‘Institutional racism’ and mental health


by Kulvinder
29th May, 2007 at 4:45 am    

Apologies I meant to point this out last week. In this thread I questioned the attention given to ‘institutional racism’ as a concept let alone a problem; to me it is as absurd a statement to make as ‘political correctness gone mad’. The danger with resorting to labels to define problems rather than honestly examining the issues at hand is you may end up doing more harm than good. Newsnight covered the issue of ‘institutional racism and mental health’ and its well worth a look.

“He was really at risk getting hurt because of the illness that he had, and the tribunal discharged him”, she says. “I don’t know what was going on in their minds other than they were too scared of thinking that they might be being racist towards him.”

Dr Smith, herself a black woman, believes psychiatry needs to focus less on internal racism and more on helping deal with the real causes of mental illness out in the community.

“Let’s do something about those factors that increase the likelihood of people becoming unwell in this way,” she says. “Let’s do something about that.”

Thats pretty much the same sentiment I was trying to raise with my example of a girl crying in despair at Heathrow.

Sunny adds: Benedict had something interesting on this recently too.


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  1. Graeme — on 29th May, 2007 at 8:23 am  

    Kulvinder, what’s with the fashionable contrarianism? Institutional racism is a well documented phenomena and there’s plenty of empirical evidence to back it up.

  2. Jagdeep — on 29th May, 2007 at 12:23 pm  

    That’s an interesting article Kulvinder. Deserves a post analysis of its own.

  3. Sunny — on 29th May, 2007 at 3:10 pm  

    I think systematic is probably a better word than institutional.

  4. Benedict White — on 29th May, 2007 at 4:02 pm  

    Re 1, Graeme, where is this empirical evidence, and does it exclude all other possibilities for the anomoly?

    Re 3, Sunny, thanks for the link.

    I am not even sure about systematic racism. Take for example the under performance black children at school compared to the average. It looks bad, well at least until you compare it to white children of the same socio economic group who do a little worse. The problem is less one of racism here than bigotry based on backround.

    Hence the assumption of racism being the problem can obscure the real reason for some apparently undesirable outcome.

    In mental health deeper though seems to have thrown up something none of us could have thought of, which is that ALL immigrants, regardless of race seem to suffer higher rates of mental illness than the community they move to or from.

  5. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 4:37 pm  

    What? That’s absurd. My sister has worked in the mental health field for too long. And I occasionally do some work for her as well. Dr. Smith doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Cultural competency within the mental health system is vital to proper diagnosis and treatment of clients.

    Most of the mental health issues that people have can be brought on by their cultural restrictions in the first place. The prevelance rates amongst clients treated by a culturally competent therapist are far more better than those without.

    It’s not all about the chemical imbalance in the body you know. Culture plays a huge role. It’d be immature to deny that. I read the US Surgeon General’s Report on this, here’s a brief outline done by an organization we work with about that.

  6. Chairwoman — on 29th May, 2007 at 4:41 pm  

    Ms Xtreme – The link didn’t work.

  7. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 4:47 pm  

    Ah thanks dawlin’.. here try this.

  8. Graeme — on 29th May, 2007 at 4:50 pm  

    Benedict, with regard to this particular case, and using that BBC article as my only source, it appears as if the inquiry into the mental health services was flawed. This doesn’t, however, mean that institutional racism or systemic racism doesn’t exist–which seems to be the point Kulvinder was trying to make.

    Want empirical evidence of this? Read sociological journals. It’s been too many years since I’ve studied this stuff to give you precise references.

  9. Sunny — on 29th May, 2007 at 4:53 pm  

    I’ve sorted the link out.

    Most of the mental health issues that people have can be brought on by their cultural restrictions in the first place.

    I think this point Ms Extreme makes is a good one.

    Kulvinder, there is a danger that people are used in news reports to signify a trend when they’re just one person. That is my worry. Just because one black / brown doctor says it ain’t so doesn’t make it true… and vice versa.

