Racism is the belief that there are certain characteristics, abilities or even qualities that are specific to each race or simply a discrimination against other races. From this definition, it can be deduced that racism is the belief that race is the sole determinant of human characteristics which in turn determines superiority or inferiority of a certain race. Therefore, a person who conforms to such beliefs is a racist. Prejudice, on the other hand, is a preconceived opinion of someone that is not based on real experience or reason. Simply, it is prejudging another person without actually understanding or taking the time to know their values and beliefs. From these definitions, there is a clear difference between these two concepts. To elaborate, prejudice is not confined to a specific race, meaning that anyone from any race can be subjected to it while racism is specific to a certain race of people and only those belonging to the discriminated group can be subjected to it. Therefore, racism is a debilitating social phenomenon that limits the ability of individual to exploit their skills and expertise while at the same time ensuring that they remain in a status of perpetual poverty and want.
Racism has been most prevalent in the United States where whites actively practiced and to some level still practice discrimination of people based on the color of their skin. The anatomy of racism can be understood in three ways: through its purpose, content, and structure. Its purpose is simply to make the lives of those practicing dominance over a certain race better at the expense of the non-dominant race. Throughout history, Whites of European origin have always viewed themselves as being superior to people who have darker skin with regards to intelligence and other desirable qualities (Rothenberg, 5). In the United States, this can mostly be understood from the history of slavery where African Americans were forced into inhumane working conditions in plantations and households for no pay so that the Whites could have quality lifestyles and better economic conditions. In this case, the African Americans were treated unequally so that the dominant race could improve their lifestyle. These injustices were always justified by the dominant race based on these perceived difference (Rothenberg 5). The exploitation of the discriminated group has always been the purpose of racism. Over the years, this type of inequity has been repackaged under racial caste systems that seem to die down but in a real sense are reborn in different ways that are tailored to the needs of the time (Alexander, 14). For instance, in Alexander’s ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’, the Jim Crow system that seemed to have died off a long time ago, has been proven to have been reborn in our world today disguised as a war on drugs.
Secondly is the content of racism. Usually, the content of racism entails many different excuses that the dominant race offers to rationalize the discrimination they impose on other races. In most cases, the excuse given is that Whites are superior in intelligence compared to other races. African Americans have even been used in cruel medical experiments that were geared towards establishing their inferiority in intelligence when compared to Whites (Washington 18). Finally, in the autonomy of racism is its structures. These are the ways that society and all its compositions implement processes or policies that limit or completely exclude people of non-dominant races. These procedures and policies may go unchanged and unchallenged for many years thereby becoming entrenched in our lives so that they appear as the norm in our everyday lives.
From these structures arises the various forms of racism that exist in our society. Institutional racism is a type of systemic-level racism which can be understood as the discrimination and negative treatment in various institutions of a certain group of people based on the color of their skin. Institutional racism takes many forms based on the type of institution in question. Educational racism is the discrimination of a certain racial group in educational institutions like public schools and universities. One of the most appropriate examples of this type of racism was by limiting educational opportunities to African Americans by barring them from attending certain schools (Alexander 24). As a result, these students were denied the ability to achieve their full educational potential.
Housing racism is the discrimination of certain racial group in the housing sector. This form of discrimination was usually prevalent in the early twentieth century where banks would deny loans to neighborhoods they considered to be at high risk of defaulting payment. These neighborhoods were normally occupied by African American. Accordingly, housing racism denied its victims the privilege of enjoying decent housing conditions.
Political racism, on the other hand, is discrimination of certain racial groups in political institutions by legislating laws that infringe on their rights. In the past, politicians competed with each other by passing laws that were extremely oppressive and discriminatory. For instance, a law was passed which prohibited Whites from playing chess with African Americans (Alexander 24).
Medical racism is discrimination of some racial groups in health institutions. For instance, in the eighteenth century, slaves were not treated in the same medical institutions as Whites. Instead, they were treated in filthy shacks which were referred to as ‘slave hospitals’ and the medical care offered was abusive and unsafe (Alexander 26). Additionally, people of color have a higher likelihood of being used in medical experiments than other races. For instance, in the 1970s, doctors administered harmful research drugs exclusively to women of color (Washington 145).
