm” courses and they can, with the right guidance, be very good. However when we have “others” like Boris and Trump in positions of influence, it is hard to be optimistic! Social media seems to make things worse?

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