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What is Racism? The Different Faces of Racism

What is Racism?
The Different Faces of Racism (How Racism Looks Like in Real Life)

When we discuss racism, we are talking about discrimination that occurs when a person or group of people hates others for having different complexions of their skin or ethnicity.

One of the most common causes of racist attitudes can be found in fear of what is different or of people who come from other countries, due to ignorance or lack of information about it.

 Different Faces/Types of Racism

There are several faces/types of racism for which people can feel discriminated against or be victims of inequality. Some of the different faces and types of racism are:

  • Aversive Racism: It is a type of subtle racism because it is generally used by people who are openly against racism and racist behavior. In aversive racism, equality of rights and freedom is sought to live its own culture openly. Instead, racist attitudes occur through distance from the other person, lack of empathy, or showing coldness.
  • Ethnocentric Racism: This type of racism is based on the cultural superiority of the group itself, so it assumes that other different groups pose a cultural threat. In this type of racism, there is no right to equality, and it is believed that people who are of a different race from their own should submit to the predominant group. The rejection of customs, beliefs, behaviors, religions, or languages of other ethnic groups is a recurring attitude in this type of racism.
  • Symbolic Racism: Symbolic racism advocates the right to be equal, but with nuances: the right to be equal exists, but for specific areas or certain situations. An example that explains symbolic racism is the freedom that each group has to live as they wish, but in limited areas for that group. These attitudes provoke a cultural segregation between the different groups, which in turn produces distance between their members.
  • Biological Racism: This is the least tolerant type of racism. Biological racism comes from the misguided understanding that one race is biologically superior to the others, which threatens to degenerate the race that is considered main. Biological racism does not believe that members of other races should have any rights; the belief is that they should be totally excluded and even physically segregated. An example of this type of racism was carried out by the Nazi regime in the 30s and 40s: they considered the Aryan race pure and superior.

Racism in the 21st Century, the Fight Continues.

Faiza Luigi is one of the people who had to leave everything behind because of racism. When she heard anti-foreign slogans in South Africa, where she had arrived ten years ago fleeing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she realized that she had to take refuge again. However, that meant having to leave everything, including her shoe stall.

Years later, Faiza keeps her nationality a secret: "None of my friends knows that I am Congolese. If they knew, they would make my life impossible."

Like her, thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes due to racial persecution. Several are still helpless to return to their countries. UNHCR protects these victims by offering, among others, shelter, emergency materials, and access to education and training.

What can you do about racism?

Everyday racism, as the term suggests, is, unfortunately, an everyday affair. Many even people who don't see themselves as racist at all have thoughtless formulations that are derogatory in essence. What can you do about it? Here are some suggestions:

  • Find out: Racism arises from prejudice and ignorance. You can counter such misinformation with facts.
  • Get involved: Terms often used by the media, such as "refugees", cause discomfort or even fear. When you see something happen that is not right, speak up – whether in social networks and speak to people about their racist behavior.
  • Join in the protests and movements against racism: whether in a small town or a metropolis, people stand up everywhere in the USA to set an example against racism.

How Racism Looks Like in Real life

During these last few weeks of protests in the United States, we have ended up getting into a few (too many) discussions on Twitter about the real prevalence of racism in the United States. Comments always go in a similar direction, pointing out that civil rights legislation was passed more than fifty years ago and that Americans' attitudes have changed, and no one dares say out loud that blacks are an inferior race.

Both are true, but we are afraid that racism is much more complicated than that. For starters, a racist person is something quite different from a racist society, which is what people are protesting on the streets these days.

Defining Racism

A racist society is one where two people born in the same neighborhood, in the same family situation, with the same income level, have a considerable probability of having different life trajectories depending on their skin color. If a white child from a poor family is more likely to rise to the middle class than a black child in exactly the same initial situation consistently, this means that skin color has an impact on individual expectations. Each person, and we can speak of structural racism.

Does This happen in the United States?

