We all live in ghettos. They may be in leafy Surrey, but they are as much ghettos as those of Bradford or Brixton. Of course in theory we can live where we choose to, if we can afford it. But generally we don’t. When I see the children leaving the very good State school just down the road from me they are predominately white, not exclusively so by any means, but mainly. In short our society is divided by race.
If your society is racially divided by geography these divides become institutionalised. Of course there is movement and, in theory, equality of opportunity. But opportunity is skewed by the demographics. The better schools are in the wealthier areas. There is a direct correlation between wealth and race. Statistically the richer a postcode is the whiter it is.
If from birth our chances are constrained by our race that surely is an institutionalised defect – a cause for regret. You may say that the problem is relative poverty rather than race, and you would be right. But the competitiveness in adult society favours those with the better financial resources at all stages. An employer is not permitted to discriminate in selection on racial grounds. Quite rightly. But he is permitted to discriminate based on his assessment of ability and potential. Education , certainly for first jobs, will be the signal of suitability – racially that means it is not a level playing field.
The key point here is that you cannot look at racism decoupled from economics. Very often BAME citizens are discriminated against not overtly because of their colour but because of their family’s relative lack of wealth and the consequences of poverty. Lifestyle and culture may influence this as well. The cultural norm in Britain is white, Anglo-Saxon and Christian. This brings with it behaviour, including dress and use of language, that is often different from those who grew up in Asian or Afro-Caribbean cultures. There is no rational cultural hierarchy but there is a hidden one, and that is institutionalised.
In short the issue is equality of opportunity, or the lack of it. Some would argue that the solution is the creation of a form of non racial “Britishness” that transcends race – a sort of “melting pot” outcome. But that would inevitably mean conformity to the majority norms and the disappearance of distinctive and different cultures. Do we really want this ? Are we going to encourage the closure of the mosques and temples? Of course not.
Race is an element of a nation’s social construct but it is unsatisfactory to look at it on its own. It’s much more complicated than that. Prejudice is inculcated in the human psyche however much we might prefer to deny this. What is institutionalised is the outcomes of daily, weekly, monthly small acts of prejudice which can, and often do, lead to discrimination. The playing field is very bumpy indeed and human nature is very resistant to change.