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What is systemic racism or structural racism? | Learning about Racism with Hey! Holla

Posted by Laura Reed on

We hear a a lot about the term systemic racism and structural racism, but what exactly does it mean? 

What is systemic racism or structural racism? | Learning about Racism with Hey! Holla

When people talk about racism, they're often talking about specific incidences of covert racism, such as racial abuse, but racism and inequality go much deeper and are prevalent in day to day life, in ways that are less obvious if they don't affect you directly.

Inequality is woven within the fabric of our society by things such as the processes of government, aka the 'structure' or the 'system', as well as social norms and representation in media. These contribute to making up a person's socio-economic position and therefore affect their potential 'success' in life.

Systemically, refers to things like education, equal (or unequal) opportunities, average wages, living standard, healthcare and the justice system.

Socially, the very concept that white is 'the norm' or the default, makes people of colour feel 'other' and not included. 

A UK perspective

So let's look at some of these, starting at the beginning of life...

Do you know that black women are 5 times more likely to die during childbirth in the UK (1) and that Black and Pakistani babies have the highest mortality rates? (5.8-7.3 per 1000 live births versus the national average of 3.8). This may be explained as these ethnicities are more likely to live in a deprived area and more likely to have parents in a less advantaged socio-economic position (2).

Looking at the median hourly wage for 2018, the black ethnic groups earns £10.91 per hour compared to £12.03 for their white British counterparts (3)

While Black and Asian students are now more than twice as likely to go to university than white students, according to a 2019 The Telegraph report, the same report states students from disadvantaged areas are more likely to drop-out, less likely to gain a first or 2:1, or find graduate employment compared to their more advantaged peers (4).

Why is this? They get the grades to get in, so why are they dropping out at higher rates and not achieving the top class degrees? Is it financial, social environment, or are there prejudices at play? 

Those that are graduating are earning on average up to £2600 less per year than their white counterparts. By the time 5 years have past, the gap has widened to up to £3700. (5)

In 2017, the Lammy Review showed that while black people comprise 3% of the overall population in England and Wales, they currently make up 12% of its prison population. (6)

Why is this? Could it be that Black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody? Black people are 53% more likely to be sent to prison for an indictable offence at the Crown Court. If our prison population reflected the make-up of England and Wales, we would have over 9,000 fewer people in prison—the equivalent of 12 average-sized prisons.(7) 

Some videos to watch to explain better than we can ...

Akala perfectly explains the structural racism that still exists today in Britain in this video.

Akala is a British rapper, journalist, author, activist and poet from Kentish Town, North London.


 Dave's performance of Black at the BRIT Awards 2020.

David Orobosa Omoregie (born 5 June 1998), known professionally as Dave or Santan Dave, is a British rapper, singer, songwriter, record producer and actor.

A US perspective

With one half of Hey! Holla living in the USA, and the other half in the UK, our perspectives have been different throughout this learning experience. We know our audience is mostly based in the UK but we can't ignore the unbelievable problems of systemic racism in the USA. This video explains it well.

Systemic Racism Explained by

Systemic racism affects every area of life in the US. From incarceration rates to predatory loans, and trying to solve these problems requires changes in major parts of our system. Here's a closer look at what systemic racism is, and how we can help to begin to solve it.



1. Why are black mothers at more risk of dying? BBC News, 2019

2. Child and Infant mortality rates in England and Wales: 2018 Office of National Statistic

3. Ethnicity Pay Gaps in Great Britain:2018, Office for National Statistics

4. Black and Asian students more than twice as likely to go to university than white students, new data reveals  2019 The Telegraph

5. Destinations and earnings of graduates after higher education 2019

6. Systemic racism and police brutality are British problems too The Guardian 2020

7. Prison Reform Trust, Projects Research, Race


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