The data indicates that yes, this is so, and the empirical evidence in this direction is overwhelming. Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R. Jones, and Sonya R. Porter, in an epic study based on a gigantic census database, conclusively demonstrated that social mobility is incredibly marked by skin color, up to the point that for children growing up in wealthy families, the probability that they will remain wealthy as adults are more than double for white kids than for blacks. No matter how many indicators and controls you add (family structure, educational level, etc.), this difference in results persists for black men at all income levels. Social class plays a role, but skin color always continues to matter.

Where do these differences come from?

It is true that in the United States, you will never hear anyone say, "I am not going to hire you because you are black "out loud. If you look at the legislation on labor rights, access to housing, health, health insurance, mortgages, education or any other subject you can think of, you will never see any clause that says "blacks cannot live in this neighborhood" or that "blacks are going to pay extra on the mortgage." If you find examples of affirmative action in some corners, legislation that gives "extra points" to certain groups (priority in access to scholarships) but in a limited way. Furthermore, these kinds of laws are less and less common.

In reality, racial discrimination is far more subtle. Take access to housing, as an example. American cities and suburbs cannot say out loud in their statutes that they "don't want blacks," because that is unconstitutional. However, what they have been doing for decades is enact land use regulations to define what kinds of homes can be built and to do it in such a way that it is impossible to build affordable housing anywhere.

The Connecticut suburbs, as an example, are spectacularly good at doing these things. The "trick" is to put strict regulations on the minimum size of the parcels (one acre), buildable (only 30% of the parcel with buildings), distance from the road (nothing to have houses right next to the street), parking spaces (two cars per dwelling), or minimum surface of the dwellings aimed at reducing density and increasing its cost. All of these measures are completely "neutral," but they make it impossible for anyone other than the middle class to move into the neighborhood.

Exclusionary housing policies do not stop here. There has been a large number of studies that indicate that equal conditions, realtors tend to offer their customers homes in black neighborhoods worse. When they go to the bank, entities offer worse mortgage terms to black clients with the same income level and credit score than their white counterparts. Those who move to the suburbs, by the way, come across that pretty American tradition of easy trigger cop that is talked about so much these days. The majority of the homicides with police officers involved in the United States occur in the suburbs, not in the cities. Of course, when a neighborhood "fills up" with too many people of color, the usual reaction of white families is to get away, so we don't see much about living in neighborhoods without racial segregation.

Limits to Housing and Education for Blacks

In the United States, educational skills are local, so the quality of the school, your children, have access to depends directly on where you live. In a "fortified" suburb with low densities and expensive housing, schools (which are financed with a property tax) will have a lot of money, very few kids with little income, well-paid teachers, and a first-rate education. In a dense city with small houses, more poverty, and difficult access to credit, schools will have fewer resources. If the starting point is one where black families tend to live in poor neighborhoods and white families in a wealthy suburb, you're going to have tons of racial discrimination without having to mention skin color anywhere.

Most depressingly, discrimination is not limited to housing and education but extends to essentially all sectors of the economy. In the justice system, black defendants are consistently punished for the same crime as whites. In healthcare, black women with identical healthcare coverage receive less treatment and supervision during pregnancy, something that generates enormous differences in infant mortality according to skin color.

When you send your resume when looking for a job, the probability of being called is much higher if your name is more typical "white" (Kevin) than "black" (Tyrone). The individual effect of each of these discriminations is small, but the problem is that they all go in the same direction, and they all go against the ethnic group that started with the fewest resources in 1970 and is still poorer now.

That is to say: yes, racism exists. And no one needs to be "racist" for racial discrimination to exist. Systemic racism is precise that a world where no one is racist because the system, the institutions, discriminate for you without any direct intervention.

Additional Examples of Modern Racism: 

  • Our favorite trick of racist urban planning is the habit of many suburbs not building sewers and forcing everyone to have septic tanks. When someone wants to build more houses, they allege that adding more houses implies having more septic tanks, which would contaminate the soil. In Connecticut, it is common to find four million dollar houses with septic tanks for this reason.
  • It goes without saying, but breaking these kinds of institutions is incredibly difficult. These days. many Connecticut suburbs (the kind of places with median home prices over $ 500,000 and 2-3% of the population of color) have had Black Lives Matter protests, with signs and the symbols of the black power fist. The sardonic response from a local paper has been tweeting of how persistent these protestors are by Twitter
  • About mortgage discrimination: Back in 2007-2008, one of us worked at a subprime mortgage company, and yes, from personal experience, we can attest that the profit margins for junk mortgages are higher.
  • Florida, Texas, and Arizona are having very worrying escalations of coronavirus infections. These are three states that opened very early, long before the epidemic was under control. Experts are fearing the worst.


