In a 363-page report published last week, Baroness Casey concluded that there is “institutional racism” in the Met. Sounds very serious, doesn’t it? After all, “institutional racism” makes you think of Jim Crows laws in the southern United States – of bathroom signs that say “Whites” and “Coloureds”.
But there’s a problem: nowadays, almost everything is “institutionally racist”.
• The London Fire Brigade is institutionally racist, according to an independent review.
• British policing is institutionally racist, according to a senior British police officer.
• UK universities are institutionally racist, according to a leading vice-chancellor.
• UK research is institutionally racist, according to a group of black scientists.
• British schools are institutionally racist, according to a Guardian journalist.
• Yorkshire County Cricket Club is institutionally racist, according to its former chairman.
• Cricket Scotland is institutionally racist, according to an independent review
• The Judiciary in England and Wales is institutionally racist, according to a major report.
• The NHS is institutionally racist, according to a senior black nurse.
• The Conservative Party is institutionally racist, according to a majority of black Britons.
• The Labour Party is institutionally racist, according to a black Labour MP.
• Google and Big Tech are institutionally racist, according to a black AI researcher.
• The BBC is institutionally racist, according to a group of current and former black employees.
• The UK itself is institutionally racist, according to a group of UN experts.
If these claims are to be believed, then essentially every major institution in Britain is “institutionally racist”: the NHS, the BBC, the judiciary, the emergency services, schools, universities, sports clubs, political parties – the list goes on. All this despite the fact that attitudinal measures of racism are at all-time lows, and that on such measures Britain scores lower than most other European countries.
Do we really live in such a pervasively racist society? I’m sceptical.
The term “institutional racism” goes back to the 1999 MacPherson report (also known as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry), which defined it as “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”.
You may have noticed that this is rather vague. Does one instance of racism (say, an employee overhearing the use of racial slur) mean there’s been a “collective failure” to provide “an appropriate and professional service”? Arguably not. What about two, or three? What if the employee informs her manager, and he tells her that it’s not worth looking into?
Obviously, no one should have to put with racism (or any other kind of abuse) at work. And indeed, large organisations have mechanisms in place for dealing with such abuse. But it stretches credulity to believe that incidents of racism are so common that even leftist organisations like the BBC and universities qualify as “institutionally racist”.
Of course, this is not to say that there is no racism in these organisations; just that “institutionally racist” is an exaggeration. The BBC has even advertised jobs that are only open to “black, Asian and ethnically diverse candidates”. Does this mean it is “institutionally racist” against whites? After all, this is explicit discrimination.
Another issue is that, aside from racist incidents (some of which can be debated), claims of “institutional racism” are often based on the finding that non-white people are less represented in some category (e.g., senior police officers) than they are in the general population. Yet disparity does not imply discrimination. Black Britons are over-represented in the England football team. Does this mean that England Football is discriminating against non-blacks? Obviously not.
To most people’s ears, “institutional racism” is a serious allegation. Yet the term has been applied to practically every major institution in Britain, which suggests it’s being thrown around far too lightly.
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