Legal racism is a form of racial discrimination done on a legal basis. This discrimination can be in the form of prosecution and criminal convictions of certain racial groups. The criminal justice system held and still hold trials and makes convictions on a racial basis. In this day and age, this form of oppression has taken the form of the war on drugs, which contributes greatly to the current mass incarceration system. According to Alexander (7), “mass incarceration in the United States has, in fact, emerged as a stunningly comprehensive and well-disguised system of racialized social control.”
Economic racism can be defined as the negative treatment of a racial group based on economic factors. These factors include job accessibility as well as wages paid for work. Even after the abolishment of slavery, some jobs were still inaccessible to African Americans. Additionally, some racial groups, mostly minorities, earn fewer wages for the same jobs compared to their White counterparts. Moreover, occupational benefits were not extended to African Americans who happened to be educated or to African American veterans returning from the war (Rothenberg 45).
Cultural Racism is discrimination of a certain group of people’s beliefs, values, and ideas based on the color of their skin. For instance, European settlers upon arrival in America deemed the Native Indians inferior based on their beliefs and cultural practices (Alexander 19). Whites also considered African Americans inferior like the Native Indians, due to their cultural practices, beliefs, and values. Additionally, based on this, they concluded that Africans were more inferior to the native Indians which saw the birth of slavery (Alexander 19).
Racialization is an ideological process that is formulated from pre-existing conceptual elements, which are drawn from struggles of competing political ideas, which articulate similar elements in different ways (Rothenberg 17). In the mid-nineteenth century, the racialization of the Irish in Europe began as a way of responding to the huge waves of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe (Rothenberg 39). Before this, European immigrants, including Jews were generally assimilated into the white population. However, after 1880, too many people were migrating to the U.S for working purposes from Europe. As a result, there was a growing fear among the U.S born white protestant-elite who were scared of the immigrating inassimilable working class. These fears gained great social legitimacy in the early twentieth century which developed into theories of eugenics and scientific racism. Among these theories was Grant’s “The Passing of the Great Race,” which popularized the notion that race-mixing among European races would be catastrophic thereby should be discouraged (Alexander 40). By 1920, it was embedded in people’s minds that real Americans were only whites and these Whites were only those from northwest Europe. As a result, this concept of whiteness came into being and was accepted. This notion saw all other races excluded and discriminated against leading to the deportation of Mexicans during the Great Depression and exclusion of all Asians in immigration to the U.S.
It is important to note that race is not scientific since it is not a biological reality. This means that there is no natural way of defining any specific racial distinction. However, people have used biology to naturalize differences that have been socially constructed, thereby rationalizing these created hierarchies scientifically. Therefore, racism is placed behind a biological mask thereby disguising it as scientific. However, the fact that it is not scientific doesnot mean that it does not exist or it is not real. Race exist, not in the scientific realm but in the social structure realm. Instead of a being an existing scientific concept, racism becomes real by being a system of social descriptions that was invented by White Europeans and inflicted upon non-white Europeans.
White privilege is a term used to describe the societal benefits that people considered white enjoy beyond what is usually experienced by non-whites under the same conditions. “It is an invisible package of unearned assets that white people can count on cashing in each day but which they remain oblivious to” (Rothenberg 188). These privileges are passed down to all white people generation after generation. In the past, a white person had the privilege of attending schools without any prohibitions, they felt like they belonged since they were members of the dominant race, and they could freely criticize, fear, neglect or even be oblivious to anything that was outside their dominant culture forms. These are some things that were denied to their African American counterparts even years after abolishing slavery. Up until the latter half of the twentieth century, African Americans were not allowed to attend some public schools meaning that they did not enjoy the privilege of choosing the direction of their own educational future. Today, a white person enjoys the same rights as before and does not suffer the minor inconveniences that people of color are subjected to every day. As a White person today, it is highly unlikely that I would be followed around or harassed in the mall while shopping. If I was to get a house in a nice neighborhood, it would also be unlikely that I would be treated with suspicion and unpleasantness from neighbors. These are unearned White privileges that we are usually oblivious to, not realizing that other races do not enjoy such privileges. An African American will most likely be treated with a lot of suspicions while shopping and may be subjected to harassment by security or even the police while they are driving around.
