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Institutional Racism, Organizations & Public Policy


James D. Ward and Mario A. Rivera

Institutional racism may be described as a self-perpetuating and opaque process where, either intentionally or unintentionally, barriers and procedures which disadvantage ethnic minority groups are supported and maintained. It is often the direct linkage and thus the underlying cause for the lack of diversity and cultural competency in the workplace. Yet institutional racism, as a research topic, has been ignored by scholars because it forces emphasis on the unseen and unspoken, yet culturally relevant underpinnings of the workplace and societal ethos. Studies touching on diversity in the public administration research often address the subject as education and training – especially with regard to the competencies needed by professional administrators. However, racism and discrimination, as underlying factors, are seldom addressed. Once specific examples of institutional racism have been identified in an organization, change agents may take prescriptive steps to address it directly and thus have a more cogent argument for change.
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8 Employment Equity and Institutional Racism: Diversity Advocacy in American Public Administration Education and Practice


Chapter Eight

Employment Equity and Institutional Racism: Diversity Advocacy in American Public Administration Education and Practice

Introduction: Institutional Racism and Its Instantiation in Public Administration

Institutional racism should be part of any treatment of diversity and social equity subjects, particularly as these relate to public administration. However, institutional racism entails a multidimensional set of factors—historical, cultural, economic, political, cognitive, and organizational—which combine complexly, in negative synergism. The subject is a difficult one because it involves settled, taken–for–granted social and organizational practices. It can be treated abstractly, as a matter of definition, but must also be considered in concrete instances. In this chapter, following a definitional exploration, we probe the term as it relates to employment and other diversity–advancing practices, in public administration academic settings in particular.

Studies touching on diversity and employment equity in public administration often focus on the competencies needed by professional administrators, on best practices related to diversity management and training (the subject of Chapter Five in this text), the lack of diversity in upper management positions, and the challenges of retention and professional development. However, racism itself is seldom addressed in public administration research. Consequently, we ask the following questions: What role does institutional racism play in public sector and academic organizations? How do individual, group, and institutional predispositions and behaviors impact social equity and racial justice in these contexts? How have such questions been addressed in the administrative literature? What of other...

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