One prejudice and power that allows the



One of the first scholars to use the notion of racism was Benedict
(1945) in her book, Race and Racism.

She defined racism as “the dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by
nature to congenital inferiority and another group is destined to congenital
superiority” (p. 87). Moreover, racism is defined as a combination of
prejudice and power that allows the dominant race to institutionalize its dominance
at all levels in a society. With regards to systemic racism, this includes the
policies and practices entrenched in established institutions, which result in
the exclusion or promotion of designated groups. It differs from overt
discrimination in that no individual intent is necessary. Systemic racism
manifests itself in two ways; institutional
racism and structural racism. Institutional
racism is racial discrimination
that derives from individuals carrying out the dictates of others who are
prejudiced or of a prejudiced society. Whereas structural racism is inequalities
rooted in the system-wide operation of a society that “excludes substantial
numbers of members of particular groups from significant participation in major
social institutions.” (Henry & Tator, 2006, p. 352). Structural Racism encompasses the entire system of white
supremacy, diffused and infused in all aspects of society, including our
history, culture, politics, economics and our entire social fabric. Lawrence
& Keleher (2004) argue that this form of racism is the most profound and
pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism (e.g. institutional,
interpersonal, internalized, etc.) emerge from structural racism.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now



So as to understand the importance in making a distinction between
structural racism and individual prejudice, the distinction between prejudice
and racism becomes of paramount importance. A prejudice, according to the
Oxford English dictionary, is a “preconceived opinion that is not based on
reason or actual experience,” and this resonates with how sociologists
understand the term. Quite simply, it is a pre-judgement that one makes of
another that is not rooted in their own experience. The difference between that
and racism is that some prejudices are positive while others are negative. Some
are racial in nature, and have racist outcomes, but not all forms of prejudice
do, and this is why it’s important to understand the difference between
prejudice and racism. Social psychological research into prejudice and racism
has pointed towards the significance of the social and cultural normative
climate in which dominant in-groups (the white majority) express prejudiced
attitudes, which in turn contribute to a positive self-identity (Terry et al.,
2001). While many forms of prejudice are troubling, not all forms of
prejudice are equally consequential. Those that beget structural inequalities,
like prejudices based ?on gender, sexuality, race, nationality, and
religion, for example, are very different in nature from others. That said,
critical analysis begins from the objective experiences of the oppressed in
order to understand the dynamics of structural power relations. It also makes
sense to say that it is not in the interest of racially dominated groups to
mystify the process of their own dehumanization. Whilst comparing and
contrasting both structural racism and individual prejudice, this essay will
explore some key themes within racism; the first being Racisms, followed by Whiteness.

Through this analysis, the varying reasons as to why it is not only useful, but
essential, to make a clear distinction between the two forms of discrimination
will become evident.




In order to further understand the distinction between these two
concepts, we can further explore the theme of racisms, particularly individual
versus institutional. Individual or internalized racism lies within
individuals. These are private manifestations of racism that reside inside the
individual. Examples include prejudice, xenophobia, internalized oppression and
privilege, and beliefs about race influenced by the dominant culture. Institutional
racism on the other hand, occurs within and between institutions. Institutional
racism is discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and inequitable
opportunities and impacts, based on race, produced and perpetuated by
institutions (schools, mass media, etc.). Individuals within institutions take
on the power of the institution when they act in ways that advantage and
disadvantage people, based on race. In a recent report by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice in which researchers
compiled nearly 1200 articles from major news sources to identify the bad
habits that the media falls back on when talking about race. In the video that
was made, Jay Smooth reminds viewers that it’s
important to recognize that there are different levels of racism, and he outlines
the properties of four different types: internalized, interpersonal,
institutional, and structural. Delineating across types is important, as it
allows Smooth to explain how some forms of racism are easier to focus on and
recognize than others; namely, the individual forms of racism–internalized and
interpersonal–are among those more obvious types. The systemic forms of
institutional and structural racism, however, are more covert and less readily
visible. Race Forward’s report documents how news outlets fail to adequately
talk about these systemic forms of racism in their coverage of race-focused
media, thus resulting in an incomplete picture about racism and racial justice.

As Smooth says, “When we constantly focus on individual stories it
distorts our sense of how racism works.”


