Protests have been taking place all over the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, who died in police custody after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on his neck for minutes on end during his arrest.
The demonstrations are being held both in memory of George Floyd, and to make a statement against the systemic racism which many people feel is prevalent in society today.
If you’re looking to educate yourself on the matter, here’s what you need to know about the meaning of systemic racism.
What is systemic racism?
Systemic racism, aka institutional racism, is racism on a grand scale – present in political and societal organisations.
It describes when racism becomes so ingrained, it’s seen as ‘normal’.
The term ‘institutional racism’ first came about in 1967 when it was used by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in Black Power: The Politics of Liberation.
It entered the British vocabulary in the Macpherson report which examined the killing of Stephen Lawrence, who died in 1997 in a racist attack.
The report defined the term as: ‘The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.
‘It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’.
On the Centre for Crime and Justice website, Dr Jules Holroyd, Assistant Philosophy Professor at the University of Nottingham, wrote on the subject of institutional racism: ‘Implicit racial bias isn’t just a matter of “a few bad apples” but rather a matter of widespread automatic and implicit associations that can affect the way even fair minded policies are implemented.’
A paper on Race and Policing in England and Wales published by Runnymede – an independent race equality thinktank – in 2015 said on the subject: ‘Systemic and institutional racism persists in policing despite its recognition in the Macpherson Report more than fifteen years ago.
‘In Britain, black and minority ethnic people are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system at every level, from arrests to stop and search, to imprisonment, to deaths in custody.
‘Successive governments’ counter-terrorism policies have resulted in racial profiling and over-policing of Muslim and Asian communities, and have fed a pervasive Islamophobia now affecting British and other European societies.’
When it comes to what happened to George Floyd, demonstrators believe that his death is yet more proof that systemic racism persists in law enforcement and society as a whole, and many individuals and organisations have spoken out on the matter.
In a powerful statement, ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s wrote: ‘The murder of George Floyd was the result of inhumane police brutality that is perpetuated by a culture of white supremacy,’
The statement went on: ‘What happened to George Floyd was not the result of a bad apple; it was the predictable consequence of a racist and prejudiced system and culture that has treated Black bodies as the enemy from the beginning.’
At a demonstration in Hyde Park, Star Wars actor John Boyega gave a speech saying: ‘I need you to understand how painful this sh*t is. I need you to understand how painful it is to be reminded every day that your race means nothing and that isn’t the case anymore, that was never the case anymore.’