    I’d like to see more analysis here… but to be honest I’m sceptical of blanket claims that the whole practice is ‘institutionally racist’. Such blanket claims are used by people who know little of the inner workings.

    They used to say the same about the media… and having written a lot about media/race over the past few years, I know the picture is a lot more difficult to capture than that.

  10. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 4:55 pm  

    By the way, the World Health Organization (WHO), are doing a lot more than the Health Department to counter-act issues of cultural competence in the general health system here in the UK. In that regard, we’re way behind the US.

  11. Benedict White — on 29th May, 2007 at 5:36 pm  

    Re 8, Graeme, I am not going to be able to search through a whole bunch of un named journals on sociology. If by empirical evidence you mean that which shows that a particular group seems to do less well out of x organisation, then there is still the problem of causation. For example the amount the world has warmed is inversely proportional to the number of pirates there are about. Ergo if we had more pirates we would not have global warming. Correlation does not equal causation.

    See this for more details:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaghetti_monster#Pirates_and_global_warming

    Re 5, Ms_Xtreme, If you are saying that it is easier to help someone with mental health problems if you underrstand their cultural backround, I agree.

  12. Arif — on 29th May, 2007 at 6:18 pm  

    I think we all rely on stereotypes, just because of the ways our minds need to simplify things. And so we are all prone to sterotyping people, sometimes usefully, sometimes not. And although we can’t always pinpoint where stereotypes come from we all know there are some which are widely shared about different groups inside or outside our own communities.

    So I don’t see it as controversial to think that people act on their stereotyped assumptions, and they can do so without malice. What is important, for anyone who agrees with my assumptions, is then to find ways to challenge our own mental habits, especially if we are ever in a position of power over others.

    I think it seems a bit clumsy to call this challenging my institutional racism, and I think something like this is going to be very difficult to monitor let alone remove. But it is the effort not to abuse our power without realising which is essential to public service, and so I hope we always keep trying without being scared of being labelled politically correct.

    In finding the real reasons why groups have different outcomes, again we have to challenge our mental habits of stereotyping, and this is easier to do if you do not suspect that any particular conclusion will suggest political implications to other people which you believe to be rubbish. And so…. its all a big hassle.

  13. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 6:24 pm  

    Not only that Benedict, I’m saying it’s VITAL for doctors, especially mental health doctors and therapists to know about people’s cultural backgrounds to diagnose them properly. I’d even go as far as requiring all psychologists and psychiatrists to have extensive cultural competency training.

    It can make a world of difference diagnosing someone with bipolar disorder versus anxiety.

  14. Kulvinder — on 29th May, 2007 at 6:49 pm  

    Kulvinder, what’s with the fashionable contrarianism? Institutional racism is a well documented phenomena and there’s plenty of empirical evidence to back it up.

    Yeah but as with everything eise i disagree with what everyone says.

    To give an analogy lets say another space shuttle blows up and NASA are blamed for ‘institutional failures’ what exactly do you mean by institutional failures? NASA (or in this analogy the DoE/DoH etc) don’t blame individuals but put the failures down to the institution. The institution itself is just a series of polices and procedures that are carried out, if the policies are flawed its not the individual’s fault and if the policies weren’t followed it is.

    ‘Institutional racism’ tries to have it both ways, they’re careful not to blame individual teachers or doctors or even policemen but put the failure down to the institution. But that institution is – literally – just a set of policies and procedures decided elsewhere. It is nonsensical for the department of education to blame institutional racism for the failures of schools and ask that teachers ‘do better’ when all the teachers are doing is following the national curriculum and other policies that are given to them.

  15. Kulvinder — on 29th May, 2007 at 6:51 pm  

    Not only that Benedict, I’m saying it’s VITAL for doctors, especially mental health doctors and therapists to know about people’s cultural backgrounds to diagnose them properly. I’d even go as far as requiring all psychologists and psychiatrists to have extensive cultural competency training.

