The Macpherson Report, which investigated the Metropolitan Police over their response to the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, defined "institutional racism" as:
"The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin.
It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people."
I think "unintentional racism" might have been a better description. The term "institutional racism" implies that racism is an act of policy, determined by the procedures of an organisation.
The police should be colour blind. They should recognise equality before the law and apply the law without fear or favour. Clearly in the past there were a lot of individual police officers who failed to maintain this standard. Does this mean there was "institutional racism"? True, not many police officers lost their jobs for racist behaviour – although I don't think they were likely to be sacked for other failings either.
A few years later Sir Ian Blair accused the media of "institutional racism" on the grounds that more attention tended to be given to the murder of white people than of ethnic minorities. It is certainly true that journalists find some murder stories more newsworthy than others. But Sir Ian's evidence for his claim was scant. Given the space devoted to Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor I would be surprised if an exercise in totting up column inches would establish widespread racism among journalists. Still less "institutional racism", in a sense that in any way reflected editorial policy.
However, there is one area where the decription of "instutional racism" could validly be applied. That is in relation to "Looked After Children" – the children in care. The discrimination concerns an issue of great importance for these children, that is their chance of being placed for adoption and the length of time it takes.
A black child is three times less likely to be adopted from care than a white child. When black children are placed for adoption it takes on average 50% longer. This is not due to a lack of couples willing to adopt. It is due to social workers refusing to allow transracial adoptions but instead insisting on the child remaining in care unless an ethnic match is available. The practical impact of this is the most terrible racial discrimination against black children.
There is no evidence that transracial adoption has a higher failure rate than ethnically matched adoption. Nor is there evidence that it produces worse outcomes in terms of life chances.
Even in terms of sense of identity the evidence is mixed. Evan Donaldson says:
While some studies have indicated transracial adoptees are less likely to develop strong racial or cultural identity than are children raised in their own racial and ethnic communities (Hollingsworth, 1997; Andujo, 1988; Kim, 1977; McRoy, et al., 1982, 1984; McRoy & Zurcher; Triseliotis, 1997), the empirical results are not conclusive since other research suggests transracial adoptees have strong racial and ethnic identifications, especially as young adults (Brooks & Barth, 1999; Simon & Alstein, 1996).
We need to set against the unproved and potential disadvantages of trans-racial adoption, the overwhelming disadvantage of being in care.
The Children's Minister Edward Timpson says "the outcomes for children in care remain woeful."
"For instance, we know that children in care are seven times more likely to misuse drugs and alcohol than others, 50 times more likely to end up in prison, 60 times more likely to become homeless and 66 times more likely to have children of their own who will need public care.
And when it comes to education, last year just 460, or one in 14, care leavers went on to University."
Yet the apartheid system is fully operational in the Children's Services Department in Town Halls around the country. Black children are kept in care. White children are far more often placed for adoption in loving homes.
This situation is a moral disgrace. It is a devasting form of racial discrimination. How astonishing that so many just shrug it off. The Prime Minister and the Education Secretary do not. They have both spoken movingly and eloquently to show that they regard it as unacceptable. Yet they should be under no illusion that however moving and eloquent their speeches, these alone will not change things. Nor will revised "guidance".
The institutional racial prejudice of the social work profession is based on the solid foundations of ideological prejudice. The 15,000 children in care from ethnic minority groups at present have a much worse chance of adoption than the 50,000 white children.
This racism needs to be named and banned.
This is what has happened in the United States. The Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 and its amendment, the Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEP) of 1996, prohibited the delay or denial of a child’s foster or adoptive placement on the basis of race, colour or national origin.
The equivalent of that law is needed in our country.