10th January 2019

Australian Resistance to Dismantling Institutional Racism

By DrMJLock

Key Points:

  • Christopher Bourke, Adrian Marrie, and Henrietta Marrie, (2018). Transforming institutional racism at an Australian hospital. Australian Health Review. Available: http://www.publish.csiro.au/ah/pdf/AH18062
  • This journal article is about the first version of The Matrix before it became the the Bukal Institutional Racism Matrix.
  • A key understanding is institutional racism is about how racial discrimination ‘is displayed in the policies, procedures, governance and structures of the organisation’.
  • Key message: institutional racism exists in the governance, structure, policies, and practices of an organisation – in the absence of personal racism.

This article is another point in the discourse about institutional racism in Australia, but the most significant fact is that the Matrix is the only tool developed to address institutional racism. In other words, while health academics analyse databases and make recommendations in obscure journal articles, Adrian and Henrietta Marrie have done something that makes a real difference.

Resistance to Dismantling Institutional Racism

There is a point in the article about ‘resistance to dismantling institutional racism can manifest in denial’ and this reminded me of when a prestigious Australian health research organisation in Darwin refused to be involved in a research project based on the Matrix because they did not want anything to do with something that had ‘racism’ in the title. That public health research organisation has a reputation in research circles for conducting biomedical and epidemiological research controlled by non-Aboriginal people, arguably reflecting the ethos of former Prime Minister, Robert Menzies.

I saw the excuse to not be involved in a research project about ‘institutional racism’ as a way for non-Aboriginal researchers to maintain control over Aboriginal people. That ethic was pointed out by Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton in their book ‘Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America‘. It was Carmichael (Kwame Ture) and Hamilton who coined the phrase ‘institutional racism’ to ‘account for attitudes and practices that led to racist outcomes through unquestioned bureaucratic processes’. Or, as quoted by Bourke et. al. (2018) as ‘covert means operated by established and respected societal forces for the purpose of subordinating and maintaining control over a racial group’ (Carmichael and Hamilton, 1967). And, to me, that’s the point of the Matrix – to question bureaucratic processes and uncover covert means of control.


Overcoming resistance to addressing institutional racism means that:

  1. Institutional racism is not an allegation of personal racism,
  2. Understanding that it is a cumulative effect evident over a long period of time,
  3. IR operates through invisible mechanisms and forces that need to be better understood,
  4. Can be addressed through innovative tools such as the Bukal Institutional Racism Matrix.

However, as the article of Bourke et. al. (2018) shows, Australia has a long way to go to address IR because healthcare organisations are afraid to take the first step of naming institutional racism, let alone doing something about it.

The final word for this post is Adrian Marrie’s selection from Camara Phyllis Jones’s (2003) Confronting Institutionalized Racism:

‘Although the task of confronting institutionalized racism may seem overwhelming, it is not. The first step is to name racism in a society where many are in denial about its continued existence and impacts… The second step is to identify the mechanisms by which institutionalized racism operates….. The final step is to mobilize the political will for action’