    What do you mean by culture? Broadly obviously its ‘the way they do things’ but the way the child of a second generation immigrant acts and behaves is almost certainly different to his/her parents despite them having the same ethnic background.

  16. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 6:56 pm  

    cul·ture

    3. a particular form or stage of civilization, as that of a certain nation or period: Greek culture.

    5. the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
    6. Anthropology. the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

    Gay culture, hip hop culture, black culture, asian culture, street culture etc.

    You’re right. But the child is influenced by it’s heritage, rather or not he wants to be.

  17. Kulvinder — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:06 pm  

    Gay culture, hip hop culture, black culture, asian culture, street culture etc.

    I dispute, and have disputed in the past the existence of all of those. There is no such thing as ‘black culture’ or ‘gay culture’ beyond absurd characterisations of black men speaking in slang or gay men automatically being brilliant at fashion etc. At the very most that may be applicable in America but no where else.

    You’re right. But the child is influenced by it’s heritage, rather or not he wants to be.

    Influenced isn’t the same as how they live now though is it? For the sake of argument wouldn’t it be more harmful for a psychiatrist to presume a second generation asian’s problems were influenced by or related to his ‘asianess’ (lol) rather than something else?

  18. emmanuelgoldstein — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:07 pm  

    The bar for institutional failure is quite low: if a social arrangement has disparate impact on some group, then prima facie, there’s some justification required for the disparate impact.

    Proponents of institutional bias start with the following duo of claims:

    (1) There are institutional habits, policies practices &c., which have a disparate impact on particular groups of people.

    (2) The institutional habits, policies practices &c are not intended to have the disparate impact, but they do.

    It’s not difficult to come up with examples: I know a female architect who was intensely frustrated by the frequency with which important deals were cut in the sort of pub which she couldn’t bring herself to go to as often as her male colleagues. I’d imagine the institutional racism complaint is a subset of this type of thing; the institutional racism complaint is not obviously silly.

  19. emmanuelgoldstein — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:08 pm  

    Sorry, that should be:

    (1) There are institutional habits, policies practices &c., which have an unjustified disparate impact on particular groups of people.

  20. Arif — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:15 pm  

    Agree with emmanuelgoldstein, there are practises which are exclusionary, but it is not always clear how much they are meant to be exclusionary, so it shouldn’t be hard to admit it and change it when it is pointed out. But I reckon people find it difficult to consider their behaviour like this when it comes with all the baggage of the word racism.

  21. Kulvinder — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:24 pm  

    Id disagree with the idea that ad-hoc work place practises can be ‘carried’ across different firms or schools to the point where its a definable problem.

  22. Jagdeep — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:24 pm  

    It can make a world of difference diagnosing someone with bipolar disorder versus anxiety.

    What are the different ways in which a White, Black or Asian patient will manifest bi-polar depression? (or any other mental health problem) I’m curious.

  23. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:27 pm  

    I dispute, and have disputed in the past the existence of all of those. There is no such thing as ‘black culture’ or ‘gay culture’ beyond absurd characterisations of black men speaking in slang or gay men automatically being brilliant at fashion etc. At the very most that may be applicable in America but no where else.

    Just because YOU think they don’t exist, doesn’t mean that extensive studies on culture are wrong. Your argument is rubbish, as there’s way too many studies out there to prove you wrong.

    Influenced isn’t the same as how they live now though is it? For the sake of argument wouldn’t it be more harmful for a psychiatrist to presume a second generation asian’s problems were influenced by or related to his ‘asianess’ (lol) rather than something else?

    Who says they have to disregard other characteristics? Having cultural knowledge is only a positive when treating mental health clients. Anthropologists have jobs for a reason. Also, you can’t deny the amount of immigrants coming into this country have their own cultures, their own ways of doing things. I’m not advocating for all doctors to be well read on all cultures, that’s damn near impossible. But I am advocating for different regions of this country to have basic knowledge of the various cultures living in their regions to better serve their mental health needs.

