Institutional Racism and Affirmative Action

Mis en ligne le 03 décembre 2007

Oppression based on race exists.
Agreed, the pseu­dos­cien­ti­fic concept of race is at best a myth and at worst a conve­nient lie, yet the social oppres­sion based on what is gene­rally accep­ted as race is as real as the sun­rise. If you don’t believe that, you can stop rea­ding now because the accep­tance of the exis­tence of racism is a basic assump­tion within the fol­lo­wing.
Racism exists in the USA, in Europe, and in France itself even if the state offi­cially refuses to ack­now­ledge its exis­tence.

By Afreeye Balanz

Despite its his­tory, or socio­lo­gi­cal and psy­cho­lo­gi­cal sources, the point we all face, whe­ther we are usually vic­tims or bene­fi­cia­ries of racism, is what to do about it. That is if we care to end oppres­sion, in any of its various forms, at all.
Forms of oppres­sion based on race, class, gender, reli­gion, and sexual orien­ta­tion in the West are, by now, bound toge­ther in a Gordian knot. One can no more sepa­rate reli­gious oppres­sion of women than the deve­lop­ment of race based sla­very and capi­ta­lism from the ove­rall fabric of oppres­sion that advan­tages the few over the many in so many aspects of daily life and thought.
Racial oppres­sion plays a mate­rial role in the socie­ties where it exists. How people see the world through racial glasses influences who can be trus­ted and who cannot, who is a poten­tial ally or enemy, and who is a com­pe­ti­tor or com­rade. Race makes friends of those who, other than racial soli­da­rity, have nothing to do with one ano­ther and com­pe­ti­tors of those who have every reason to fight toge­ther, save one.
Naturally, the issue of race tends to be more present for its vic­tims than its bene­fi­cia­ries. However, in the grand scheme, race, like all forms of oppres­sion, puts all of us in a pre­ca­rious posi­tion of illo­gi­cal and unpro­duc­tive com­pe­ti­tion when the exact oppo­site is needed to throw off the debi­li­ta­ting mantel of oppres­sion we all struggle to carry either through the effort to main­tain it or the struggle to des­troy it all toge­ther. In this day of mili­tary, eco­no­mic, envi­ron­men­tal, and social mutually assu­red des­truc­tion, des­truc­tion of oppres­sion may be the key to our sur­vi­val as a spe­cies.
To get to the prac­ti­cal point of the des­truc­tion of oppres­sion, it is help­ful to take a closer look at the strands that make up that fore men­tio­ned modern Gordian knot. The pur­pose of this essay is to look at racism while unders­tan­ding that many of the fol­lo­wing com­ments apply to other, equally influen­tial forms of oppres­sion as well.
Different kinds of racism exist within the social struc­ture of the state and the pro­cesses and results of the dif­ferent approaches to racism sug­gest dif­ferent ways of com­ba­ting them. Individual racism, the per­so­nal belief in the super­io­rity or infe­rio­rity of an iden­ti­fiable group on the basis of its phy­si­cal cha­rac­te­ris­tics, such as hair tex­ture or skin color, ethnic origin, or culture is often confu­sed as the only kind of racism that exists, espe­cially within the indi­vi­dua­lis­tic cultures of the West. People who just don’t like others, are afraid of others, admire, love and hate others based solely on the fac­tors above, and are confi­dent or igno­rant enough to express their racial fee­lings, get tagged with the “racist” label.
Often open racists serve as a remin­der of what the rest of us sup­po­sedly are not, the­re­fore allo­wing us to deny the sys­te­mic nature of racism itself. Racism becomes only an individual’s pro­blem ins­pi­ring the thought that if we could just get past the mino­rity of people who wear their racial beliefs on their sleeves, we could get past racial oppres­sion. Individual racism sparks ideas of “tole­rance”, “good­ness and bad­ness”, and “mini­mi­za­tion” or “color-blind­ness” when we seek to ana­lyze it and address it. We often mora­lize the issue of racism to the point where many believe if we could just get enough people from dif­ferent races invol­ved in all pro­fes­sions, posi­tions, levels of society, orga­ni­za­tions, etc. we would rea­lize that we have more in common than not and the issue of race would become no more impor­tant than eye color in our judg­ments about others.
