Length: 6:05; 3:27
Year: 2003; 2010
Access: YouTube (clip 1; clip 2)
Summary: Institutional discrimination occurs where the practices and policies of an institution systematically benefit one group at the expense of another. The concept relies on the insight that individuals act and make decisions within an institutional context, and that even where explicit racism is difficult to identify, the rules, norms, and common sense associated with institutions may lead individuals—even well-meaning ones—to systematically deny opportunities and equal rights to minorities. When trying to explain the topic of institutional racism, it is useful to recall the history of redlining in the United States, which refers to the practice of appraising real estate differently based on the racial makeup of the communities within which the real estate sits. The first clip above comes from the documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion, and features a concise explanation of the practice. Sociologist Melvin Oliver explains that "those communities that were all white, suburban, and far away from minority areas, they received the highest rating (from federal investigators of the National Appraisal System), and that was the color green. Those communities that were all minority, or in the process of changing, they got the lowest rating and the color red. They were redlined." Redlining is a form of institutional discrimination because the institutional mechanism of differentially valuing property based on race actually patterns the way individuals act. In other words, whites come to perceive a financial interest in keeping people of color out of predominantly white neighborhoods, and with the reasonable assumption that white neighbors may not be welcoming, people of color may avoid looking for homes in white neighborhoods from the very start. In yet another example of the way institutions pattern discriminatory behavior, real estate agents have been observed steering African American couples from white neighborhoods, as is dramatized in the second clip posted above. Thus to a naïve observer who imagines discrimination and racism to simply be a matter of individual grievances and irrational choices, it may appear that people have simply chosen to live among others of the same race, but in fact, this self-segregating behavior is the result of an institutional context. (Note that this is the second post on The Sociological Cinema that features a clip from Race: The Power of an Illusion).
Submitted By: Lester Andrist