CARJ / General / Institutional Racism 25th Anniversary of the Macpherson Report

Institutional Racism 25th Anniversary of the Macpherson Report

This year, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Macpherson Report. That
Report discussed the police response to the killing of Stephen Lawrence and
found that the police were ‘institutionally racist’. Macpherson defined
‘institutional racism’ as ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an
appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture
or ethnic origin’. He went on to give three typical examples of ‘institutional
racism’: colour blind, stereotypical and established groups in the exercise of
power. Much of the learning of that time has since been forgotten or

A few months after the Macpherson Report, the Catholic Bishops Conference
of England and Wales welcomed the Report and ‘its helpful definition of
institutional racism’. In the light of Macpherson’s findings, they asked Catholic
organisations and institutions to review themselves, and they published
Guidelines for such a Review.

Twenty-five years later, we have had a series of further Reports – by Tony
Sewell (March 2021), Anne Longfield (November 2022), Dame Louise Casey
(March 2023) and Sir Ian Livingstone (May 2023). The Sewell Report was at
odds with the others in being more cautious about speaking of ‘institutional
racism’. Then, recently, Racism and Ethnic Inequality in a time of crisis (Policy
Press, 2023) concludes from its national survey that ‘Britain is not close to
being a racially just society.’

The Macpherson Report and the Bishops’ Guidelines may help us to look again
at ‘institutional racism’ in Catholic organisations and institutions, but the
changing demographics suggest that a more sophisticated approach may be
required. It is a complex but necessary task and will require patient and
thoughtful discernment.  A Copy of the guidelines from the Catholic Bishops Conference can be found at the link below.

ServingMult-EthSoc.GuidelinesCathOrgs1999-.pdf (

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