Structural Racism


The complex system by which racism is developed, maintained and protected is often referred to as structural racism. The term was developed in part to help people working towards racial equity emphasize the idea that racism in society is a system, with a clear structure, and with multiple components. Per the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, a group doing important work to help others understand structural racism, “the term structural racism refers to a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity….the structural racism lens allows us to see that, as a society, we more or less take for granted a context of white leadership, dominance, and privilege. This dominant consensus on race is the frame that shapes our attitudes and judgments about social issues. It has come about as a result of the way that historically accumulated white privilege, national values, and contemporary culture have interacted so as to preserve the gaps between white Americans and Americans of color." The term structural racialization has also become popular more recently (See Dr. john a. powell’s work). The idea of racialization is being used for two reasons. First, to avoid some of the negative response to the term “racism,” and second, to emphasize the processes by which institutions and systems create and maintain racism – not, at this point, the actions of individual people acting out of their own individual, conscious racism.

This section also includes resources on “systems thinking.” Systems thinking can also help people to understand why changes in multiple sectors are likely to be required to make genuinely sustainable progress towards racial equity in a particular sphere, such as education, health or economic security. It can thus help identify both entry points for change and links among those entry points.

Systems Thinking

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