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The Relationship Between Institutionalized Racism and Violence Against Women

Lisa has a wide passion for fighting against social inequity. She is currently completing her MA in Counselling Psychology.

He was a weak man. The sort who needed to crush a woman in order to feel powerful. -John Mark Green

He was a weak man. The sort who needed to crush a woman in order to feel powerful. -John Mark Green

For many people, acts of racism (or simply the concept of racism) remains outside of their band of knowledge, frequently due to lack of exposure on the grounds of their racial privilege, or utterly due to ignorance and refusal of acknowledgement of said privilege. This same statement can be applicable to gender, with patriarchal practices remaining prominent in many countries around the world. When both of these elements are experienced together, it creates the chance of an increase in the likelihood of one holding the mindset of being superior to others; there is a reason as to why most of the people who hold a great deal of the world’s power are white men. This accompanies the sculpting of laws and the categorization of humanity, as multiculturalism and inclusion of women surrounding disciplines of power is surpassingly lacking. The voices of people of colour, women, and women of colour remain silenced as they have been institutionally labelled as inferior and feeble in ability. This mentality and virulent form of administration stems from the world’s heavily colonial history and the abuse of power by authoritative figures who lack an empathetic understanding of those impaired by the system that they themselves are aiding. Although minoritized persons have experienced a fraction of an increase in their rights since colonialism ran rampant, the abuse of power from people with a set of privileges remains firm in action and creates abuse against minorities, acting as a foundation to support current global systems, affairs, and laws. Common law remains static from times where “white saviours” were more eminent, allowing current judicial practices to easily sit on a platform of colonialism, racism, violence, and the exploitation of minorities. These factors fold together to create the normalization of violence against women and violence against women of colour.

Common Law

Common law is a type of law that is based on precedent decisions by a legal professional when statutory law is not able to be used effectively when managing a legal case. Common law is based upon historical English law, beginning centuries ago where it remains in place today. This has a significant impact on how certain people, notably minorities, come to be discriminated against and not offered the same chances and opportunities as their privileged counterparts may when being handled within the judicial system. For example, the way a white man versus a black woman is regarded within institutionalized practices is quite different, with there being “an ominous sign of the racial structure of citizenship” (Razack, 2008). In other words, black women are customarily held to a lower subjective standard of their place as a human being in our societal domain as, say, a white man is. This seemingly increases the rates of violence against women and the high rates of apathy and neglect towards those victimized, with “at least one of out [sic] every three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime and that the abuser is usually someone known to her.” (Yeğenoğlu, 2014). Since all women on earth have a 33.33% chance of becoming a victim of gendered violence, why does it remain to be such an ignored issue? Why does the state place so much emphasis on xenophobic practices and the War on Terror instead? A more in-depth answer will follow, but it begins with the historical passing of certain bills, laws, and other constitutional practices, an example dating back as far as the fifteenth century, being “a papal document that Pope Nicolas V issued to King Alfonso V of Portugal in 1452, stated that Europeans possessed ‘the right to attack, conquer, and subjugate Saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ wherever they were to be found’ and it ‘recognized title over any lands and possessions’ gained in these forays.” (Monchalin, 2016), as well as “the ‘discovery doctrine’, which was embodied in various documents issued under the authority of the pope.” (Monchalin, 2016). This provoked Christopher Columbus to begin his “discovery” of the Americas, which then in turn created a type of domino effect, prompting other European colonizers to do the same. Of course, this is problematic as these actions continue to impact citizens’ rights over five centuries later, as “when Europeans travelled to the Americas in 1492, they brought with them pre-existing and ingrained ideas regarding ownership, property, and people.” (Monchalin, 2016). The Americas were built on these ideals which sequentially formed the foundation that common law continues to exist on today, contributing to the modern narrative that is violence against women and racial discrimination as “questions of religion, race and rights have always been in constant play in defining the western legal norms that inform today’s national, international and transnational legal landscapes.” (Darian-Smith, 2010).

Woman holds up sign at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC 6/6/2020 (IG: @clay.banks)

Woman holds up sign at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC 6/6/2020 (IG: @clay.banks)

