Explainer: what is systemic racism and institutional racism?


Mary Frances O’Dowd, CQUniversity Australia

At the 2020 BAFTA awards, Joaquin Phoenix called out systemic racism in the film industry in his acceptance speech for leading actor.

He said:

I think that we send a very clear message to people of colour that you’re not welcome here. I think that’s the message that we’re sending to people that have contributed so much to our medium and our industry and in ways that we benefit from. […]

I think it’s more than just having sets that are multicultural. We have to do really the hard work to truly understand systemic racism.

“Systemic racism”, or “institutional racism”, refers to how ideas of white superiority are captured in everyday thinking at a systems level: taking in the big picture of how society operates, rather than looking at one-on-one interactions.

These systems can include laws and regulations, but also unquestioned social systems. Systemic racism can stem from education, hiring practices or access.




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Explainer: what is casual racism?


In the case of Phoenix at the BAFTAs, he isn’t calling out the racist actions of individuals, but rather the way white is considered the default at every level of the film industry.

Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton first wrote about the concept in their 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation.

They wrote:

When a black family moves into a home in a white neighborhood and is stoned, burned or routed out, they are victims of an overt act of individual racism which most people will condemn. But it is institutional racism that keeps black people locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents. The society either pretends it does not know of this latter situation, or is in fact incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.

Invisible systems

Systemic racism assumes white superiority individually, ideologically and institutionally. The assumption of superiority can pervade thinking consciously and unconsciously.

One most obvious example is apartheid, but even with anti-discrimination laws, systemic racism continues.

Individuals may not see themselves as racist, but they can still benefit from systems that privilege white faces and voices.

Anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh popularised the understanding of the systemic nature of racism with her famous “invisible knapsack” quiz looking at white privilege.

The quiz asks you to count how many statements you agree with, for items such as:

  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented
  • I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race
  • I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

The statements highlight taken-for-granted privileges, and enable people to understand how people of colour may experience society differently.

Cultures of discrimination

Under systemic racism, systems of education, government and the media celebrate and reward some cultures over others.

In employment, names can influence employment opportunities. A Harvard study found job candidates were more likely to get an interview when they “whitened” their name.

Only 10% of black candidates got interview offers when their race could be implied by their resume, but 25% got offers when their resumes were whitened. And 21% of Asian candidates got interview offers with whitened resumes, up from 11.5%.

Systemic racism shows itself in who is disproportionately impacted by our justice system. In Australia, Indigenous people make up 2% of the Australian population, but 28% of the adult prison population.




Read more:
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A study into how systemic racism impacts this over-representation in Victoria named factors such as over-policing in Aboriginal communities, the financial hardship of bail, and increased rates of drug and alcohol use.

Australia’s literature, theatres and art galleries are all disproportionately white, with less than 10% of artistic directors from culturally diverse backgrounds.




Read more:
Australia’s art institutions don’t reflect our diversity: it’s time to change that


A way forward

Systemic racism damages lives, restricting access and capacity for contribution.

It damages the ethical society we aspire to create.

When white people scoop all the awards, it reinforces a message that other cultures are just not quite good enough.

Public advocacy is critical. Speaking up is essential.

Racism is more than an individual issue. When systemic injustices remain unspoken or accepted, an unethical white privilege is fostered. When individuals and groups point out systemic injustices and inequities, the dominant culture is made accountable.

Find out if your children’s school curriculum engages with Indigenous and multicultural perspectives. Question if your university course on Australian literature omits Aboriginal authors. Watch films and read books by artists who don’t look like you.

As Phoenix put it in his speech:

I’m part of the problem. […] I think it is the obligation of the people that have created and perpetuate and benefit from a system of oppression to be the ones that dismantle it. That’s on us.

Understanding systemic racism is important. To identify these systemic privileges enables us to embrace the point of view of people whose cultures are silenced or minimised.

When we question systemic racism, worth is shared and ideas grow.The Conversation

Mary Frances O’Dowd, Senior Lecturer, Indigenous Studies, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Court in India Convicts Legislator in Second Murder Case


Manoj Pradhan arrested; three more cases pending against Hindu nationalist.

NEW DELHI, September 10 (CDN) — A Hindu nationalist legislator was arrested yesterday after a court pronounced him guilty of playing a major role in the murder of a Christian during anti-Christian carnage in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district in August 2008.

The Fast Track Court II in Kandhamal convicted Manoj Pradhan of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the murder of a 30-year-old Christian, Bikram Nayak, who succumbed to head injuries two days after an attack by a mob in the Raikia area of Budedi village on Aug. 25, 2008.

Judge Chitta Ranjan Das sentenced Pradhan to six years of rigorous imprisonment for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code and imposed a fine of 15,500 rupees (US$335) for setting houses ablaze.