One aspect of the ideology of racism is blaming the victim. It is a “phenomenon whereby responses to discriminations are treated as though they were the causes rather than the results of discrimination” (Rothenberg 223). For instance, a poorly educated child in the slum school is blamed for his own miseducation and judged for it instead of blaming the collapsing buildings, torn textbooks, inadequate facilities, frightened principals and the relentless segregation imposed on the child (Rothenberg, 574). Additionally, blaming the victim is used in almost all problems in America. For instance, the terrible healthcare available to the poor is blamed on the poor and explained by declaring that they lack the motivation to earn money to access great health care. Slums are blamed on the dwellers by labeling them as rural migrants who are not accustomed to life in the big city. Blaming the victim is a common defense of the guilty party in rationalizing the wrong committed. Similar to the above examples, African Americans are blamed for racial inequality since their upbringing in a crumbling “negro” family results in most racial evils (Rothenberg, 575). Children from these crumbling families which are usually fatherless or with a series of transient lovers grow up to be fatally wounded and never become upright Americans. Focusing on these families as the root cause of racial evils deviates the society from the real issue of the real causes of racism, segregation, and discrimination (Rothenberg 575). This idea is used to justify and rationalize injustice and cruelty by a group of people. With regards to the cruelest form of racism, Slavery, it was justified and praised for how useful it was to the society at the time and how uplifting it was for the slaves (Rothenberg 578). Physicians were even readily available to present an affirmation to this statement since slaves were considered to be a separate species from Whites and hence, slavery uplifted their status and value. In this case, the wrong doers blamed the slaves for being inferior and used this to justify their wrongs, convinced in their mind that they were doing the right thing. Racism, in this case, is overlooked by dressing it up using rational words which in turn leads society to ignore the blatant discrimination practiced against African Americans.
Reverse Racism is the term used to refer to discriminatory acts committed against the racial majority by the racial minorities or groups historically deemed as oppressed. Most scholars have argued that this notion is a myth that was caused by affirmative action geared towards awarding discriminated groups their rights and freedom. For instance, a white man may be experiencing a decline in his economic status and believes that this is so because he is being dragged down to the bottom by the people of color employed in the same position that has recently been given the same rights and privileges (Rothenberg 283). Instead of realizing that these people might be doing a good job, he blames reverse racism ignoring the fact that he might have been enjoying unearned white privilege. Additionally, White people would withhold praise and give credit to people of color if they succeed since they view it as underserved benefits of affirmative action and practice of reverse discrimination (Rothenberg 284). Reverse racism can also be argued to be a myth since it is simply misinterpreted prejudice and not actually racism. This means that other races may have pre-judgments about white people that is not based on actual experiences. A reason for this argument is that these minority groups are lower in the hierarchy of power and do not possess the institutional support needed to commit racism. This means that reverse racism fails to take into account the specific historical ways that racism orders of inequality were established. Additionally, it is a myth since it can be seen as a way used by white people to deny their white privileges and the power they have possessed all throughout history at the expense of other races. Moreover, it can be considered a myth as a way of white people to deny or tone down the racist acts they have committed in the past. Based on all these, it can be concluded that reverse racism is definitely a myth.
America, as we know it today, is filled with racial characterizations that have seeped their way into our society such that they appear to be parts of nature (Rothenberg 31). Rothenberg (31) notes that in the early days of colonization, way before slavery came into being in the United States, Africans and Europeans appeared to not have realized their physical differences, mostly regarding the color of their skin. During this time, servants were both of African and European descent and they lived together and even married each other. Liking and disliking each other during these times was based on individual rather than racial differences. Masters exercised their rule over servants equally regardless of their race. Any disobedience or resistance was punished in the same way for both African and European servants. Moreover, these servants were freed if they lived to the end of their servitude. Finally, Europeans did not discriminate Native Americans or consider them different from them based on their racial differences but on their cultural differences.