War on Terror versus Domestic Violence

Further elaborating on why the state continues to place more emphasis on the War on Terror instead of on the war on domestic violence, there seems to be a large tie to systemic racism and how that interacts with the global crisis that is violence against women, all whilst analyzing and viewing through an intersectional lens. It is as if these people in power are looking for an excuse to target people of colour as contributors to the War on Terror, daunting the public with falsifications regarding negative racial stereotypes (e.g. “all Muslims are terrorists”) which “excuses the rise in anti-Muslim racism. Such responses naturalize the suspension of rights and the rise of anti-Muslim racism… uncoupling them from the past and, significantly, from the ongoing management of racial populations of which they are a part.” (Razack, 2008). If the crisis of violence against women is brought into a brighter light, these authoritative figures will be placed under scrutiny. It is a hidden common practice for those in power in Western countries to shift the focus onto unfavourable circumstances surrounding people of colour. As Yeğenoğlu states: “Although it has been emphasized time and again that people all over the world should fear and prepare for the next terrorist attack at any moment, on US soil there have been 0 attacks since 9/11.” (2014). We can revisit the previously mentioned statistic that 33.33% of women will become victim to gendered violence, yet the focus is being put on the war on terror which occurred zero times over the span of thirteen years. This seems rather cowardly and contemptible to be stated by those holding so much global power; if the whites are supposedly feeling threatened by people of colour who they claim are “inferior beings”, then why are they scared? It insinuates a fear of losing their power or losing their privilege. They also risk losing their status by placing the deserved emphasis and importance on violence against women, as they will be exposing themselves for supporting such a system that allows women to suffer and lack the same rights as their male counterparts. What this reinforces is “a global political economy that still depends on maintaining racial hierarchies and marginalized communities both within and between western and non-western states. Anglo-American law and international legal agencies, albeit perhaps unintentionally, play a significant role in denying adequate legal access to marginalized communities and in turn sustaining and enforcing racial biases in favor of the capitalist enterprise.” (Darian-Smith, 2010). This does not seem to be an issue of a War on Terror, but instead a race war between those immorally at the top of the racial hierarchy and those at the bottom through the exploitation and brazenly utilized people of colour.

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Colonialism is usually thought of as a concept of the past, yet neocolonialism is currently a burgeoning and robust operation, defined as one that “highlights the role that legal institutions play in facilitating new forms of economic domination across borders and transnational spaces.” (Darian-Smith, 2010). In other words, instead of physically invading the territories with limitless force that have already been occupied, countries holding most of the world’s power, or those in the Western world, colonize the Others through fiscal and juridical means. This control of underdeveloped countries by Western countries through less direct means relates to the lack of rights that people of colour experience compared to whites, which hereafter affects the rate of violence against women of colour. Although domestic violence does of course still occur to white women, it acts as a larger threat for women of colour as neocolonialism “has parallels within the academic literature on systemic racism… [which] rejects the idea that certain racial groups should have equity, for example, equal access to and involvement in services such as housing, education, and employment.” (Monchalin, 2016). When people who are already underprivileged are stripped of even more imperative resources, their chances of becoming a victim of violence increases. Intersectionality is strongly at play in this state of affairs, combining one’s race, gender, socioeconomic status, and level of education to help calculate the likelihood of becoming a victim of gendered violence (e.g. a Black, uneducated and financially unstable women is presumably more likely to become a victim of domestic violence then say a white, educated and wealthy woman is). Although, this may be hard to presume as, previously mentioned, those in high positions of power are shoving the issue of violence against women under the rug. Afterall, “part of the reason a discourse becomes dominant is that it is collectively relied on and help up as ‘truth’. So the power of a discourse rests upon people believing, internalizing, and acting on it.” (Monchalin, 2016).


While marginalized populations have undergone a slight increase in their rights since colonialism was more conspicuous, the exploitation of power by people with an array of privileges remains firm in place and generates abuse against minorities, serving as a justification for promoting current global structures, affairs, and rules. In periods when “white saviours” were more widespread, common law emerged and remains in use, allowing existing judicial practices to comfortably exist on a continuum of colonialism, racism, violence, and the mistreatment of minorities. These elements weave together to establish the regularisation of sexual violence and sexual violence against women of colour. Despite the fact that a solution to this arduous predicament will not evolve in a volatile manner, it remains a responsibility for all persons on this earth, regardless of their race, gender, or religion, to realize the ongoing issue of neocolonialism and violence against women being masked behind racist discourses surrounding the War on Terror. Violence against women remains justified as it acts as a buffer for the current actions within the law, helping to protect those in misuse of their power. Humanity must work to encourage and protect women and people of colour to allow them to thrive as they reserve the right to just as those in power currently obtain.


Darian-Smith, E. (2010). Introduction: Connecting Religion, Race and Rights. In Religion, Race, Rights: Landmarks in the History of Modern Anglo-American Law (pp. 1–18). Hart Publishing Ltd.

Monchalin, L. (2016). Historical and Contemporary Colonialism. In The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada (pp. 61–79). University of Toronto Press.

Razack, S. (2008). Introduction: Race Thinking and the Camp. In Casting out: the eviction of Muslims from western law and politics (pp. 3–22). University of Toronto Press.

Yeğenoğlu, M. (2014). Sovereignty, War on Terror, and Violence against Women. In At the Limits of Justice: Women of Colour on Terror (pp. 215–230). University of Toronto Press.

© 2020 Lisa Hallam

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