    You’d be surprised of the number of underserved communities here in the UK due to cultural incompetence in the Health Departments.

  24. Kulvinder — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:34 pm  

    Just because YOU think they don’t exist, doesn’t mean that extensive studies on culture are wrong. Your argument is rubbish, as there’s way too many studies out there to prove you wrong.

    Link?? Im pretty much ready to laugh at anyone who says hey look ‘black culture’ (the Yoruba and bushmen of the Kalahari live the same way??), and im really interested in what they have to say about gays (and bis!!)

    But I am advocating for different regions of this country to have basic knowledge of the various cultures living in their regions to better serve their mental health needs.

    I doubt anyone is arguing against that (im certainly not).

  25. Jagdeep — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:37 pm  

    Ms_Xtreme, could you give me an example for which I ask in # 22? Thanks.

  26. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:39 pm  

    Well Jagdeep, bipolar disorder is usually diagnosed for rapid mood alterations. If a clinical therapist can’t differentiate between that and the numerous different anxiety disorders brought on by their cultural restrictions (usually ones they’re trying to break free from), it can be dangerous for them to start treatment of medication for something that’s not there. Anxiety has it’s own sub-groups.

  27. William — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:43 pm  

    In 1986 I started working for MIND West Midlands. Afterwards I also worked at a day centre in an area with a large black population. This was 21 years ago and it very obvious then and a major issue that black people were over represented in the mental health services. Why is it taking so long for investigations into why this is so and for something to be done about it.

    The study by the Institute of Psychiatry maybe at least could steer some direction to looking at wider causes. Of course it is a study by a group studying itself (psychiatry) but lets not be too skeptical.

    Black people do suffer from more fractured families, poor education, unemployment etc. These could have some wider connection to racism whether past or present. For example discrimination even if in the past could still have a psycholological/meaning effect on people which could leave a residue.

    Every community has a continuum of people with differing states of mental health from the sound and stable to the highly vulnerable. Is it possible that those who would be on the edge in one community be more easily pushed over if faced or affected by negative situations. Racism has negative human regard within it. The negative human regard can have spin offs in discriminatory behaviour which can limit someones potential again this can produce a pyschological effect. A large dose of this may have the effect of alienation. Could any of this be a possibility.

    The concept of institutional racism was itself sometimes problematic. Racism can exist in institutions. However there once was the analysis that if one person was racist then every other person was also. Was this productive and could it be counter productive in that members of the institution may become more prone to defensiveness. As well there be some situations where someone can be racist but blame it on the institution as an avoidance. I say this because there sometimes seemed to be a variety of situations concerning all this.

  28. Jagdeep — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:44 pm  

    Thanks Ms_Xtreme. Seems like complex waters though. Surely there’s a possibility of complete misdiagnosis by over emphasis on cultural factors? You’re talking about cause — but the cause is of secondary importance isnt it? The point is, they are depressed, and it doesnt matter if it’s because an Asian patient is facing family expectation pressure, which a white patient may not experience (and whose trigger will be something else entirely)

  29. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:47 pm  

    Coolvinder, sure enough. Unfortunately, this is a US based study once again (I can’t help it, I’m more American than British dammit).

    See there’s just too many studies to point all of them out. And you may be right, it may be a US issue only. But then again, that would mean that the UK is not culturally diverse.

  30. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 7:52 pm  

    You’re talking about cause — but the cause is of secondary importance isnt it?

    :\ No it bloody is not. If someone is raped at 5 or 6 in Afghanistan because bearded religious men want to get it on with lil boys (which is quite common there btw), the affect that the little boy will possibly be bipolar or even schizophrenic in the future is directly related to that.

    I don’t see your argument.

