Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence

By Fred L. Pincus; Howard J. Ehrlich | Go to book overview

10
From Individual to
Structural Discrimination
FRED L. PINCUSPeople often think of racial discrimination in terms of the actions of individual prejudiced white people against individual people of color. However, as we have already shown, prejudice (an attitude) does not necessarily lead to discrimination (an overt behavior), and discrimination is not always caused by prejudice.Group discrimination can exist at many different levels. An individual teacher who mistreats a Hispanic student is different from a school system that refuses to admit Hispanics. An individual personnel officer who decides not to hire a qualified black applicant is different from an entire state police department that refuses to hire black officers.In their influential book Black Power, which was published more than a quarter of a century ago, Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton differentiated "individual racism" from "institutional racism." The former involved the behavior of white individuals toward blacks and other minorities, and the latter involved the behavior of the entire white society and its institutions toward people of color.Since racism is a pejorative word often used imprecisely, I shall modify the Carmichael/Hamilton typology and apply it to the concept of discrimination. My discussion here deals with three different types of race/ethnic discrimination: individual, institutional, and structural.
1. Individual discrimination refers to the behavior of individual members of one race/ethnic group that is intended to have a differential and/or harmful effect on the members of another race/ethnic group. This category includes a wide range of behavior by majority-group individuals or small groups--from anti- Asian graffiti and name calling, to an employer's refusal to hire blacks or a landlord's refusal to rent to Hispanics, to physical attacks against Native Americans.

According to this definition, actions by individual minority-group members against the majority group can also be characterized as "individual discrimination." Examples might include antiwhite graffiti by blacks, physical attacks against whites by Hispanics, or employment discrimination by Asians against whites. Each of these actions entails intentional antiwhite treatment that has a differential and/or harmful impact.

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