Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Being an ever-present fragment of our contemporary society, manifestations of racism have been recorded from as early as the eighteenth century. Racism is thought to have originated alongside the rise of capitalism and as a consequence of the infamous European slave trade. CLR James (2013, p.127), a Marxist writer, states that, “the conception of dividing people by race begins with the slave trade. The thing was so shocking, so opposed to all conceptions of society which religion and philosophers had… that the only justification by which humanity could face it was to divide people into races and decide that the Africans were an inferior race”. Before the slave trade, racism did not exist, even as a systematic form of oppression (Taylor, 2002, p.8). Since the official abolishment of slavery in Europe, which first occurred in Britain (with the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807); racism has since been at the heart of some of Europe’s most notorious incidents. This can be heavily linked to that of the rise of Nazism in Germany, Fascism in Italy and the conflict that occurred in Northern Ireland. The term ‘racism’ was first introduced in the 1930s, “primarily as a response to the Nazi project of making Germany judenrein, or ‘clean of Jews’” (Rattansi, 2007; p.4). However, it is thought that the term was first defined by that of Ruth Benedict (1945, p.98): he believed racism was the “dogma that one ethnic group is condemned by nature to congenital inferiority and another group is destined to congenital superiority”. Although, this definition is not clear in determining which groups identify as superior or which identify as inferior. Thus, the definition is further developed in Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1975) as being “a belief that race is a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”. Similarly, Van Den Berghe (1967, p.11) interpreted racism and further defined it as being “any set of beliefs that organic, genetically transmitted differences (whether real or imagined) between human groups are intrinsically associated with the presence or the absence of certain socially relevant abilities or characteristics…”. Put simply, this definition focuses on the biological and thus the physiological differences of an individual in order to come to a conclusion on the superiority or inferiority of a group. Nevertheless, an important aspect of this definition has been missed; cultural differences are a frequently used form of racism, yet, it has been left out of Van Den Berghe’s definition. The expansion of the definition and an ‘almost univocal’ interpretation of racism is: “‘positioning a group or an individual as inferior’ due to a combination of the following attributes: (skin) colour, culture, mother-tongue, ethnic origin, ethnic background, background and religion” (Seikkula, 2017). Throughout the remainder of this piece of work, I will be using Seikkula’s (2017) definition upon use of the term ‘racism’; whereby it is seen as “an anomaly operating in the margins of society, as a universal phenomenon of the human psyche, or as an abstraction within invisible social structures” (Seikkula, 2017).
Racism, as a broader term, can be split into several different types. Two key concepts that require mentioning include: ‘individual racism’ and ‘institutional racism’. The first term, individual racism, otherwise known as overt racism, is defined by Carmichael and Hamilton (1966, p.1) as consisting “of overt acts by individuals, which cause death, injury or the violent destruction of property”. However, this definition needed further expansion; individual racism can include more than just violent acts of racist abuse too. Thus, leading Wijeysinghe, Griffin and Love (1997, p.89) to interpret and define individual racism as being: “The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individual that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can occur at both an unconscious and conscious level and can be both active and passive”. Put together, the two above definitions provide a useful overall explanation of the term. There is much discussion surrounding the official definition, however, I will continue to use the term when explaining overt racism from individual instances of racist abuse. Racism of this form is becoming increasingly common in contemporary, European society. Being one of the most prevalent forms of hate crimes, incidents of racist physical violence in England and Wales alone in 2017 – 2018 reached 22,135 (Statista, 2019). A further 71,251 cases of race motivated public order offences were also recorded in England and Wales within the same time span (Statista, 2019).
The second term, institutional racism, has become one of the most important types of racism. Although largely overlooked in contemporary society due to its rarity, institutional racism is supposedly much harder to combat than that of other forms of racial abuse. This being put down to the history, power and prestige institutions and organisations often have over individuals (Jones, 2018). As a concept, Carmichael and Hamilton (1966, p.1) were of the first to look into defining the term; they stated that institutional racism is “less overt, far more subtle, less identifiable in terms of specific individuals committing the acts”. They further develop on this definition and state that institutional racism “originates in the operation of established and respected forces in the society, and thus receives far less public condemnation than the first type [individual racism]” (Carmichael and Hamilton, 1966; p.1). This definition effectively provides a clear explanation of institutional racist abuse; however, it fails to address how it occurs as a process within institutions and organisations. The Macpherson Report (1999), a report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry by Sir William Macpherson, included a clearer definition of institutional racism: “The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racial stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people” (Macpherson, 1999). According to this definition, institutional racist abuse occurs when an institution or organisation fail to provide a safe working environment or service, free from all forms of discrimination for ethnic minorities. As Macpherson (1999) states above, institutional racism can be ‘unwitting’; thus, meaning it can be intended as well as unintended. This can be as a result of a lack of understanding, mistaken beliefs or just simply ignorance (Macpherson, 1999). Racism, especially that of institutional racism, tends to stem from an ‘intergroup nature’. Van Dijk (1993, p.20) believes that negative characteristics of a group, for example: discrimination, prejudice and stereotyping can all influence individuals from within the group. He adds to this, stating that racism as an institutional concept, relies on “group power or dominance” (Van Dijk, 1993, p.21; Giles and Evans, 1986). This is somewhat a representation of how society operates, with majority groups asserting dominance over minority ones using ethnic and racial differences; for example, ‘White European’ groups dominance over “non-European (non-white) groups or peoples” (Van Dijk, 1993; p.24). Wijeysinghe, Griffin and Love (1997) go as far as to use the above example in their overall definition of institutional racism: “The network of institutional structures, policies, and practices that create advantages and benefits for Whites, and discrimination, oppression, and disadvantage for people from targeted racial groups. The advantages created for Whites are often invisible to them. Or are considered ‘rights’ available to everyone as opposed to ‘privileges’ awarded to only some individuals and groups” (Wijeysinghe, Griffin and Love, 1997; p.93). This definition helps to identify the concept of ‘everyday racism’; Van Dijk (1993) defines this as subtle and blatant racist events that are “enacted, controlled, or condoned by white elites”; he goes on to say: “If whites themselves are not actively involved in these modern forms of segregation, exclusion, aggression, inferiorisation or marginalisation then their involvement in the problem of racism consists in their passivity, their acquiescence, their ignorance and their indifference regarding ethnic or racial inequality” (Van Dijk, 1993; p.6). In saying this, Van Dijk is attempting to put across the idea of indirect and direct racism; even-though some individuals may not be engaging in racist behaviour they are still contributing to the problem through lack of intervention.