Meaning & Definition
Systemic discrimination, also known as systemic racism or institutional discrimination, refers to a pattern or practice of discrimination that is embedded within the policies, procedures, practices, and structures of organizations, institutions, or societies. This type of discrimination is not necessarily the result of overt or intentional bias by individuals but rather the unintended or hidden consequences of institutional processes and norms that disproportionately disadvantage certain groups based on characteristics like race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or other protected attributes.
Key characteristics of systemic discrimination include:
- Structural Inequality
Systemic discrimination is rooted in systemic and structural inequalities that create disadvantages for certain groups in areas such as education, employment, criminal justice, housing, and healthcare.
- Reinforcement of Inequities
Systemic discrimination tends to reinforce existing inequities, making it difficult for marginalized groups to overcome the disadvantages they face. This can create a cycle of disadvantage that persists over generations.
- Implicit Bias
While individual actors within these systems may not intentionally discriminate, systemic discrimination often occurs because of implicit or unconscious bias, where decisions and practices unintentionally favor certain groups over others.
- Disproportionate Impact
Systemic discrimination results in disproportionate harm or disadvantages experienced by certain communities or groups. For example, it may lead to racial disparities in arrests, sentencing, or access to quality education.
Examples of systemic discrimination include:
- Institutional Racism
When policies, practices, and laws within institutions, such as criminal justice, education, or healthcare, disproportionately harm racial and ethnic minority groups. This can manifest in disparities in arrest rates, incarceration rates, access to quality education, and healthcare outcomes.
- Gender Discrimination
Gender bias can be embedded in institutions and organizations, leading to disparities in pay, hiring, promotion, and workplace policies that disproportionately affect women and other gender-diverse groups.
- Disability Discrimination
Systemic discrimination can be seen in the lack of accessibility or accommodations in public facilities, workplaces, and transportation, making it challenging for individuals with disabilities to fully participate in society.
Efforts to address systemic discrimination often require systemic change, including policy reforms, changes to institutional practices, awareness, and education programs, and addressing implicit biases within organizations. It also involves recognizing and dismantling the underlying structures and norms that perpetuate discrimination. These efforts are part of broader movements for social justice and equity.