While it is true that expo­sure to other cultu­ral contexts is neces­sary to achieve an eth­no­re­la­tive state (add note here), it is woe­fully insuf­fi­cient alone and ignores the power and pur­pose of the system of oppres­sion based on race. For example, in former times many eth­ni­cally European slave owners could claim abso­lute racial super­io­rity over sub-Saharan Africans even though they also “grew up with them” or “lived around them their whole lives”. The struc­ture of their inter­cul­tu­ral contact only rein­for­ced the Europeans’ notions of racial super­io­rity in a sla­ve­hol­ding state. For example, if a European com­mu­nity did not allow Africans to get an edu­ca­tion, it would be easy for those Europeans to objec­ti­vely tout their edu­ca­tio­nal super­io­rity over Africans, labe­ling them as dumb, and une­du­ca­ted. Without social, legal, or eco­no­mic rights, African slaves could easily be consi­de­red a two-dimen­sio­nal sub-spe­cies on one hand while being feared and desi­red on the other, without contra­dic­tion.
The simul­ta­neous divi­ding and uni­fying nature of sys­te­mic or ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism conti­nues to play a role in jus­ti­fying the exis­tence of mate­rial based oppres­sion today, just as it did four hun­dred years ago though in dif­ferent ways. In this way the very few truly pri­vi­le­ged oppres­sors convin­ced others to iden­tify with them socially, inclu­ding the chance of social upward mobi­lity, on the basis of skin color and ethnic heri­tage. As a result the social posi­tion of the pri­vi­le­ged went unchal­len­ged while those oppres­sed who shared the racial back­ground of the pri­vi­le­ged waited for their lot­tery chance at upward mobi­lity and acted as social foot sol­diers in the repres­sion of the racial other. The legal, social, and eco­no­mic system that deve­lo­ped over time with raced based influence led to a self-rein­for­cing system that gives real advan­tages to some and real disad­van­tages to others solely based on race, with or without the invol­ve­ment of indi­vi­dual racists.
Institutional racism as defi­ned first by US civil rights leader Kwame Ture, sug­gests a much dif­ferent set of issues as those pre­sen­ted by the very real and very dif­ferent exis­tence of indi­vi­dual racism. For Ture, “[Institutional racism] is the col­lec­tive fai­lure of an orga­ni­sa­tion to pro­vide an appro­priate and pro­fes­sio­nal ser­vice to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin ». If one were to expand the defi­ni­tion of ser­vice to include the ways in which any par­ti­cu­lar society orga­nizes to dis­tri­bute col­lec­tive resources to its mem­bers, the more gene­ral appli­ca­bi­lity of this defi­ni­tion becomes appa­rent.
Institutional racism is about more than intent or belief, cha­rac­te­ris­tics of indi­vi­dual racism, it is about pro­cess and impact. Institutional racism does not need open racists in order to effec­ti­vely order a social struc­ture that pro­vides advan­tages and pri­ve­ledges on the basis of racial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion while disad­van­ta­ging others based on a dif­ferent racial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. It is cha­rac­te­ri­zed by covert and overt actions, pro­vi­ding bene­fi­cia­ries with the social power to define away the exis­tence of unear­ned racial pri­vi­lege des­pite, overw­hel­ming evi­dence to the contrary. At its most effec­tive, ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism serves to even ins­pire its vic­tims to ques­tion them­selves as being res­pon­sible for there own vic­ti­mi­za­tion.