Varieties of Racism

The calm is deceptive. Racism is expressed loudly and unchecked in some places: in the football stadium, at round tables, or in surveys. Modern racism has a fixed place in right-wing extremism, and it is preserved there culturally. As we know modern racism is making its way through the apparently more harmless sectors and protocols of our society. The unscientific belief in races and natural differences is expressed in a hidden way, for example, through belief in Jews or Muslims having specific characteristics. Many prejudices show racist traces, not only towards blacks.

There is racism that does not require individual advocacy: institutional racism, which is written into the laws, regulations, norms, and structures of society. Constant, unequal treatment of people by skin color, gender, or appearance must be taken seriously, at least as a sign of modern racism.

Last but not least, the assessment of racism is difficult because there is often no consensus in political and scientific discourse about racism, where it starts, and what causes it. Almost every theory draws up its own definition, and there is no consensus on how to fight racism, or how to end racism.

Why Does Racism Exist?

So what is racism, and in what facets does it appear? Why do people believe in it? What causes it, and how does it relate to discrimination?

A few answers are offered below. The statements are made from the perspective of prejudice research, i.e., they focus on the analysis of racist ideologies that have groups or individuals because they are members of certain groups. This article gives limited space to questions about the history of racism, its ethical and normative basis, or the social structures that generate racism, but it is a good start for anyone who truly believes that we must make racism wrong again in the eyes of society.

The History of Racism

Racism is engraved in human history. Racism was and is the basis for extremism, segregation, genocide, and many other forms of discrimination. The history of modern racism dates back to the 18th century when systematic racial theories were developed, which the racial theory of National Socialism later relied on, thus establishing the murder of 13 million people.

This experience has probably created a distance between the people and the concept of racism. We associate racism closely with National Socialism and use the term cautiously and see it as something extreme that wouldn’t happen in our own community. Racism is all the more outlawed or ideologically tabooed. It was reduced to the sole characteristic of fascism.

When societies pursue racism, they usually mean traditional racism, which is open and normatively unchecked. This is where someone justifies the superiority of their own group (Ingroup) and the inferiority of others (Outgroup) with their inferior nature, inferior character, and characteristics. He constructs difference through nature.

Traditional racism overlaps with sexism, hostility towards the disabled, and the elderly (ageism) or prejudices against people with a homosexual identity. Whenever apparently natural, biological, or racial reasons are used to devalue people, prejudice research identifies racism.

The Five Elements of Racism:

  1. The belief in racial superiority or inferiority that is explicitly or implicitly justified by biological difference;
  2. Solidarity with the Ingroup and rejection of people, ideas and customs that 'deviate';
  3. The doctrine that the powerful rightly enjoy privileges and benefits.
  4. Thoughts and behaviors organized by racial categories.
  5. The constant examination of the legitimacy and reliability of racial differences.

We have been observing racism for a long time, using the attitudes mentioned at the beginning. According to statistical tests, both statements form the ideology of racial inequality, which differs from other facets of prejudice.

Since the measurements are based on different statements, it makes no sense to compare the level of racism with the other prejudices. However, it can be clearly seen that, on average, the respondents have expressed little support for racist opinions in the past 7 years. Sexism, the devaluation of disabled people, and people with a homosexual orientation, like racism, point to biological inequality and find more support.

Racism is more popular in other countries. We carried out a representative survey in 7 different countries and were able to measure racism reliably using a racism scale with two statements: "There is a natural hierarchy between black and white peoples. Blacks and whites are better off not getting married." The studies show that a significant percentage agree on it the two statements ("agree" and "fully agree") in the countries we observed. Since only positive formulations were allowed to be used in France, the rejection of these positive statements was calculated.