  31. Jagdeep — on 29th May, 2007 at 8:00 pm  

    Ms_Xtreme —- my point is that diagnosis is the main thing. The cause is a secondary concern. The primary concern is to get an accurate diagnosis. The manifestations and symptoms of bi-polar, or schizophrenia, for example, are surely identical, no matter what the race of the patient.

    The extraneous causes of the illness, the outside ‘event’, as it were, might be culturally specific. But is the difference in the external ‘event’ between a White, Black or Asian patient so intrinsic to the diagnosis of a serious mental illness at a clinical level? Surely the symptoms are the same.

  32. William — on 29th May, 2007 at 8:37 pm  

    Jagdeep

    Are we talking about treatment when we talk about accurate diagnosis. That is which drug to use etc in the short term. However this would not take away other factors in the long term such as social stuff etc.

    As well on TV a couple of years ago there was a documenatary about a black guy who was diagnosed as schizophrenic. A presenting sympton was that he thought he was white. The black guy was convinced he had white skin. He tried to appeal against his diagnosis on the grounds that he of course was white.
    At his appeal an Asian psychiatrist tried to convince his white psychiatrist that yes he has a delusion but it was not just any old delusion. In any case the guy lost his appeal and was put on heavy medication (which he dreaded) and which incapacitated him. The documentary showed him just lying around in a stupor for months. What pissed me off was the fact that the medical establishment just saw his problem in terms
    of

    Symptoms = delusion therefore get rid of symptoms.

    That is they did not consider the pain/suffering side of things. They considered less that the medication produced a lot of discomfort.

    As a disclaimer I am not against medication or psychiatry.

  33. Kulvinder — on 29th May, 2007 at 8:40 pm  

    But then again, that would mean that the UK is not culturally diverse.

    Lies :) It just means the post colonial immigration makes any ameri-centric notions of ethnicity redundant. In America ‘black people’ probably has some validity, in Britain the colour of someones skin is less important than the fact they’re from the caribbean or from Africa (as is evident in GCSE results). Even then immigrants from different parts of Africa aren’t alike. There is no black people. As a direct analogy the ‘asian population’ of britain isn’t homogeneous.

    Im also very skeptical that studies on homosexuality can carry over to the UK – let alone other places in Europe that are far more liberal with their sexuality.

  34. Jagdeep — on 29th May, 2007 at 10:39 pm  

    Sure William. But doesnt that come down to the whole debate over whether drugs are preferable to other therapies as much as cultural issues in the treatment and diagnosis of the illness.

  35. Ms_Xtreme — on 29th May, 2007 at 10:43 pm  

    Jagdeep, and some cultures don’t believe in medicinal treatments. Hell, some cultures don’t support the idea of mental health full stop.

    Kulvinder, where you going with this mate? I believe that your assumption that institutional racism doesn’t exist is based on your own experience. Others will disagree. To each their own.

  36. Benedict White — on 30th May, 2007 at 12:22 am  

    Re 32, William, I don’t think medication is good for delusion unless the delusion leads to danger. I can’t see danger in the case you mention.

    Further, I don’t think medication to the point of incapacitation is helpful either.

    Re 33, Kulvinder, good points. There is no black race, nor is there an Indian, Asian or Pakistani one, as such, as each “group” is in actual fact a collection of subgroups, with a variety of cultures.

  37. Sunny — on 30th May, 2007 at 1:12 am  

    Ms Extrme: I believe that your assumption that institutional racism doesn’t exist is based on your own experience. Others will disagree. To each their own.

    Not to deny there is some systematic problem and exclusion in certain institutions but I think the main Kulvinder is makking, and I agree with, is that ‘cultural connection’ is very difficult.

    A black guy comes in for example. He is also Muslim and also Somalian. Are you going to get a black Carribean doctor to talk to him? Or an imam? Or someone from Somalia? What if its a mixture of those identities that matter? The whole system will soon get out of control right? To a certain extent its the families and local communities who themselves should take more responsibility. I’d say the local Gurudwara or Mosque should have its provision where volunteers can help… or maybe local community centres.

