What is Institutional Racism?

and Does it Exist??

This is certainly one of those subjects that will open up the proverbial ‘can of worms’ but I simply just had to write and help out that much-celebrated London LBC Radio Presenter last morning, (07:00,19/12/17, podcast will soon be available), who seemed to have great difficulty in determining this conundrum. The word ‘Racism’ itself can be as much a part of the problem being one of those few emotionally-charged and almost ‘toxic’ words that will more often than not generate the kind of response likely to stifle any reasonable debate. We all need to talk about this and have that debate so why not experiment with some alternative words instead?

In my own opinion, (my prerogative I’m afraid), it’s not so much a question of the existence of that type of racism and more of a case that it often seems so insignificant to those who are charged with upholding this! Following the theme within that great song ‘Substitute’, from The Who, try substituting the word ‘Racism’ replacing it with the word ‘Sexism’ and you can possibly see where I am going with this, just as those Actresses’ and Actors’ who were abused and compromised for decades in Hollywood did also suffer from this institutionalised-syndrome of a problem that supposedly ‘did not exist’ prior to those serious Weinstein accusations and revelations. Mr Radio Presenter, do substitute the word ‘Racism’ for the word ‘Ability’ and then imagine having one of your own good sons being marginalised while applying for a certain job, promotion, or to a reputable educational institution much earlier in their life – visualise this first, then ask again what is meant by the meaning of Institutional Racism after reverse substituting the situation itself within the subject context! (It would be so interesting to hear how anyone so otherwise ‘sheltered’ in life through upbringing alone would respond to this more-realistic scenario. A much sobering-thought indeed, here’s hoping for a response!)

You see it all comes down in the end to a matter of perspectives and from whichever angle one is prepared to consider, or not. I was very moved when I read yesterday that the actor Minnie Driver has told The Guardian UK Newspaper that men “simply cannot understand what abuse is like on a daily level” for I can personally relate to this enigma from some of my own experiences. As a typical black person such racism is very real when you do encounter this, just as much as actual sexism is, and perspectives here too play a major part. My step-dad being not of this country used to say, “You is an Englishman” and the local kids in Jamaica while on holiday would point and say, “You come from Foreign”. However, I’m sure that I don’t need to convey some of those adverse comments from other parts of the spectrum in the UK and the US that I have also read about or sometimes encountered who so vehemently express themselves too!

Getting back on track with the core question, what of our great institutions and racism? As a casual outside observer one can be tempted to believe the collective staunch rhetoric about having no such problems, but like Hollywood there is indeed a very real issue and this is manifested in those reliable statistics that clearly establish under-representation and inequality for the ethnic minorities at many levels in almost every public body and private institution here within the UK. “But that’s cheating Dad”, says John Ross – son of J.R. Ewing from the former hit American TV series ‘Dallas’. “It isn’t cheating Son, just gaining an advantage”. I vividly recall that reply from the villainous J.R. trying to both rationalise and vindicate those dirty tricks he used and once again this is all about perspectives as there are others too who, like J.R., see absolutely nothing wrong in gaining any advantage, even at the expense of real merit from a promising individual. It’s official! There’s ‘no’ such thing as institutional racism, as those with vested-interests will tell you! Let’s now substitute the word ‘Racism’ with the word ‘Idiosyncrasy’ as a concept that more can identify with and perhaps characterise too. Senior managers can sometimes be quite comfortable with rewarding only those they personally identify with and will readily accept these idiosyncrasies as a part of the wider environment and corporate culture, just like Hollywood, but replace that substitute word back with the original word and we are now back to the official line, once again demonstrating those illuminating alternate perspectives.

Sadly with so many of those institutions who don’t get this right, they are all missing a ‘trick’ here too because those who do manage to replace racism with ability will invariably tap into a rich vein of ‘new’ talent previously thought unavailable through nothing other than the ‘wrong’ perspective and much to their own detriment in certain cases. These substituted words could also be considered far more appropriate for any meaningful debate and while some things have got a little better, I would dearly love to see other major improvements in my lifetime. A new corporate-wide policy of positive discrimination with government support for instance, similar to that previously deployed in American Football, (known as the Rooney Rule), could be utilised with temporary quotas until such times that those depleted numbers rapidly increase to the right proportions at the very least. Not an ideal solution I know, especially having already mentioned the importance of meritocracy, but having the relatively-few more potentially inept in amongst those already present, who perhaps should also not be there, will not make that much of a difference in the grand scheme of things and will help restore the imbalance while perhaps eventually creating another ‘Class of ’92’. I wrote this next set of words some 30 years ago and would also like to think that overall things have now changed, but I’m really not so sure, what do you think?

Please explain and tell me why you happen to think that I may be wrong if you do believe otherwise!

[Update] 20/03/2019. Just noticed that the Football Association of England, better known as the FA, have now actually introduced their own version of the Rooney Rule previously adopted in American Football. Who knows, maybe there’s hope yet for the other custodians of our prized public institutions, such as The General Medical Council, The General Dental Council, and The Nursing & Midwifery Council, etc. that they can soon begin to examine their own working practices and ‘play the same game!’ – and if they choose not to play, then perhaps ask them why not??? p.s. to all the other big corporations in the business world, such as Google, ‘we’re all watching you ‘Play’ when we come to visit your ‘Store’ (I do mean premises, of course) too!

Do You Know Me?

Do you know me?

Do you know what it’s like?

To be black on the outside

To be never quite white

To be born in this country

And not from abroad

Brings all kinds of resentment

And almost no reward

To get a job

With equal opportunity

Is this a reality?

For people just like me?

They say there is a future

Can this be really true?

For those people like me

What have we to do?

They say that prejudice

Just does not exist

But I wonder why?

We all feel like this

Who can really say?

What tomorrow may bring?

But you, and me my friend

Should wish for just one thing


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