It is astonishing that 31.3% of Europeans surveyed believe in a natural hierarchy between blacks and whites. Approval is particularly high in Portugal, Hungary, and Poland, but 30.5% of German respondents agree. Far fewer respondents refuse to marry blacks and whites. The spread and intensity of racist opinions are much stronger than expected.

Quotes About Racism

"We have to learn to either live together as brothers or to perish as fools." (Martin Luther King)

"I don't care whether you are black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, small, tall, fat, thin, rich, or poor. If you are nice to me, it will be nice to you too. Very simple." (Eminem)

"Nobody is born with a hatred of other people because of their skin color, ethnic origin, or religion. Hate is learned." (Nelson Mandela)

Varieties of Modern Racism

Research into prejudice in the United States has observed since the 1970s that while open racism is declining, 'racial unrest' and violence against blacks are increasing. The thesis suggests that racism is suppressed because citizens know that it is outlawed.

The basic assumption of many modern racism theories is that racism is expressed in a more hidden way today. People could have both positive (egalitarianism, humanism) and early-learned negative opinions (antipathy) about outgroups, so they could be ambivalent in their attitudes. This ambivalence leads to the incongruity of beliefs that is experienced as unpleasant. The antipathy is legitimized by the fact that the addressees of the prejudices violate values ​​and norms.

Researchers believe that modern racists hold back their antipathy and instead emphasize symbolic values ​​that justify the Ingroup's moral and economic superiority of the Ingroup.

How to Spot Symbolic Racism:

 Three characteristics characterize symbolic racism:

  1. Denial that discrimination against certain groups persists.
  2. Reluctance to promote minorities.
  3. The attitude that minorities demand too much, too quickly, and too aggressively.

Minorities are discriminated against through seemingly legitimate excessive punishments and inequalities.

Those who are racist believe that minorities demand far too much justice, equality, privilege, etc. and try to take advantage of their minority situation. In fact, we keep finding that statements such as that 'Jews are trying to gain past benefits' or 'Muslims are trying to enforce Sharia law by referring to their oppression' are becoming elements of prejudice. Modern racists discriminated against minorities through non-normatively outlawed arguments: we have already funded so much, etc. They no longer suppress their negative feelings and stereotypes when they are presented with 'racial symbols'.

The social psychologists Gaertner & Dovidio believe that aversive racism only breaks through when people's emotions and beliefs in a particular situation collide with their self-image. The result is an attempt to avoid minorities and avoid contact. Here, positive feelings or thoughts no longer play a role; justifying the deeply rooted negative feelings is central.

It is extremely difficult for modern racists to have no feelings of superiority, but at the same time, they try to maintain a self-image free of prejudice. The easiest way to do this is to simply attribute negative feelings towards an outgroup to the group ('The others are to blame if you have something against them').

Aversive racism arises when situations are ambiguous, and it becomes difficult to behave properly. In the case of criticism of Israeli Palestine policy or the question of tolerance towards Islamic customs and the question of promoting the disabled or women, there are many situations and issues that are not clear and where deeply rooted antipathies can breakthrough.

Pettigrew & Meertens identified an interesting variant of subtle racism. Subtle racism undermines prejudice by defending traditional values ​​that an outgroup appears to be violating, exaggerating apparent cultural differences and rejecting positive feelings, especially sympathy and admiration. Subtle racism is also cultural racism that exaggerates cultural differences between the Ingroup and the outgroup. Ideas about equality are not rejected, but every form of support for minorities is rejected when it comes to integration and immigration.

Racism as Misanthropy

Our own studies show one feature that is often overlooked: racism is closely related to other prejudices, such as xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and many other prejudices.

Racism is one element among many that constitute a syndrome of group-related misanthropy. The various prejudices share a common core, which we have empirically identified as an ideology of inequality. What is meant is the ideology that there are fundamentally legitimate differences between groups that are up or down in the social hierarchy. Not only racism, but all prejudices are subject to this ideology of unequal value between groups, which is reproduced again and again through discrimination.

The devaluation and inequality are not subject to an individual attitude, but each prejudice, especially racism, characterizes a ratio of groups to groups. Those who are racist distinguish their group from others and act as a member.

Furthermore, prejudice against a specific group, such as racism towards people with different skin color, can also result in discrimination against another group.

