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Institutionalized Minority Degradation

Updated on August 16, 2016

High incarceration rates of Blacks and Latinos, their treatment by law enforcement, harsh sentences, stereotyping and mistreatment in schools and the low quality schools in poor and minority neighborhoods in the United States are all hall-marks of institutionalized minority degradation (IMD). Minorities, especially Blacks and Latinos, are treated as the other, the ugly, the dangerous, those to be controlled by the (mainly) White power structure in the United States since the founding of the nation.

The prison-industrial complex is a major minority rights abusing institution, “Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population.”

More statistics here.

Unequal Treatment under the law

In some areas of our society, there have been improvements in the unequal treatment between Whites and other minorities, however, “…in one critical arena – criminal justice – racial inequality is growing, not receding...In 1968 Congress passed the Fair Housing Act. Yet today, the current housing for approximately 2 million Americans – two-thirds of them African American or Hispanic – is a prison or jail cell.” (link)

Population, Race and Incarceration Rates

White (non-Hispanic)
64% of US population
39% of U.S. incarcerated population
450 per 100,000

16% of US population
19% of U.S. incarcerated population
831 per 100,000

13% of US population
2,306 per 100,000

Does police abuse of minorities stem from personal racism or racism that is institutionalized?

Though not every police officer abuses his or her power, police departments all over this nation are complicit in this denigrating of minority populations.

Our prison population has risen four-fold in the last 30 years to over 2.3 million people (2008 data). We now have 25% of the world’s prison population and only 5% of the worlds population. African Americans make up 1 million of the total 2.3 million people. (ibid)

Whites do the drugs; Blacks do the time. While 14 million Whites take illegal drugs and 2.6 million African Americans, African Americans are sent to prison at 10 times the rate of Whites. The institutional inequality in incarceration rates is a highlight of IMD. Moreover, “Drug sentences for black men were 13.1 percent longer than drug sentences for white men between 2007 and 2009, according to a 2012 report from the US Sentencing Commission.”

Schools are another area of IMD. Statistically, Black children do worse in school on standardized tests and over all achievement, moreover, “One problem that has puzzled observers of education for some time is the fact that after controlling for poverty, black achievement is still lower than white achievement...” (link)

Parents in poor families have less time, resources, money and probably most important, less education to help their children with schooling, “High-income families spend increasingly more on tutoring, art, sports, books, and so on relative to low-income families.” Thus, these children do less well and fewer will ever make it to a four year college, “The academic achievement gap on standardized tests between students for low- versus high-income families has increased by 40% over the last 30 years, the period of rising inequality.”

In fact, “Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.”

Black male students are inappropriately and disproportionately put into special education classes, especially “…when educators use their conscious or unconscious racist or ethnocentric stereotypical beliefs about Black males to interpret their Black male students' street corner language and behavior.”

For example, “African-American students...are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled, according to a nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Black children constitute 18 percent of students, but they account for 46 percent of those suspended more than once.”

Schools practice minority degradation far too often by treating Black kids as problems to be removed to prison and White kids mainly as troubled children that need help. There is also a perception bias against minority students, especially Blacks.

How teachers perceive students based on race can change the academic outcomes, “Research has suggested that teachers’ expectations of students can have profound effects on students’ actual achievement. Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) found that higher teacher expectations led to an increase in the IQ scores of is possible that these expectancies cause a self- fulfilling prophecy inhibiting students’ academic achievement.”

It can also increase student success in college, “A study published Tuesday by the left-leaning Center for American Progress, or CAP, looks at whether teacher expectations produce a Pygmalian effect that influences student achievement. Researchers found that students whose teachers expected them to graduate from college were significantly more likely to do so.”

Clearly, the institution of public schools have failed minorities, evidenced in low achievement scores and advancement to college. Income level has a role in this. It is also perception of students by teachers and administration that matters and the treatment of Black students in schools. A study on perception race and student achievement can be found here.

Let’s do the unmentionable: if nothing works to improve learning for poor children, how about a society that has no poor children?

In one sense, you could say White students have been privileged to have teachers that expect them to do well. However, it is the institution and individual and societal stereotypes, carried forward in the treatment of students by teachers, that is the problem and not how the White students are treated. Someone being treated well is not racism against others in and of itself, it is the treatment of minorities that demonstrates prejudice.

There is a history of discriminatory laws in the United States. First, there was slavery itself, a legal institution to use labor without pay, without rights, without freedom, with its accompanying brutality, death and degradation. After the Civil War, segregationist Jim Crow laws were enforced in the nation while organized extra-legal violence against African Americans such as physical assaults and lynchings occurred with regularity. Most of these acts of violence were not prosecuted much like White killers of Black men are often not convicted nor indicted today.

Institutionalized racism has always been an issue in the United States. Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in Black Power (1968) wrote that, “Institutional racism, it was argued, was deeply embedded in established conventions in US society, which relied on anti-black attitudes of inferiority, even if individual whites did not themselves discriminate against individual blacks...”

This racial stereotyping is part of schools, the justice system, criminal sentencing, police relations, jobs, and nearly every institution in the United States. Unfortunately, many Whites develop racist attitudes to justify this institutional racism. They simple-mindedly feel that the plight of Black Americans is their own fault, that there must be something inferior in Blacks that leads to their high rates of unemployment and arrests.

Institutionalized minority degradation, enforced by the dominate, often White, power elite, is a problem in the United States. And the problem isn’t race; it is the racists.

Fair treatment by the police is not a privilege, it is a right everyone should have. Having one’s qualifications fully appreciated for a job is not White privilege, it is a right that racists and institutionalized racist attitudes prevent minorities from sharing. Getting a fair trial is a right, not a matter of White privilege, a right that all people should have regardless of race. It is the institution and the people in charge of that institution, often White people, that perpetrate this institutional racism against people of color.

The fact is that Whites more often get better treatment by institutions than Blacks and Latinos. That is a matter of racism, IMD, and not privilege. All people should be treated fairly, with respect and dignity and have equal opportunity. To focus on “White privilege” is to be duped and divided by the power elite, the wealthy. Meanwhile, the racists and racist institutions will continue to act as usual while the lower classes fight amongst themselves.

Tex Shelters


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