The cur­rent cri­mi­nal jus­tice system in the US offers a clear example. A judge does not have to per­so­nally believe in the super­io­rity of whites in order to enforce laws that have a dis­pa­rate impact on blacks. The legal sen­ten­cing gui­de­lines bet­ween the poses­sion of crack cocaine (a drug lar­gely used and sold by blacks) and powder cocaine (a drug lar­gely used and sold by whites) is a case in point. The law allows a 100:1 ratio of dif­fe­rence in sen­ten­cing seve­rity bet­ween the two. The Congress when pas­sing the law in the 80’s claims to have consi­de­red the increa­sed nega­tive impact of crack rela­tive to powder cocaine in its deci­sion. The race of users was not dis­cus­sed. Though the phy­sio­lo­gi­cal and socie­tal basis for the dif­fe­rence in sen­ten­cing has been lar­gely debun­ked, the Congress has not chan­ged the law and isn’t pro­mi­sing to do so any time soon. The impact is gross over­re­pre­sen­ta­tion of blacks in the American cri­mi­nal jus­tice system where blacks make up almost 50% of the people incar­ce­ra­ted in the cri­mi­nal system though they are only 13% of the ove­rall popu­la­tion. Dr.Luke Tripp “Criminal Justice System is Used to Control and Weaken Blacks” http://​www​.tcdai​ly​pla​net​.net/​n​o​d​e​/7448
Racial desi­gna­tions are no where to be found in the laws sup­por­ting the dis­pa­rity yet the racial impact is enor­mous.
The decep­tive assump­tion of the exis­tence of race neu­tral sys­tems, like demo­cracy and repu­bli­ca­nism, and equa­lity of oppor­tu­nity without reco­gni­zing the cur­rent system’s per­pe­tua­tion of past overtly racist deci­sions, gives many an ‘all is racially fair now’ impres­sion. It is not lar­gely implau­sible when the overt, violent, and socially accep­table wides­pread indi­vi­dual racism of the past is com­pa­red with the lar­gely covert ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism of today. Since most visible mino­ri­ties in the West are free from the spec­tere of being beaten by a mob in the streets, with the notable excep­tion of in some towns in eas­tern Germany or Texas, it is easier for many to believe that racism no longer plays a role in society. It is a belief that is cen­tral to dam­pe­ning the call for the radi­cal, sys­te­mic change that would be neces­sary to truly achieve social struc­tures without the oppres­sion of racism.
When those most affec­ted by racism no longer demand the gene­ral res­pect society gives those in a racially pri­ve­ledge posi­tion, one more struggle against gene­ral oppres­sion is lost. Social fac­tors with tre­men­dous nega­tive influence in racially desi­gna­ted com­mu­ni­ties can then conti­nue una­bai­ted due to the coop­tion into the power struc­ture of those best able to arti­cu­late the neces­sity of change in the culture of those with social power. Racial excep­tio­na­lism, for example, “you are not like the rest of the people with your culture or cha­rac­te­ris­tic” allows those within and bene­fi­ting from the racial caste system to conti­nue nega­ti­vely impac­ting the many. Tiger Woods, Collin Powell, Condolezza Rice, Dinesh Dsouza, comi­cally even Alan Keyes and Michelle Malkin can be feted by a white power struc­ture without serious pro­blems because it is pos­sible for very few racial mino­ri­ties to make it out of the gene­ral condi­tions asso­cia­ted with their race or culture. Those in power can even show just how fair they are through the tou­ting of these so-called role models.
When those with tre­men­dous social power, like Bush and Sarkozy, select ‘visible mino­ri­ties’ to serve in high pro­file posi­tions, they seek to prove they are not racists and add lege­ti­macy to the ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism they conti­nue to per­pe­trate. They also seek to pro­tect the system they represent from deser­ved cri­tique by put­ting ins­ti­tu­tio­nally racist poli­cies in the hands of visible mino­ri­ties. They seek to silence those with mis­gi­vings but share a sense of racial soli­da­rity with the mes­sen­ger and others who don’t want to sound racist because of confron­ting the nega­tive policy of a visible mino­rity. Both are clear examples of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism at work.