  38. Kismet Hardy — on 30th May, 2007 at 10:43 am  

    My brother is a paranoid schizophrenic. He thinks all doctors are placed there by the devil but, I’m sad to report, he does have a huge issue with black doctors. I’ve asked him about it. They look like demons apparently. He prefers white, blonde female doctors. Angels, I guess. Sad really

  39. emmanuelgoldstein — on 30th May, 2007 at 12:20 pm  

    Kulvinder, Benedict,

    You both assume that race must be real (i.e. biologically-grounded) if claims about harm &c are going to get off the ground.

    Here’s an analogy (swiped from Appiah’s In My Father’s House): there are no witches, but this did not stop women from being burnt at the stake.

    All that’s required for racialisation to happen is the belief that race is real (or that it’s important, even if not real). People who know full well that genetic variation in African populations is greater than genetic variation in comparable populations elsewhere are quite happy to assume the homogeneity of people of visibly sub-Saharan ancestry in other (‘social’?) contexts. The biological notion of race is not what’s doing the work here. Since racialisation does not depend on the success of a biologial notion of race, the inconsistency of a biological notion of race doesn’t refute the claims of those who charge that institutional racism exists.

  40. soru — on 30th May, 2007 at 1:13 pm  

    @emmanuelgoldstein:

    What it does do is make ‘institutional racism’ a badly-chosen label for the issue. ‘Institutional bias’ would be better: people can be racist, institutions can be biased.

    Some institutions need to be universal, acknowledged by all citizens. In order to help with that, they should be as unbiased as possible. Key institutions can be unacceptably biased without anyone involved being unusually or culpably prejudiced. It doesn’t make any difference to the acceptability of the situation whether the groups biased against are racial, genetic, religious or sexual or whatever.

    With that distinction, you wouldn’t get the stifling effect on discussion that the original article is complaining about, the argument that ‘if you don’t agree with this assessment of the situation, you are personally supporting a racist system, and so personally racist’.

  41. Ms_Xtreme — on 30th May, 2007 at 5:52 pm  

    The whole point of having culturally competent physicians is so they can better understand the surrounding factors that affect one’s mental health. For instance, unless a white British doctor has studied the asian culture, he won’t possibly understand why it’s so difficult for a male or female to breakaway from an arranged marriage. He won’t understand the role that the family and community plays in their marriage.

    Again, most mental health issues are brought on by someone’s cultural restrictions, gender inequality, childhood trauma. If someone doesn’t understand these cultural restrictions that affect the individual, how can they help them?

    At least in mental health, I think being culturally competent towards the needs of their region’s inhabitants is vital. I don’t see any negatives with the process.

  42. Muhamad — on 30th May, 2007 at 6:15 pm  

    “the inconsistency of a biological notion of race doesn’t refute the claims of those who charge that institutional racism exists.” emmanuelgoldstein.

    I concur.

  43. Kulvinder — on 30th May, 2007 at 7:19 pm  

    emmanuelgoldstein @39; sorry i don’t understand what point you’re trying to make.

  44. William — on 30th May, 2007 at 7:39 pm  

    Ms_Xtreme

    ” For instance, unless a white British doctor has studied the asian culture, he won’t possibly understand why it’s so difficult for a male or female to breakaway from an arranged marriage. He won’t understand the role that the family and community plays in their marriage. ”

    There can also be lack of understanding within the culture itself. A few years ago someone I know broke away from an abusive marriage. They were Asian and female and recounted the situation to a female Asian doctor. By her account the doctor was very dismissive talking as if she should’ve put up and stayed put. Her own cultural pressures?. This person was very upset about the dismissiveness of this doctor.

