Institutionalized discrimination

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Institutionalized discrimination refers to the unjust and discriminatory mistreatment of an individual or group of individuals by society and its institutions as a whole, through unequal selection or bias, intentional or unintentional; as opposed to individuals making a conscious choice to discriminate. It stems from systemic stereotypical beliefs (such as sexist or racist beliefs) that are held by the vast majority living in a society where stereotypes and discrimination are the norm (see institutionalized racism).[1] Such discrimination is typically codified into the operating procedures, policies, laws, or objectives of such institutions. Members of minority groups such as populations of African descent in the U.S. or members of the LGBT community, are at a much higher risk of encountering these types of sociostructural disadvantage. Among the severe and long-lasting detrimental effects of institutionalized discrimination on affected populations are increased suicide rates, suppressed attainment of wealth and decreased access to health care.


Examples of institutionalized discrimination include laws and decisions that reflect racism, such as the Plessy vs. Ferguson U.S. Supreme Court case. The verdict of this case ruled in favor of separate but equal public facilities between African Americans and non-African Americans. This ruling was struck down by the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Institutionalized discrimination often exists within the government, though it can also occur in any other type of social institution including religion, education and marriage. Achievement gaps in education per se are an example of institutionalized discrimination. Two recent studies aimed to explain the complications of assessing educational progress within the United States. One study focused on high school graduation rates, whereas the other study compared dropout rates in suburban and urban schools. By taking a closer look at statistics of test scores and academic achievement, researchers noticed that wealthy whites do better than blacks, poor whites, and Latinos. According to Star Parker, reporter of the Durham Herald Sun, graduation rates among whites and Asians are about 25 percent higher than those of minority groups (blacks, Hispanics, American Indians). This signifies that academic achievement is linked to socioeconomic status.[2]

Spillover Effects

Institutionalized discrimination also exists in institutions aside from the government such as religion, education and marriage among many other. Routines that encourage the selection over one individual over another such as hiring only people you know for a job or making selections based on seniority are both examples of institutionalized discrimination. This phenomenon occurs unintentionally at times. In the article “Discrimination and Affirmative Action”, Dr. Jan Garrett gives the example of a boss who requests his employees to recommend any individuals who are qualified for a job in the corporation. The employees will probably automatically think of someone close to them, often of the same race and ethnic group and gender. A hiring decision such as this has the potential to perpetuate racial and gender inequality in the workplace. Because the employees and the employer probably do not even consider race or gender being an issue in hiring, their discrimination is unintentional.[3]

Thomas Shapiro’s The Hidden Cost of Being African American addresses many of the problems faced by African Americans in the United States and how their current social and economic situations compare to one another. These issues include the racial wealth gap between blacks and whites, assets and education. One chapter spends a significant amount of discussion focusing on why people choose to live where they live. Sociologist James Jasper argues Americans tend to identify with those about is in status because that is how we want to see ourselves, and that moving to a different, better neighborhood is linked to status. Where one lives also depends where their children attend school. About 50 percent of educational funding comes from property taxes. Problems arise when individuals are not able to achieve the “American Dream” because they run into institutional barriers in which they cannot control.

A major barrier in social equality for the United States is residential segregation. Housing in the United States is valued differently based on the racial makeup of the neighborhood. There can be two identical houses in terms of amenities and size but the value of each house depends on the racial makeup of the people within the community. Once about 20 percent of the homeowners in a neighborhood are black, in two years, the entire neighborhoods will be black. This phenomenon occurs because of tactics like blockbusting, a method where real estate agents survey white homeowners in an area. After persuading them that the neighborhood is about to be infiltrated by a minority community the homeowners will leave the area. This is called white flight. Institutionalized discrimination exists within the actual housing system, including redlining and mortgage discrimination.[4]


Some cities and towns are taking matters into their own hands to address the issue of institutionalized discrimination. The Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities has developed a plan to fight institutionalized discrimination in the Mebane, North Carolina area, and included minorities in local planning that have historically been excluded rendering them insufficient police and fire protection. Their land values are lower than others leading to zoning for schools and other related issues. Since community boundaries are not visible, a mapping process from the Geographical Information System (GIS) divides it. It combines several types of information into a single picture. The base map is physical features (roads, city limits, county boundaries) onto which other variables (e.g. race, income, water service, etc.). If needed, the processing system can also show other types of economic variables to draw conclusions about the area. Once the individuals begin to understand this information and realize what is happening to them, they have the power to hold the government accountable and can fight back against the institutionalized discrimination.[5]

See also


  1. Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M. (2010). Social Psychology (7th edition). New York: Pearson.
  2. Parker, Star (2008-04-15), Profiles in Education, Durham Herald<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Garrett, Jan (2008-04-23). "Discrimination and Affirmative Action". Western Kentucky University. Retrieved 2008-04-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Shapiro, Thomas (2004), The Hidden Cost of Being African American, Oxford University Press<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Cedar Grove Institute for Sustainable Communities. "Fighting Institutionalized Discrimination and Exclusion of Minorities". Retrieved 2008-04-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>