The opposition between individual racism and institutional racism has from the beginning stood on pretty shaky theoretical grounds. Aren’t individualist expressions of racism, in both their “spontaneous” and continuous forms, always underwritten by statist practices? And haven’t state institutions’ rationalized borders and operations been partly enforced by substrata of popular exclusions and (threats of) routine violence?

But at least in its initial iteration the distinction between individual and institutional racisms served a couple of useful purposes. For one, after the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the federal government’s enforcing of desegregation, it found a way to describe the micropolitical ways in which race operated; that is, it showed how institutions’ formal prohibition of racial discrimination was compatible with real racism. Second, and more urgently, the distinction insisted that the effects produced by racism were not the result of a few recalcitrant consciousnesses who refuse to recognize new realities but were continually produced and maintained by quotidian institutional processes.

Invocations of “institutional racism” today, however, serve just the opposite purpose: where racism exists, it is because there is a lack — of morality, of compassion, and, mostly, of the state. So that, for instance, even the report on the killing of Stephen Lawrence could conclude that the killing was attributable to institutional racism and its attendant absence of understanding and compassion. Today, institutional racism exists where the state is inoperative or derelict; if it is to blame, it is for its inertia and cowardice. Racial exclusions are a free-floating, already-existing problem, and the state’s reterritorializations are notable only for their insufficiency.


One thought on “Institutionalized

  1. bank redlining is an example of institutionalized racism but i don’t get how that’s part of the state apparatus.

    when former employers told me not to hire people from a certain part of town, that was institutionalized racism.

    when the cops hide after knocking on the door of an apartment home, that is institutionalized racism.

    i have ready stokley in forever, but i frankly have no idea what he is talking about in his speech.

    for me, the test of something as insitutionalized is if you could pick it up and place it in an environment where it was an all white community and you could see it happening? that’s institutionalized racism.

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