Pradhan, who contested and won the April 2009 state assembly election from jail representing Kandhamal’s G. Udayagiri constituency, was not initially accused in the police complaint in Nayak’s murder, but his role emerged during the investigation, according to The Hindu.

One of the primary suspects in violence that followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008, Pradhan was initially arrested in Berhampur city in neighboring Ganjam district in December 2008. The violence began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) claimed responsibility for it.

In spite of this week’s conviction, the Orissa state unit of the BJP said the case against Pradhan was weak.

“The case is not strong,” Orissa BJP President Jual Oram told Compass by telephone. “Pradhan was merely present at the scene of crime.”

Pradhan was named in at least 12 police complaints concerning murder and arson. But after he won the election, he was released on bail.

This is the 36-year-old Pradhan’s second conviction. On June 29, Kandhamal’s Fast Track Court I sentenced him to seven years in jail in a case concerning the murder of another Christian, Parikhita Nayak, also from Budedi village, who was killed on Aug. 27, 2008. Though not convicted of murder, Pradhan was found guilty of rioting and causing grievous hurt in the Parikhita Nayak case.

The June 29 judgment led to his arrest, but the Orissa High Court granted him bail eight days later.

The BJP will challenge the convictions in a higher court, Oram said.

Last month Kanaka Rekha Nayak, widow of Parikhita Nayak, complained that despite the conviction of Pradhan and an accomplice, they were immediately given bail and continued to roam the area, often intimidating her.

Rekha Nayak was among 43 survivors who on Aug. 22-24 testified in Delhi before the National People’s Tribunal (NPT), a private hearing of victims of the Kandhamal violence organized by the National Solidarity Forum, a confederation of 60 non-profit groups and people’s movements.

Nayak said local politicians, including Pradhan, hit her husband with an axe. Her husband’s body was later chopped into pieces, she recalled as she sobbed during testimony at the tribunal, headed by Justice A.P. Shah, former chief justice of Delhi High Court.

The fast track courts set up especially to hear cases related to the anti-Christian violence have acquitted Pradhan in seven cases for lack of evidence. Three more cases are pending against him.

The state BJP’s Oram said Christians had created “hype” about the cases against Pradhan to “trouble us.” He added, “The state government is not doing anything to arrest and try the killers of the Swami.”

 

Testimony

The NPT tribunal asserted that between August and December 2008, about 2,000 people were “forced to repudiate their Christian faith.”

The tribunal cited government figures asserting that during the violence from August to December 2008, more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses were looted and burned, 54,000 people were left homeless, and 38 people were murdered in Kandhamal alone. It also noted that human rights groups estimated that over 100 people were killed, including women, disabled and aged persons and children, and “an un-estimated number suffered severe physical injuries and mental trauma.”

While there were reports of four women being gang-raped, many more victims of sexual assault were believed to have been intimidated into silence, the tribunal concluded.

As many as 295 church buildings and other places of worship, big and small, were destroyed, and 13 schools, colleges, and offices of five non-profit organizations damaged, it said, adding that about 30,000 people were uprooted and living in relief camps, with many of them still displaced.

“More than 10,000 children had their education severely disrupted due to displacement and fear,” it reported. “Today, after two years, the situation has not improved, although the administration time and again claims it is peaceful and has returned to normalcy.”

The Christian community was deliberately targeted by Hindu nationalist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), the Bajrang Dal and the active members of Bharatiya Janata Party,” the tribunal concluded.

The jury also observed that cries against religious conversions were used as for political mobilization and “to incite horrific forms of violence and discrimination against the Christians” of Dalit (formerly “untouchables” according the caste hierarchy in Hinduism) origin.

“The object is to dominate them and ensure that they never rise above their low caste status and remain subservient to the upper castes,” it added.

The jury accused police of complicity, which “was not an aberration of a few individual police men, but evidence of an institutional bias against the targeted Christian community.”

“The jury is constrained to observe that public officials have colluded in the destruction of evidence, and there is testimony directly implicating the District Collector [the administrative head of a district] in this misdemeanor.”

The jury expressed concern over the lack of mechanisms to protect victims “who have dared to lodge complaints and witnesses who have courageously given evidence in court,” as they “are unable to return to their homes.”

“There is no guarantee of safe passage to and from the courts. They are living in other cities and villages, many of them in hiding, as they apprehend danger to their lives.”

It also noted mental trauma in children.

“There has been no trauma counselling for the affected children and adolescents in Kandhamal. Even today they have nightmares of running in the jungle, with the killers in pursuit, are scared of any loud sound and are afraid of people walking in groups or talking loudly.”

Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar, who was part of the tribunal, said that incidents such as the Kandhamal carnage against religious minorities continued to happen with “alarming frequency” in India.

“As citizens of this democracy, we should hang our heads in shame,” he said.

Report from Compass Direct News