Institutional racism: A poorly known concept

by Nicolas Rousseau, BePax

“I never intended to hurt anyone.” In many cases, the media debate about racist polemics comes down to one question: Was there an individual racist intent? Yet racism can also be the product of the normal and routine functioning of institutions.

Today, one vision predominates: racism would necessarily be produced by a “bad” and intolerant person. Not only is racist intent not always necessary, but individuals are not the only source of racism. It can also arise from institutional, collective or ideological practices and representations. In a survey conducted in Marseille in the social housing sector, the researcher Valérie Sala Pala questions this issue and focuses on a particular dimension of racism: institutional racism.

A priori, the main mission of institutions in the HLM sector is the granting of a roof to people in situations of socio-economic precariousness. However, the researcher highlights various developments that have profoundly affected the field of French social housing since the 1980s. In particular, the impossibility of ignoring certain considerations in terms of sound financial management. This includes avoiding unpaid bills and housing degradation to maintain a healthy financial situation.

As a result, the criteria for allocating social housing are also changing. In addition to “traditional” criteria such as the socio-economic status of candidates, a whole series of criteria related to this need for sound financial management come into play. And faced with this set of criteria, those responsible for the decision to grant a HLM have a margin of interpretation. Finally, with the obligation to proceed on a case-by-case basis through a “fine attribution”: to be able to distinguish between a good and a bad candidate via an analysis of potential risks, problems likely to occur…

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