Coretta Phillips (2011) in her article Institutional Racism and Ethnic Inequalities makes the
claim that institutional racism needs to be situated within a conceptual
framework which acknowledges the role of racialisation at the micro, meso and
macro levels, and cannot serve as the sole explanation for the ethnically
disparate welfare outcomes that have long been observed. The objective of a multilevel
approach is to more clearly specify the mechanisms and interacting processes
through which ethnic inequalities are reproduced and sustained in a cumulative
fashion. In so doing, our conceptual and theoretical understanding of
racialisation is enhanced, thus making a contribution to a discipline which has
not centrally located race, ethnicity and racism in its theoretical field (F.

Williams, 1989). It also seeks to counter the confusion engendered by the
elision of individual and institutional forms of racialisation contained in the
Macpherson Report (1999), and enunciate the points at which intervention is
required at the level of policy and service provision. Micro-level
racialisation, then, is inextricably framed by the influence of familial socialisation
and shared cultural values which are manifested in individuals positioned
within various ethnic, classed and gendered groups. These are themselves
shifting rather than static, shaping and shaped by interactions with other
identity groups, and influenced significantly by local environmental conditions.

Institutional racialisation recognises cumulative disadvantage experienced
across interrelated welfare experiences (housing, education, employment and so
on), produced through institutions’ routine operations, regardless of the
intentionality of individual actors (J. Williams, 1985).


Developed by sociologist Joe Feagin, systemic racism is a popular
way of explaining, within the social sciences and humanities, the significance
of race and racism both historically and in today’s
world. Feagin illustrates that the legal recognition of racialized slavery
is a cornerstone of a racist social system in which resources and rights were
and are unjustly given to white people and unjustly denied to people of color. The
theory of systemic racism accounts for individual, institutional, and
structural forms of racism. The development of this theory was influenced by
other scholars of race, including Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Oliver Cox, Anna Julia Cooper,
Kwame Ture, Frantz Fanon, and Patricia Hill Collins, among others. Feagin
defines systemic racism in the introduction to the book:

“Systemic racism
includes the complex array of anti-black practices, the unjustly gained
political-economic power of whites, the continuing economic and other resource
inequalities along racial lines, and the white racist ideologies and attitudes
created to maintain and rationalize white privilege and power. Systemic here
means that the core racist realities are manifested in each of society’s major
parts (…), each major part of the U.S. society – the economy, politics,
education, religion, the family – reflects the fundamental reality of systemic


While Feagin developed the theory based on the history and reality
of anti-black racism in the U.S., it is usefully applied to understanding how
racism functions generally, both within the U.S. and around the world.


However, it can Phillips (2011) argues that by recognising
intersecting cultural, material, ideological, institutional and structural
elements of racialisation can enhance our conceptual and theoretical
understanding. It takes us beyond an approach which privileges institutional
factors and instead recognises the significance of micro-racialisation
expressed at the individual level and the macro-racialising tendencies of late
modernity. Directly tackling everyday micro-level racialisation by service
providers (teachers, police officers, housing officers and so on) is a crucial
first step, recognising conscious or unconscious processes of
hierarchicalisation that individuals utilise.




Structural Racism in the U.S. is the normalization and
legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional
and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative
and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. It is a system of hierarchy
and inequity, primarily characterized by white supremacy – the preferential
treatment, privilege and power for white people at the expense of Black,
Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other racially
oppressed people. Structural Racism lies underneath, all around and across
society. It encompasses: (1) history, which lies underneath the surface,
providing the foundation for white supremacy in this country. (2) culture,
which exists all around our everyday lives, providing the normalization and
replication of racism and, (3) interconnected institutions and policies, they
key relationships and rules across society providing the legitimacy and
reinforcements to maintain and perpetuate racism. White privilege is an
historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of: (1) Preferential
prejudice for and treatment of white people based solely on their skin color
and/or ancestral origin from Europe; and (2) Exemption from racial and/or
national oppression based on skin color and/or ancestral origin from Africa,
Asia, the Americas and the Arab world. U.S. institutions and culture (economic,
legal, military, political, educational, entertainment, familial and religious)
privilege peoples from Europe over peoples from the Americas, Africa, Asia and
the Arab world. In a white supremacy system, white privilege and racial
oppression are two sides of the same coin.


Race is an organizing principle that cuts across class, gender, and
other imaginable social identities. This condition does not come about through
an innocent process, let alone the innocence of whiteness. “Discourses of
supremacy acknowledge white privileges, but only as a function of whites’
actions toward minority subjects and not as mysterious accumulations of
unearned advantages. The claim that racism is universal – that anyone can be
racist – removes from whites the burden of responsibility for past and present
racism and even enables assertions of white victimization.



