Institutional and Individual Racism

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According to Jorge L. A. Garcia, we view racism as a malicious, racially based disregard for the welfare of certain people. He describes it simply and specifically as a hatred for another’s wellness, due to their race. Viewing racism in this way fundamentally concerns the “heart” of the racist, referring to his or her sentiments and attitudes. He believes that racism as an act is racist to the extent that a racist heart corrupts the absolute manner of the racist. An institution, on the other hand, is racist to the degree that it is founded and established with racist attitudes that produces racist-infected thoughts and actions presented by its originators or fellow supporters.

Furthermore when viewing racism in this way, Garcia suggests that this connection and their intentions, clarifies why racism is always immoral. He further explains that it’s immorality originates from being against the virtues of benevolence and justice towards a specific race. This could mean that one might not feel hatred for someone, but merely indifferent. Exclusively from a third-persons perspective, an understanding of someone’s beliefs about race is necessary for determining whether their ill-will is racial or not.

Likewise, he also states that the definition of racism must include that racism is inheritably wrong. Throughout time, the meaning and use of racism has changed. Garcia states that many respected individuals such as Mills and Flew have changed their definitions and conception of racism over time. This can become problematic as it is important to have a clear conception of racism in mind as we need to know its core principles before we can truly decide if it is definitively immoral or not. As racism is generally widely accepted to be immoral already, having a clear conception is important in order to rectify racism and rid it's immoral nature from our society.

When looking deeper into Garcia’s precise interpretations of racism, his account is based off of four main characteristics: (1) volitional, (2) virtue ethical, (3) non-doxastic, and (4) individualistic. Garcia justifies his volitional theory of racism, as it is done of one’s own free will. One’s racist acts are done of one’s own free will and done intentionally, with the inability to “hide behind” other misinterpreted meanings (since they are done purposefully). It is important to be able to understand how a volitional racist expresses himself so that we can identify their actions on the basis of ill will towards others. This allows us to be able to call an act or situation racist. Garcia declares that racism is virtue ethical as racist individuals are not naturally born racist. They have been brought up to believe in racist beliefs and therefore their natural “pure heart” has been corrupted. Racism is thought to be non-doxastic as it is not necessarily concerning the beliefs and truths of a particular individual or distinct race, but further regarding their feelings and motivations. Garcia’s last account states that racism arises and stems from the individual. He believes the institution or system can inclusively drive racist policies, however those racist policies all originate from the individuals who created and/or run the institution. Racism can spread from individual hearts to inevitably contaminate institutions with their opinions, deliberations, and actions.

With this in mind, Garcia discusses that institutional racism instigates when racism spreads from the heart of individual people to institutions. Therefore, institutional racism initiates from social groups or individuals who control behavioral norms. These customs support ignorant racist views and actions merely because of someone’s skin color, culture background, or ethnic origin.

In particular, the most notable example of institutional racism in the United States is arguably Slavery. This manifestation began in the colonies in 1619 when the first boat of slaves arrived in Virginia. The process of discrimination started modestly and quickly progressed from the people as they actively purchased and traded slaves. States then slowly started to recognize this evident practice - legalizing it in each colony, and entirely institutionalizing nearby states as the interest in Slavery spread across the borders.

Similar to Garcia, Tommie Shelby and Charles Mills have other distinctive verdicts on the philosophical discussion topic of Racism, specifically Garcia’s volitional account. Shelby reflects on Garcia’s volitional account, and states that this account of racism is wrong. Shelby does not believe that racist beliefs themselves are both necessary and sufficient to be racist. One does not need to necessarily be intentionally partaking in racist acts to be racist. In Shelby’s article, Is Racism in the “Heart”?, Shelby goes over the example where a young woman was brought up learning that African Americans are “naturally violent, irresponsible, and indolent.” Even with these beliefs, she doesn’t hold any ill will towards African Americans as she believes that it is in their very nature and justly not their wrongdoing. However, as she matures and ages, these beliefs affect her perceptive on discrimination as a juror, hiring or giving out loans against African Americans - even though she has no ill will in her decision making. Her choices may all have good intentions as she believes she is doing good in distributing justice and making financially responsible decisions for her company, where no ill will is considered in her decisions.

According to Garcia, this woman is not a racist as she had a “pure heart” and no ill will towards the African Americans she discriminated against. However, Shelby continues disagreeing with Garcia’s sentiment. He says that he does not recognize how these circumstances are not considered racist, as her beliefs are the overall cause for these discriminations. These biases should be ethically racist as her decisions appropriated race as a definite factor in her decision making. Racism, according to Shelby, is a widespread belief that delivers oppression to a certain race. It is stated that racist beliefs are both necessary and sufficient for racism; racism is all in the mind, not in the heart.