Institutional racism creates tricky situa­tions for its oppo­nents. The case of affir­ma­tive action or posi­tive dis­cri­mi­na­tion is one. When affir­ma­tive action is seen as one way among many to verify the rela­tive fair­ness of a system, i.e. we will know things are wor­king when those vic­ti­mi­zed by racism are equally repre­sen­ted in all areas of society, it has its place. But when it is seen as a goal in and of itself ins­tead of a che­cking mecha­nism, it can lead, and has led to dan­ge­rous situa­tions for its new bene­fi­cia­ries and the per­pe­tua­tion of a system that conti­nues to disad­van­tage the majo­rity of racial vic­tims.
Affirmative action is easily achie­ved without chan­ging the struc­tu­ral mecha­nisms that pro­du­ced the under-repre­sen­ta­tion in the first place. Gains can be flee­ting and dependent on the rela­tive costs of com­pliance and non-com­pliance in the minds of deci­sion makers. Management by objec­tive, where rea­ching the objec­tive by any means is key, rarely leads to a system that will per­pe­tually achieve the desi­red result of fair­ness since the ends can be achie­ved in less poli­ti­cally costly ways than dis­mant­ling the pro­cesses of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism.
A com­pliance driven hiring mana­ger can simply hire visible mino­ri­ties pre­viously shut out of a pro­cess simply to “follow the law”. When a mino­rity is quite natu­rally per­cei­ved in a racist envi­ron­ment as having a job only because of her race, espe­cially since her race was the only factor that denied her the oppor­tu­nity pre­viously, she is often put in a posi­tion of having to daily jus­tify the unjus­ti­fiable. She must prove she belongs in a hos­tile envi­ron­ment. Yes, there are examples where social inter­ac­tion leads to a trans­for­ma­tion of racist atti­tudes but gene­rally that hap­pens without the trans­for­ma­tion of the system of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism itself.
The bene­fi­cia­ries of posi­tive dis­cri­mi­na­tion often take their eyes off of the goal of ending the oppres­sion of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism because they need to defend the system in order to main­tain their per­so­nal bene­fits. The exis­tence of fellow slaves as slave dri­vers pro­ba­bly made the condi­tion of sla­very only slightly more tole­rable, if at all. And the slaves as slave dri­vers were also in the unen­viable posi­tion of defen­ding a system that was oppres­sing them while giving them a rela­tive advan­tage over others at the same time. Truly, some people have no pro­blem with this posi­tion at all but others will have dif­fi­culty mana­ging the contra­dic­tions of how their own actions nega­ti­vely impact those they care about or iden­tify with. The bene­fi­cia­ries of posi­tive dis­cri­mi­na­tion may find them­selves as out­casts inside, unable to relate to their former com­mu­ni­ties and unac­cep­ted as full par­ti­ci­pants in the com­mu­nity their new social posi­tion should afford them. Ellis Cose’s “The Rage of a Priveledged Class” offers seve­ral anec­dotes sup­por­ting this phe­no­me­non.
Most impor­tantly, the masses of those mino­ri­ties still exclu­ded by an affir­ma­tive action system can lose a sense of col­lec­tive iden­tity and unear­ned deni­gra­tion. Those mino­ri­ties doing better are cham­pio­ned as having “earned it” on their own so the cor­re­la­ting, those who are fai­ling under the weight of an oppres­sive system deserve to fail, also holds. Since there are always examples, often trum­ped up by a racist media, of the mino­rity who made it out of the worst of situa­tions some­how while igno­ring the impact of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism on the vast majo­rity, it is wron­gly inter­pre­ted to mean all mino­ri­ties could “make it” if they only tried. This can create enough self-doubt and cri­ti­cism within a mino­rity com­mu­nity that all hope of figh­ting against the real source of their oppres­sion can be lost.
