Institutional Racism: Conceptualization

Institutional racism refers to specific policies and/or procedures of institutions (i.e., government, business, schools, churches, etc) which consistently result in unequal treatment for particular groups (Better, 2002; Lea, 2000).

  • The clearest examples of explicit and intentional institutional racism include state and local “Jim Crow” laws which were in effect in the US through 1965. These laws explicitly mandated separation of Black and White individuals in public and private places and regulated access to social and vocational opportunities by race (Alexander, 2010; Krieger, 2010).

Policies which result in unequal outcomes for individuals of different races can also be considered a form of institutional racism.

  • These unequal outcomes can be considered an example of institutional racism even if policy-makers are not motivated by deliberate racial prejudice, but they are less aware of or responsive to the consequences of these policies for minority stakeholders.


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