What does it mean to be racist? For a person, it would mean having various prejudiced sentiments and a belief that one race is superior to another race. But what does it mean for an institution to be racist? While an institution does not have a personality and is made up of a group of people, institutional racism goes beyond the characteristics of the people who work in the institution. Institutional racism means that the institution itself is based on an ideology that is racist; this ideology comes from years and years of entrenched racist beliefs and attitudes among those who empower the institution. The racism becomes so ingrained that it becomes part of the institution's identity.
Some would argue that institutional racism is in fact the more common and embedded form of racism in the United States. It is forever ingrained in the Constitution of the United States of America that many white Americans used to own black Americans. Despite this ugly reminder of white supremacy in this country, very few people think of themselves as racist. However, various institutions have been around longer than people who are alive today; these institutions have racist ideologies entrenched in them. One of these institutions is the United States Census; since 1790, the U.S. Census has counted all people in America for the purpose of determining political representation on a federal, state and local level. The Census used to be an outwardly racist institution; it counted African Americans as three-fifths of a person and in doing so embraced a white supremacist ideology.
[...] The racist policies in law enforcement and the criminal justice system are the initial causes of urban minority disenfranchisement and work together with the Census rule. However, it is the Census policy that is the direct cause of the disempowerment of urban minority districts. The third chapter will examine the history of the U.S. Census and look at alternative explanations for why the Census policy of counting prisoners still exists. The Census is aware that the “residence rule” is controversial. [...]
[...] One can trace the effects of the Census rule back to the racism that is entrenched in these government institutions. Even if the policymakers that currently run law enforcement and judicial agencies are not racist, the racism from earlier generations was so pervasive that it became an inherent aspect of these government institutions. Lynne Zucker, a theorist of institutions, argues that as institutions grow, an element of “cultural persistence” becomes embedded in the institution, cultural persistence, transmission from one generation to the next must occur, with the degree of generational uniformity directly related to the degree of institutionalization.” During the 1970s, when law enforcement entities, the court system and the prison industry saw a massive growth in power, the policymakers at these institutions were racist. [...]
[...] If new regulations force institutions within the criminal justice system to change their practices of targeting minorities because they do not work, institutional racism will become less of a problem. If new strategies are implemented, then the negative effects of the Census rule that stem from prisoners coming from predominantly minority urban areas will diminish. Thomas C. Holt, The Problem of Race in the 21st Century, p. 20; Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA Katherine Beckett, Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics, p. [...]
[...] This thesis will argue that the Census policy of counting prisoners has these consequences and exists today because of racism still present in the Census and in criminal justice institutions. Thomas C. Holt questions how racism can remain present in these institutions even if the racist people are no longer involved in the institutions; he asks, “what enables racism to reproduce itself even after the historical conditions that initially gave it life have disappeared?” One might assume that once racist people lose power, or evolve and change their racist attitudes, racism will no longer be a problem in the United States. [...]
[...] In analyzing the economic effects of having prisons in rural areas, Tracy Huling discusses how certain districts can use prisoners for the redistribution of state funds. Because prisoners earn little or no money, they can lower the median income for certain rural districts and make the rural districts (as opposed to the urban districts where the prisoners actually come from) eligible for more federal funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is also well documented that a prison record significantly hampers one's ability to get a job. [...]
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