In this light, posi­tive racial and ethnic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion can be an impor­tant port in a storm of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism, but it is no stage of per­ma­nent sanc­tuary. When advo­ca­ted as the only way for mino­ri­ties to have suc­cess­ful lives, racial sepa­ra­tion is hollow, naive and dis­counts the impact of the inter­nal struggles caused by oppres­sive mecha­nisms inside of the mino­rity com­mu­nity. Sexism, clas­sism, homo­pho­bia, and reli­gious per­se­cu­tion exist in racially homo­ge­neous cultures too.
Seeking posi­tive racial iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with one­self and other vic­tims of racism is an impor­tant step. Ultimately, ending oppres­sion in gene­ral and racial oppres­sion in par­ti­cu­lar must be the basis for the struggle, not racial pride. There would be no tole­rance for other forms of oppres­sion within a racial com­mu­nity while figh­ting against the very real cir­cum­stances racism brings. It is not fair to need to bear both bur­dens simul­ta­neously but it is neces­sary to do so to lead to a world without oppres­sion rather than a change in the skin color of the oppres­sors.
When common inter­ests of the oppres­sed who share and do not share a common racial back­ground come toge­ther, it is pos­sible to move beyond the divi­ding ves­tige of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism to a uni­fying posi­tion of strength that can chal­lenge the source of the oppres­sion itself. The fight is with the pro­cesses of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism, not only against indi­vi­dual racists and the pro­ducts of their actions.
Afreeye Balanz
Terms for dis­cus­sion
Institutional Racism
« [Institutional racism is] the col­lec­tive fai­lure of an orga­ni­sa­tion to pro­vide an appro­priate and pro­fes­sio­nal ser­vice to people because of their colour, culture or « . Kwame Ture
« Institutional racism is that which, covertly or overtly, resides in the poli­cies, pro­ce­dures, ope­ra­tions and culture of public or pri­vate ins­ti­tu­tions – rein­for­cing indi­vi­dual pre­ju­dices and being rein­for­ced by them in turn. » Sivanandan, Director, Institute of Race Relations
Individual Racism
The values, beliefs, mores, and actions based on the infe­rio­rity or super­io­rity of an iden­ti­fiable group on the basis of color, culture, or ethnic origin.
An orga­ni­za­tion doesn`t need to be full of or led by indi­vi­dual racists to par­ti­ci­pate in ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism.
« If racist conse­quences accrue to ins­ti­tu­tio­nal laws, cus­toms or prac­tices, that ins­ti­tu­tion is racist whe­ther or not the indi­vi­duals main­tai­ning those prac­tices have racial inten­tions. » The Commission for Racial Equality
1. Institutional and indi­vi­dual racism, sexism, and clas­sism are part of the way in which this society dis­tri­butes social and mate­rial bene­fits to some and not to others regard­less of merit
2. Majority pri­vi­lege is an unear­ned socie­tal bene­fit tied to mem­ber­ship in the majo­rity that mani­fests itself in many ways inclu­ding but not limi­ted to :
· The abi­lity to define rea­lity for others not in the majo­rity
· The luxury not to consi­der the impact of race in daily inter­ac­tions
· Tacit exclu­sion of non-majo­rity is normal and not a pro­blem
· Overrepresentation of others in the majo­rity is normal and not a pro­blem
· Ignoring or dis­coun­ting the impact of ins­ti­tu­tio­nal racism for non-majo­ri­ties
· Never being assu­med not to be a member of my society
· Never being asked to speak for or represent my whole group
· The actions of one person in my group are not applied to me (I am a res­pon­sible indi­vi­dual)
· My suc­cess or fai­lure is not applied to my entire group
· I can remain obli­vious to the culture of others not in the majo­rity without penalty
· People in influen­tial posi­tions share my cultu­ral back­ground
· My words or deeds are consi­de­red on their merit
· I can assume a merit based world exists for eve­ryone
· I can consi­der pre­fe­ren­tial treat­ment as normal
· I am not held res­pon­sible for chan­ging the atti­tudes or beha­viors of others in the majo­rity
3. Support of people with whom I don’t fully agree is pos­sible on my terms and from a posi­tion of reco­gni­zing pri­vi­lege without coming from a posi­tion of guilt.