“We live in a
condition where racism thrives absent of racists (Bonilla-Silva, 2003). There
must be an alternative explanation: in general, whites recreate their own
racial supremacy, despite good intentions.” pp. 144

“Privilege is the
daily cognate of structural domination. Without securing the latter, the former
is not activated.” pp. 148


The research agenda that follows from this conceptualization is the
examination of individuals’ attitudes to determine levels of racism in society
(Schuman et al. 1985; Sears 1988; Sniderman and Piazza 1993) …. This psychological
understanding of racism is related to the limitation I cited above. If racism
is not part of a society but is a characteristic of individuals who are
“racist” or “prejudiced”-that is, racism is a phenomenon
operating at the individual level-then (1) social institutions cannot be racist
and (2) studying racism is simply a matter of surveying the proportion of
people in a society who hold “racist” beliefs.


Although the authors associated with the institutionalist, internal
colonialist, and racial formation perspectives focus on the ideological
character of racism, they all emphasize how this ideology becomes enmeshed or
institutionalized in organizations and social practices. When racism is regarded
as a baseless ideology ultimately dependent on other, “real” forces
in society, the structure of the society itself is not classified as racist…
Even though the institutionalist, internal colonialism, and racial formation
perspectives regard racism as a structural phenomenon and provide some useful
ideas and concepts, they do not develop the theoretical apparatus necessary to
describe how this structure operates. Most analysts regard racism as a matter
of individuals subscribing to an irrational view, thus the cure is educating
them to realize that racism is wrong. Education is also the choice
“pill” prescribed by Marxists for healing workers from racism. The
alternative theorization offered here implies that because the phenomenon has
structural consequences for the races, the only way to “cure” society
of racism is by eliminating its systemic roots. Whether this can be accomplished
democratically or only through revolutionary means is an open question, and one
that depends on the particular racial structure of the society in question.


The key division in the debate over the nature of racism is between
the definition of racism as individual attitude or behaviour (hatred,
stereotyping, unequal treatment) and the view of racism as a set of systemic
and institutional practices. Defining racism in individual terms both
reinforces and is reinforced by the “colour-blind” frame, which holds that
racism in the United States is no longer a significant problem, but has been
reduced to the isolated acts of “bigots” or racial supremacists. This has
implications for everyday life. For individual whites, it is possible to
attempt to inoculate oneself against charges of racism by contrasting oneself
with white supremacist groups, by asserting that “I am not a racist,” and by
pointing to individual affiliations (“my best friend”) or non-racist actions
(Culp 1993). Defining racism as individual acts or attitudes also creates a
double bind for victims of racism. Charges may be difficult to substantiate,
especially when denials or alternative explanations are given equal or greater
weight (Essed 1991). In addition, persons making charges of racism – as shown
above in the case of Camille Cosby – may be open to being labelled “racist” for
allegedly exhibiting hatred or unequal treatment. To the extent that individual
definitions of racism become dominant, what emerges is a social world in which
it is difficult to challenge or even envision institutional racism. From the
structural racism perspective, individual prejudice and discrimination are but
symptoms of larger structural problems, racial inequality is a pervasive aspect
of everyday life and the normal functioning of institutions, and the ultimate
solution to racial oppression involves far-reaching changes in social
institutions. The conflict between individual and structural definitions of
racism leads to important differences with respect to policy implications for addressing


In contrast, adopting a systemic racism framework entails
recognition that the ultimate solution to racial inequality involves major
changes in social institutions and sharing resources and power. The claim that
racism is a characteristic of individuals, who can be from either the dominant
or a minority group, obscures the existence of institutional racism and
supports the denial of racism. Further, by simultaneously placing racism at the
margins (the acts/attitudes of a few) and universalizing it (asserting racism
as a characteristic of all groups), this discourse places whites on a par with
peoples of colour as perpetrators and victims and provides a platform from
which to refute claims of racism and calls for redress of racial inequality. Substantively,
I have outlined how individualistic and universal conceptions of racism
resonate with “colour-blind” racial ideology.  Carried to its extreme – the claim that it is
“racist” to use racial categories – this discourse creates a one-dimensional
context in which it becomes increasingly difficult to conceptualize, let alone
challenge, the continuing significance of institutional racism – much in the
manner that the government of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984 (1961 1949)
sought to eliminate “thought crime” by eliminating any challenging vocabulary.

Ironically, the claims that “race no longer matters” are being used to promote
the persistence of racial inequality.