Institutionalized Racism: A Syllabus

Written by Catherine Halley - JSTOR Daily


The United States has seen escalating protests over the past week, following the death of George Floyd while in custody of the Minneapolis police. Educators everywhere are asking how can we help students understand that this was not an isolated, tragic incident perpetrated by a few bad individuals, but part of a broader pattern of institutionalized racism. Institutional racism—a term coined by Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) and Charles V. Hamilton in their 1967 book Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America—is what connects George Floyd and Breonna Taylor with Ahmaud Arbery, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Emmett Till, and the thousands of other people who have been killed because they were “black in America.”


This context seems vital for discussions both inside and outside the classroom. The following articles, published over the course of JSTOR Daily’s five years try to provide such context. As always, the underlying scholarship is free for all readers. We have now updated this story with tagging for easier navigation to related content, will be continually updating this page with more stories, and are working to acquire a bibliographic reading list about institutionalized racism in the near future. (Note: Some readers may find some of the stories in this syllabus or the photos used to illustrate them disturbing. Teachers may wish to use caution in assigning them to students.)



Racial (In)Justice: Putting Protest into Perspective


The Devastation of Black Wall Street Kimberly Fain - July 5, 2017

Tulsa, Oklahoma. 1921. A wave of racial violence destroys an affluent African-American community, seen as a threat to white-dominated American capitalism.




The Mob Violence of the Red Summer Matthew Wills - May 14, 2019

In 1919, a brutal outburst of mob violence was directed against African Americans across the United States. White, uniformed servicemen led the charge.




Race and Labor in the 1863 New York City Draft Riots Shannon Luders-Manuel - May 4, 2017

In July 1863, over a thousand Irish dockworkers rioted against the Civil War draft in New York City in a four-day upheaval, targeting black workers and citizens.


Did The 1965 Watts Riots Change Anything? Livia Gershon - July 13, 2016

Sociological data from immediately after the riots in Watts, Los Angeles, in 1965 show major disparities in attitude by race.



A History of Police Violence in Chicago Livia Gershon - October 3, 2018

At the turn of the century, Chicago police killed 307 people, one in eighteen homicides in the city—three times the body count of local gangsters.




The People’s Grocery Lynching, Memphis, Tennessee Damon Mitchell - January 24, 2018

On March 2, 1892, in Memphis, Tennessee, a racially charged mob grew out of a fight between a black and a white youth near People’s Grocery.



How the Body Can Shape Social Protest Erin Blakemore - December 30, 2015

By using the body to resist and respond to violence and social injustice, protesters literally embody their cause.





Dr. Ossian Sweet’s Black Life Mattered Heather Bourbeau - June 17, 2015

It has been 90 years since Ossian Sweet tried to move into his new home; since police stood by and did nothing as a mob threw rocks.





African American Studies: Foundations and Key Concepts Omari Weekes - February 3, 2020

This non-exhaustive list of readings in African American Studies highlights the vibrant history of the discipline and introduces the field.





Video Documentation & Police Brutality: Ethical Considerations


Viral Black Death: Why We Must Watch Citizen Videos of Police Violence Kimberly Fain - September 1, 2016

We should acknowledge and absorb the pain captured in videos of police violence, just as antiracist activists bore witness in the past to lynchings.



How Do I (Not) Look? Live Feed Video and Viral Black Death Alexandra Juhasz - July 20, 2016

When we have the choice to look, we are bound ethically and politically to what we witness and what we do with what we have seen.



Why Didn’t the Rodney King Video Lead to a Conviction? Peter Feuerherd - February 28, 2018

The grainy pictures speak for themselves. Or so thought many Americans who watched the video of the March 3rd, 1991, beating of motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.




Racial, Economic, and Educational Disparities Go Hand in Hand


The Racism of History Textbooks Livia Gershon - October 20, 2015

How history textbooks reinforced narratives of racism, and the fight to change those books from the 1940s to the present.



School Suspensions and the Racial Discipline Gap Edward Graham - September 2, 2015

The racial discipline gap in school suspensions has lasting educational and social effects.



How Segregation Hurts Kids Livia Gershon - August 31, 2015

Educational segregation hurts all kids, white, black, and Hispanic.





Why Racism Is Terrible for Everyone’s Health Heather Tirado Gilligan - October 21, 2015

Heather Gilligan explores the impact of racism on the fight towards universal health care.


The 1910 Report That Disadvantaged Minority Doctors Jessie Wright-Mendoza - May 3, 2019

A century ago, the Flexner Report led to the closure of 75% of U.S. medical schools. It still explains a lot about today’s unequal access to healthcare.


COVID-19 Is Hitting Black and Poor Communities the Hardest Grace A. Noppert - April 14, 2020

The viral pandemic is underscoring fault lines in access to care for those on margins.



The Lasting Fallout of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Nashwa Khan - June 20, 2016

A recent paper provides evidence that the Tuskegee Syphilis Study reduced the life expectancy of African-American men.



The Latent Racism of the Better Homes in America Program Manisha Claire - February 26, 2020

How Better Homes in America—a collaboration between Herbert Hoover and the editor of a conservative women’s magazine—promoted idealized whiteness.


How Insurance Companies Used Bad Science to Discriminate Jessie Wright-Mendoza - September 17, 2018

In 1881, Prudential announced that insurance policies held by black adults would be worth one-third less than the same plans held by whites.

How Natural Black Hair at Work Became a Civil Rights Issue Chanté Griffin - July 3, 2019

On the 55th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, U.S. courts are still divided about African Americans’ right to wear their natural hair in the workplace.


The Case for Reparations Is Nothing New Mohammed Elnaiem - February 27, 2020

In fact, Black activists and civil rights leaders have been advocating for compensation for the trauma and cost of slavery for centuries.



The History of the History of American Slavery Matthew Wills - November 30, 2017

In an age when the White House is being asked if slavery was a good or bad thing, perhaps we should take a look at the history of the history of slavery.


Project Implicit Reveals Your Hidden Prejudice Ben Ambridge - November 25, 2014

Professor Anthony Greenwald invented the Implicit Association Test that can tap into our implicit feelings about race. What happens when people take it?



Why James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time Still Matters Orlando Edmonds - November 2, 2016

For James Baldwin (1924-1987), the fundamental premises of American society needed revisiting. How we might view #BlackLivesMatter through his lens.



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