4. I can advo­cate stron­gly for a posi­tion based on conse­quences for a group of which I am a member from an eth­no­re­la­tive pers­pec­tive in the pro­cess of crea­ting a common culture.
Afreeye Balanz
Issues in Discussing Institutional Racism
Discussions of racism are nor­mally full of dis­com­fort, eva­si­ve­ness, accu­sa­tion, guilt, shame and dis­ho­nesty, even with people who are not indi­vi­dually racist.
It is often full of claims of gene­ral know­ledge sup­por­ted by anec­do­tal evi­dence while dis­coun­ting the sta­tis­ti­cally signi­fi­cant, and rele­vant data of others.
It is often approa­ched in a purely emo­tio­nal way, unsa­tis­fying intel­lec­tually or purely emo­tio­nally without rigo­rous ana­ly­sis.
A pre­mise of “the bene­fit of doubt “ usually helps to main­tain an atmos­phere condu­cive to growth. So if someone in the dis­cus­sion says some­thing that one is uncom­for­table with, that does not mean it was inten­ded or direc­ted in a per­so­nal way.
My hope is to conti­nually avoid fal­ling into the traps the mere dia­logue can create through col­lec­tive com­mit­ment and effort.
Obfuscation Techniques
The typi­cally uncom­for­table conver­sa­tion about race is mis­di­rec­ted and clou­ded in a number of ways, some of which are listed below. This list is cer­tainly not exhaus­tive and other tech­niques are worth avoi­ding as well.
Making a socie­tal ques­tion per­so­nal
It is easy to ele­vate our per­so­nal expe­rience, and per­so­nal vic­ti­mi­za­tion, to the level of socie­tal truth. That is, of course, sta­tis­ti­cally sus­pect and debi­li­ta­ting in a conver­sa­tion of a socie­tal issue.
Victimization – Comparing what a com­mu­nity doesn’t have to what others have and not the other way around in order to dis­count the exis­tence of race based advan­tages.
Spreading the issue – Undoubtedly social oppres­sion exists in many valid forms and the rela­tion­ships and simi­la­ri­ties of dif­ferent forms are impor­tant for depth of unders­tan­ding, howe­ver uncom­for­table, direct conver­sa­tions about race are often dilu­ted and avoi­ded by expan­ding and tur­ning the conver­sa­tion away from race.
Moralizing – Considering the conver­sa­tion from an eth­no­cen­tric pers­pec­tive of uni­ver­sal truths without dis­cus­sing race as having a mate­rial impact on those who bene­fit and lose within the context of race. This pre­vents a conse­quence based conver­sa­tion and becomes a conver­sa­tion of “good or bad”.
Tolerance – Tolerance is an eth­no­cen­tric concept in eth­no­re­la­tive clo­thing. It is full of nega­tive judg­ment from a par­ti­cu­lar set of uni­ver­sal truths yet absent any beha­vior, or ana­ly­sis that may be per­cei­ved as nega­tive. While tole­rance is cer­tainly better than other defen­sive beha­vior, it is not a useful place to be for crea­ting new social rea­li­ties.
Dualism – This or that fra­me­works do not func­tion well in conver­sa­tions about race and are a pri­mary tech­nique of those who wish to control the conver­sa­tion. A conti­nuum approach is typi­cally more useful to increa­sing unders­tan­ding and new beha­vio­ral options.
Labeling – While it is intel­lec­tually easy, it is not nor­mally useful in that all of our asso­cia­ted expe­riences, thoughts, and fee­lings rela­ted to the label become inter­t­wi­ned with the com­ment, or person shut­ting down explo­ra­tion.

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