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What is Structural Racism?

Types. Many sources identify several types of racism.

  • Interpersonal: conscious or unconscious assumptions or behaviors that are seen in interactions.

  • Internalized: personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of stereotypes and biases about racial and ethnic groups. Result in finding fault with others/oneself while valuing the dominant culture.

  • Organizational and Institutional: ways policies and practices create different outcomes for different racial groups. Organizations, governments, schools, banks, and courts create advantages for whites and disadvantages for groups classified as people of color.

  • Systemic and Structural: a normalization of historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.

Racism? Not here. Many white people are uncomfortable with the idea of institutional racism. Most don't understand the types of racism, say they hold no racial prejudice, and are disconnected from the history of racism in the United States that benefits some groups over others politically, socially, and economically. Most tend to overestimate progress toward racial and economic parity.


What structures do.  Systems and structures create racial inequities in nearly every aspect of life for people of color. These inequities are locked into our social, economic and political systems. While formal policies help dictate winners and losers in KC’s longstanding economic practices, the pattern is also reinforced informally.  Those without power are not at the table. The interplay of many factors sustains a robust structure that generates resources for some, but marginalization and resource appropriation for others.

​Urban Renewal: Toxic ideas survive.

Black and brown people are not inherently dysfunctional. But the idea lurks below the surface. For example, State laws allow tax incentives to address a loosely defined problem called blight. Blight is a term from agriculture that means crop disease. Communities of color were considered blighted, then confronted with structural responses like redlining and urban renewal. Today, ideas like neighborhood stabilization may be used as modern stand-ins for these practices and still result in displacement.


Moral dimensions. Financial decisions can be moral ones. Many local leaders believe that projects, individually and cumulatively, are a form of violent economic practice against communities of color, that would not be carried out in majority-white areas.  For example, Northland school districts in KC have generally been protected from having their revenues diverted.

Just how things are: unspoken, unconscious. Without a structural racism lens, we more or less take for granted a historical context of economic leadership, dominance, and privilege. This unconscious consensus shapes our attitudes and judgments about social issues and the gaps between white Americans and Americans of color.  It is important to acknowledge this truth when considering winners and losers of tax-subsidized economic development in Kansas City.

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