When we think of violence, what most often comes to mind is an explosive act, like a campus shooting or a suicide bombing. Such acts of violence defy social norms and break laws that shape how we live together. But what about the more subtle forms of violence that are embedded in social norms and laws? The history (and present) of the United States includes bias so widespread it constitutes systemic violence—in particular racism, sexism and classism.
These biases were (and are) so pervasive that they shape the laws, policies and practices of governments, schools and other public services. This codified injustice is institutional violence. The biases and injustices are so deeply ingrained within the dominant culture and intertwined with other factors like privilege, that they are normalized, not questioned or justified with no acknowledgement of the impact on minority status in race, class or sex. Privilege has enabled majority groups to dismiss instances of racism or sexism as anomalies. Thankfully, modern technology—including cell phone cameras and social media — have begun to capture and circulate these violations, breaking this system of oppression open.
In the U.S., numerous groups of minority status have experienced, and continue to experience, institutional violence. Until the majority culture is willing to listen to minority groups and accordingly examine their own beliefs and laws, systemic and institutionalized violence will continue.