Different kinds of racism and anti-racism

Individual, Institutional, Structural and Systemic Racism: Know the Difference!!

We hear these terms all the time, let’s break them down. 

Individual racism:
Individual racism refers to the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate racism. Individual racism can be deliberate, or the individual may act to perpetuate or support racism without knowing that is what he or she is doing.


• Telling a racist joke, using a racial epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of whites over other groups
• Avoiding people of color whom you do not know personally, but not whites whom you do not know personally (like crossing the street when you see a Black person walking towards you but not doing the same with a white person);
• Using Blackface


Institutional racism:
Institutional racism refers specifically to the ways in which institutional policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. The institutional policies may never mention any racial group, but their effect is to create advantages for whites and oppression and disadvantage for people from groups classified as people of color.

• “Redlining” and gentrification.
• City sanitation department policies that concentrate trash transfer stations and other environmental hazards disproportionately in communities of color.
• The way that what is considered the literary “canon” is exclusively white (and male), invisibilizing the work of many People of Colour who were writing quality works at the same time.


Systemic racism:
System-wide discrimination and prejudice based on race. Examples of systemic racism include slavery, felony disenfranchisement, and less accessible healthcare for minorities. Institutions exist within these systems.

There is systemic racism embedded in the history of the Canadian police. From the RCMP being created for the purpose of removing Indigenous peoples from their lands and territories, to Montreal police using pictures of Black folx to practice target shooting throughout the 1980’s, including disproportionate “carding” for Black people, to ultimately the killing of more Black people than whites at the hands of the police.
(Source: Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard)


Structural Racism:
The normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.

Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually reproducing old and producing new forms of racism.

Structural racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism emerge from structural racism.

For example, we can see structural racism in the many institutional, cultural and structural factors that contribute to lower life expectancy for Black people as compared to whites. These factors include higher exposure to environmental toxins, dangerous jobs and unhealthy housing stock, higher exposure to and more lethal consequences for reacting to violence, stress and racism, lower rates of health care coverage, access and quality of care and systematic refusal by the nation to fix these things.


In summary, although all of these are forms of racism and are all interrelated and intersecting, the level in which each one operates is different. In the end, although these are separate forces and may be enacted by many different people within many different systems/institutions, they can still also all work at the same time to oppress a single Black individual.

Furthermore, apart from “individual” “institutional” “structural” and “systemic” racism, there are other forms of racism, including cultural racism and internalized racism, etc. Similarly, within communities of color, there is also colorism and misogynoir, which also work at an individual, institutional/systemic, and structural level. (link to glossary for more terms)

To counter these forms of racism, it is important to be ANTI-RACIST. Not being racist is not enough.

 What is the difference between non-racist and anti-racist, you ask? 

As Ibrahim X. Kendi, anti-racist educator and writer says, ““What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “anti-racist.”

What’s the difference? One endorses either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of “not racist.” The claim of “not racist” neutrality is a mask for racism.” Being not-racist is a passive rejection of racism that does not go far enough to achieve racial justice and ends up perpetuating white supremacy. Meanwhile, being an anti-racist means actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life.

Anti-racist vocab
How to be an Anti-Racist – By Ibrahim X. Kendi