Why Racism?

The question of why people and groups believe in racism has been partially negotiated when the modern facets were presented. The situation is much more complicated than presenting just a few reasons. We have to start from the constellations of causes that have roots from the past because racism always has a historical, socio-structural, and individual basis. Systems are neither simply racist nor are people.

A simplified picture of possible causes is to be drawn in three things.

Why is Racism so difficult to resolve? 

First, racism is so firmly anchored in structures that people bring it about without knowing it. Even the victims of racism do so in self-stigmatization or self-fulfilling behavior. Stable and consistent educational deficits of people with a migrant background must be questioned. Structural racism is not viable without individuals.

Second, individuals are racist because they live in a social context that creates racism. For example, because they identify with racist groups. Racism can easily fulfill social motives for relationships and positive self-assessment. At the same time, the belief in a racially homogeneous and superior ingroup promotes racism. Racism can be a state doctrine in totalitarian systems. In democratic systems, it can be an essential part of group culture in smaller, narrow reference groups, such as right-wing groups.

Racism is acquired during political socialization and learned or adopted by important agents, parents, peers, etc. The belief in the natural differences between groups is relatively early in children, although not yet established. It is also because individuals believe racist ideologies that racism fulfills the motive of control, knowledge, and trust. Reference groups that are particularly important for young people to become racist when they feel threatened or fall prey to the threat's ideologies. In addition, the so-called "relative deprivation," the feeling that the Ingroup suffers from a deficiency or receives too little in comparison to a foreign group, leads to a higher affinity for racism.

Third, individuals become particularly vulnerable to all forms of racism if they develop orientations that guide their view of the world. Such dispositions are orientations of power and dominance, as authoritarianism follows obedient obedience and conformism and aggressively turns against outsiders who seem to violate rules and norms. A fundamental rejection of cultural diversity also promotes racism. In addition, a lack of education and the associated limited opportunities to take over perspectives and a lack of intercultural contacts also promote racism.

Racism Discriminated Against

Racism pushes for discrimination. The ideology of right-wing conservative circles is also discriminatory. Because conservatives stress that there are natural differences between cultures and that it is discriminatory to mix cultures because every culture, meaning nations, lives best where it originates. This legitimizes disadvantaging and separating blacks from whites.

However, racism does not always result in discrimination. Research provides important information on when attitudes such as racism lead to behavior. It is important, whether a person's social environment regards racism as normatively appropriate or even approves of it. If the environment consistently upholds the norm that racism is undesirable, this inhibits the formation of racial discrimination.

This is precisely why understanding about racism and maintaining norms that outlaw it is important. This does not seem to be the case in many places in society; we are watching the unchecked racism in football stadiums, schools, workplaces, etc.

Second, a racist-oriented person or group must have the impression that they can successfully discriminate or that the discriminatory behavior leads to the desired goal; that is, they have control over the behavior. Only when these conditions are in place are intentions to actively develop, and only then do they result in a discriminatory act or violence against those who are considered inferior.

That is why constant intervention and courage in situations where intentions develop are important and necessary. In some public spaces, one has the impression that extremists have control over who can behave how.

Can we fix racism?

Racism is persistent once it has established itself in people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and has developed into a worldview.

The main question is: can we fix racism? For all the continuity of racist ideologies that exist in the world, the question is easy to answer: if people can change attitudes, they can also give up their racism.

There are a number of anti-racist projects, programs, and actions. It is very difficult to assess their effectiveness because they are seldom evaluated in such a way that it can be methodically determined how effective they are.

But in our opinion, some projects are not very successful because they pursue feelings of guilt and a quasi-therapeutic search for 'inner unconscious racism and the acceptance of the foreign'. But fail to address how to fix racism or get rid of it.

Projects that make mechanisms of how racism is socially constructed understandable to us are more important. Knowing about racism and what it prompts is a necessary condition to reduce racism. Society needs more. Racism must not be anchored in the structures of society. Racism can do this particularly well when it encounters an environment that does not have sufficient counterforces.

In this sense, racism indicates that something is wrong in society. Denying that there is racism in society is one of them.

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