  45. Ms_Xtreme — on 30th May, 2007 at 8:20 pm  

    Aye William, I’m not saying that other factors are not just as important (such as the mental capacity of the doctor – lol). All I’m saying is that helping in the smallest ways will make a huge difference on how services are delivered. Mental Health Act Commission did a great study (may not work so http://www.mhac.org.uk/Pages/documents/race_equality/NVsummary.pdf) on the acute mental health treatment centres in England and Wales.

    Being culturally competent doesn’t mean the doctors have to prance around in saris, it means to be sensitive to consumer ethnic needs. Enhancing cultural awareness of front line staff and providing interpreter training (the US has got it going on with this – btw I’ve taken this training.)

    Anyhow, it may not be institutional racism, but institutional negligence or oversight.

  46. emmanuelgoldstein — on 30th May, 2007 at 9:06 pm  

    Soru,

    Key institutions can be unacceptably biased without anyone involved being unusually or culpably prejudiced.

    I made a similar point upthread.

    You’re quite right: instituional racism does sound harsh, and it may be somewhat misleading (by carrying implying that the disparate effect is a result of conscious intent). It’s a handy label though, and slightly less cumbersome than others. Shall we assume that there’s no claim of intent being made when I use the term?

    Kulvinder,

    I’m just arguing that institutional racism is possible even if there are no races. So, even if your argument that there are no races is sound, it doesn’t follow that there are is no institutional racism. Hence the witch analogy.

  47. Kulvinder — on 30th May, 2007 at 10:57 pm  

    So, even if your argument that there are no races is sound,

    Erm what? I didn’t say that anywhere, the existence of races has nothing to do with what i was trying to argue. Regardless of how you define ‘races’ id take it as given there were different cultures within them.

    But anyway my point was that i find the usage of the term ‘institutional racism’ nonsensical. If the problem is the institution, which obviously means the policies, procedures or structure of that ‘place’, it should be changed. If the problem is the individual(s) they should be replaced.

    The term insitutional racism tries to have it both ways, people who use it don’t want to directly blame individuals as they’d have difficulty justifying their opinions (except in the most obvious cases ie this teacher/doctor/constable is a nazi); so they blame the institution but without specifying what it is about the institution that is ‘wrong’. Its essentially an oxymoron to me.

    So in the NASA example i gave, a shuttle blows up because of institutional racism. Well does that mean safety policies need to be re-written because they were inherently flawed (an institutional failure) or does it mean Person A was a racist who didn’t follow the policies??? (the institution is fine the individual is culpable).

    The hodge podge answer IR comes out with is, ‘well no individual is to blame, and no policies/procedures were at fault, but theres this racism out there somewhere in the ether’

    I’d be willing to accept the existence of an ad-hoc ‘culture’ in one school/office/surgery that was harmful – for instance your friends architectural example, but if you’re arguing that that exists in all architectural offices everywhere (which would be the analogy with NHS/DoE etc) i want to know why.

    IR as a concept doesn’t allow what id consider proper empiricism (the problem is X, do Y to solve it) because it doesn’t say anything. Racism just ‘exists’ in the ether of the institution.

    That kind of thinking is attractive as it avoids having to confront people about their habits, but it does more harm to them than good. In my opinion there should be a greater or at least equal emphasis on the way ‘groups’ act rather than just the way they’re treated. To do otherwise is to patronise them with a false sense of security as they get worse.

    I don’t think the ‘above average’ existence of diabetes in the asian community is to do with institutional racism within the NHS; i think its to do with the fact asians eat lots and lots of sugary things (some sweets are little more than sugar)

    I don’t think the ‘above average’ existence of mental health issues in black men is to do with institutional racism within the NHS; i think its probably linked to things like the prevalence of smoking marijuana.

    I don’t think certain demographics of students (black/white/asian/whatever) are doing worse than the average because their teachers are vicious racists or because the education system is against them but because a culture of anti-intellectualism exists.

    It does more harm to pick problems out of the ether that aren’t really definable and hold them up on billboards than it does to confront (no matter how uncomfortable) the actions of the person you’re trying to help.