Surely while racial ill-will is a defining characteristic of racism, it does not solely define the concept. As Charles Mills argues in his critique of Garcia, “Heart Attack”, racism largely depends on one’s situation and the context. He provides 6 statements of ill-will to prove his point. They all focus on the aspect of race, but differ in their purpose or meaning. The odd numbered statements say things like “All white people (at all times and places) are bad”, while the even numbered statements voice that “White people (at this time and place) are bad.” This makes them easily distinguishable. The odd statements reflect ill-will without consideration for that group or the situation, whereas even numbered statements show ill-will or distaste based on time, location, situation, and other influences. It is all based on the context! For example, if someone says “All white people at the airport are rude”, there is no sufficient evidence to support that, as it is lucidly bias. This may easily be viewed as racist. On the other hand, if an individual declares “All white people gather at this particular venue for a Klu Klux Klan meeting”, they noticeably have better evidence to back up their statement. They are also speaking about a precise group of white people, as opposed to the entire white population. Based on this insight, it can easily be argued that two of Mills’ examples do not show racist intent. These include his fourth statement, which shows distaste for a particular group because of their racial socialization, and his sixth statement which is aiming to punish guilty individuals of racial crimes.

After profoundly considering these different views, racism to me, is thought of as any type of discriminatory ignorance and misplaced hatred towards another that possesses a particular skin color or ethnicity. Any belligerent verbal usage, physical bias, or any other forms of prejudice against someone constructed on the belief that their race is inferior, is deemed inequitable. Institutional and individual racial deliberations do not originate from the heart, but otherwise can spread others or arise from immoral situations.

The thought that one individual is not born a racist, but is taught, generally elucidates that racist-minded people are not essentially born with the sense of hatred, but are raised to distrust, form stereotypes, and follow the prejudice that is shown around them. Garcia’s claim that racism is virtue ethical correlates with this, as these individuals have been raised or taught to believe in racist beliefs. Not to mention when reflecting on Garcia’s claim that institutional racism begins from an individual, this is a similar process from what he describes. In this case, racial discriminations are brought up and passed from other individuals or shown first-hand through society.

Through families, individuals or society, patent bias can be taught through actions and words which inevitably lead to acts of intentional or accidental racism. Contrasting Garcia’s volitional account, one of Shelby’s main views discusses how racism can both result from intentional or nonintentional doings. One can communicate a racial misuse, verbal slur, or engage in an act of discrimination without realizing or having the intention to propose racial tenacities. Some societies are raised in customs that are taught certain prejudices are completely moral, whereas others may see this as discrimination and therefore have an issue with their acts. Since racism as a whole is a very wide topic, there are many different understandings of what truly is seen as immoral or acceptable. As Shelby approves, one does not need to necessarily be intentionally partaking in racist acts to be racist.

On the other hand, some are certainly raised appropriately without the use of racism. There is a notion that racial opinions could possibly develop from a situation. An event in an individuals’ life may, in a sense, trigger racial thoughts or beliefs. For example, if the life of a woman’s baby is taken by a person of a certain race, she may begin to fear and have enormous amounts of hatred for not only that person, but their race as well. I feel that this is very rare, but is sure to happen amongst some people regarding their situations. This can be explained through Mills’ statements reflecting ill-will and it’s influences as everything is all based on the context it is put into.

Throughout the years, judgements of what is actually deliberated as racism has dramatically increased. Many situations that occur in today’s society are misjudged and are considered racist, when it truthfully is not the case. In most of these instances, it is to receive attention or blame the person of whom they are being disrespectful towards. We see videos that go viral and stories all over social media between Police Officers and African Americans in most cases of which something has occurred and the officer has to take the man or woman away with them. They accuse the officer who is solely doing their job, of being racist and the video streams online. Instead of accepting the issue and abiding with the officer, bringing up their own race is many times the resort of taking attention off of themselves and blaming the wrongdoing on the officer. Of course this is only one example, and does not taken into consideration the many things that are missed off camera. Certainly in some cases there are racist officers, but in many cases the racial context in which the African American is accusing, is false. This example entirely associates and well represents Garcia’s non-doxastic account of racism.

Consequently, institutional and individual racism are expressed in opposing and diverse ways from many scholarly individuals such as Garcia, Shelby, and Mills. Racism is unjust no matter what race is being targeted, what context is being used, whether it is taught from others or society, or whether it is intentional or not. Discrimination can spread from individual hearts to inevitably contaminate people and institutions with their opinions, deliberations, and actions. Racism will always remain immoral whether it arises from individuals or institutions.

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Institutional and Individual Racism. (2019, Feb 05). Retrieved February 26, 2024 , from

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