  48. Kulvinder — on 30th May, 2007 at 11:05 pm  

    Key institutions can be unacceptably biased without anyone involved being unusually or culpably prejudiced.

    How? What does that mean? What specifically makes that bias exist across the entire institution. The only thing linking a group of individuals who work in that institution is the policies they follow, if the policies are the problem change them. If you aren’t advocating changing something about institution then how are you linking together all the workers?

  49. Kulvinder — on 30th May, 2007 at 11:08 pm  

    edit you could argue all the workers are inherently racist/biased, but then you’d need to justify that somehow. I don’t believe britain is ‘omg racist’ and the relative lack of penetration from the far right is pretty much an indication of that.

  50. William — on 30th May, 2007 at 11:11 pm  

    Kulvinder

    “IR as a concept doesn’t allow what id consider proper empiricism (the problem is X, do Y to solve it) because it doesn’t say anything. Racism just ‘exists’ in the ether of the institution.”

    well put

  51. Ramiie — on 30th May, 2007 at 11:20 pm  

    Kulvinder is the only poster I know who isn’t ashamed to tell the entire world know that he doesn’t think deeply, or a lot.

  52. Kulvinder — on 30th May, 2007 at 11:23 pm  

    Kulvinder is the only poster I know who isn’t ashamed to tell the entire world know that he doesn’t think deeply, or a lot.

    ‘putting across an argument rather than resorting to derogatory name calling’

  53. Rumbold — on 31st May, 2007 at 12:36 am  

    “Kulvinder is the only poster I know who isn’t ashamed to tell the entire world know that he doesn’t think deeply, or a lot.”

    You are too modest Ramiie; you left yourself out.

  54. soru — on 31st May, 2007 at 1:06 am  

    What specifically makes that bias exist across the entire institution?

    A straightforward example is if the normal route to a job in a profession is a year or two working unpaid, to ‘show willing’, with only the top third of the people who do that getting a permanent post.

    Noone involved in running that system hates poor people, everyone is acting individualy rationally: who would turn away free and motivated workers? But not many financially insecure people will end up working in that industry.

    If that industry is some random widget-bashing thing with no particular cultural significance, that’s no big deal. Noone is suggesting, say, equal opportunities for burkha-wearing models.

    But if that industry is a key part of running the country, one that can dampen or stir civil unrest, then bias is a problem.

    If you aren’t advocating changing something about institution then how are you linking together all the workers?

    That’s the point: if there is avoidable bias, then, everything else being equal, it’s a good thing if policies are changed so that bias goes away.

  55. Kulvinder — on 31st May, 2007 at 1:44 am  

    A straightforward example is…

    Sorry your analogy completely missed me

    That’s the point: if there is avoidable bias, then, everything else being equal, it’s a good thing if policies are changed so that bias goes away.

    I agree, but how many examples of ‘racially biased policies‘ can you name, or you can even remember being named? Aren’t the police following PACE wrt minorities? In the mental health example what policy or procedure are they following that leads to the tag of IR?

    There probably was a time when the way certain institutions behaved was biased or outright bigoted but i just don’t see credible evidence of that existing now. From my pov if you accept trying to tie down IR is like trying to conjure up demons from thin air then all things being equal the problem isn’t with the institution but with the people its trying to treat, and there is nothing ‘bad’ about saying that.

    Far from wanting to finger wag at those who need help im simply pointing out that the first step in dealing with something is accepting a problem exists. Instead of doing that IR conjures up this bias in the institution without really defining it all the while the people you’re trying to help aren’t getting any better.

  56. John — on 31st May, 2007 at 4:03 pm  

    I agree with this completely, thanks for the post.

  57. Ramiie — on 31st May, 2007 at 7:12 pm  

    The problem Kulvinder is that you put across derogatory arguments, you stock in trade.

  58. Kulvinder — on 31st May, 2007 at 7:34 pm  

    Perhaps you should go to blogs that say what you like.

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