Racialization came into being due to the desire of the elite Whites to divide and rule their labor force. Racialization was necessary to them since Africans had the ability to come together and rebel against the colonial rule. With this in mind, they utilized the domination they had over the colonial legislatures to construct rules of dividing and ruling different races and created courts to administer them. By doing this, they started to build a racial strategy which would eventually develop into the racism we know today. One of the rules created was recognition of other races especially Africans and Native Americans as non-Europeans. As a result, these groups were not be allowed to vote (Rothenberg 32). Additionally, another rule that aimed at keeping the races separate was enacted in 1691. This legislation established the use of severe punishment, either by physical punishment or enslavement, to any woman who would marry an Indian or an African. However, enslavement of White women was abolished since it “transgressed the meaning of slavery as Black” (Rothenberg 31). Moreover, to solidify these racial differences, a law was passed which required Blacks and Whites laborers to have different living quarters in order to discourage any intimacy among them, that would result in “Black” children.
African men were denied any manly rights of owning property and guns, which drastically impacted the distribution of wealth in the United States. These laws went a step further and prohibited Whites from teaching their slaves how to read and write so that they could not perform any skilled jobs or revolt against their masters. Generally, these rules dictated that any White laborer who dared to run away with an African was to be punished at a degree greater than the proportion of his/her offense. In additional, Europeans right to free slaves was heavily reduced. From this, it is clear that pigmentation of one’s skin was fundamental in determining Whiteness and Blackness of an individual in the history of the United States. However, the exception of this can be seen with regards to children of both White and “Black” parents. Any child born of a Black woman by a White man was considered Black and was immediately labeled as a slave. This measure was undertaken in order to keep the races separate and pure, meaning that there were no mixed children. In particular, the elite exercised force against both Whites and Blacks. “White men” from mixed relationships were sometimes murdered to keep them White. Similarly, “Black men” from such relationships were also murdered to keep them Black (Rothenberg 32).
As a result of this separation of the races in all aspects of life, racial inferiority and superiority developed. Whites exercised White personal power over African Americans on a daily basis, which led them to believe that they were the superior race. The things that showed racial superiority were that: Whites alone were allowed to possess guns and use them for self-defense; White servants were allowed to own livestock while Africans were denied this right; White servants were granted their freedom after serving their time while Africans were never given any freedom; any White person could punish an African if they felt that the slave had not shown them the proper respect, Whites were exempted from such form of disciplinary measure; White men were free to exercise control over their women without any interference from the elite while African slaves were denied the right to have a family since it was argued that if they had wives, the slave husbands would have control over their wives instead of the master; free Black women were identified as labor and their husbands or employers were required by law to pay a tithe on them since they were recognized as less than women while White women were referred to as home keepers and their husbands did not pay any tax for them; Africans were whipped naked while it was illegal to whip a Whites naked; White servants were given light tasks while Africans were involved in hard labor; and finally, only White men could secure a job as to oversee Black labor (Rothenberg 33).
However, despite all these privileges awarded to Whites, which solidified their superiority over Blacks in the United States, poor landless Whites saw little if any positive effect that these rights had over their lives. As a result, rebellions were rampant since this group of Whites were displeased with the state of their lives and saw themselves as no better off than the slaves because although they had been granted abstract superiority over African slaves, their lives were far from being better off. For this reason, these poor landless Whites needed to be given material reasons to set them apart from African slaves and Native Americans and in the process physically solidify Whites as the superior race. Since the only connection that existed between the White elites and the poor landless Whites was their European ancestry, real significance needed to be given for this connection to solidify. To achieve this, Rothenberg (34), points out that land was made available to these group of Whites, and as property owners, they now had a vested interest in law and order. Since these land owners were allowed to administer legal mechanisms that were used to control their labor force, the ownership of this property by itself removed their desire to revolt.
From the above paragraph, it is clear that the construction of whiteness and superiority of this race over all others was initially based on the physical benefits that Whites acquired over Africans like land. Although Whites had grown to believe that they were overall superior to the Africans, by the mid-1800s, these material benefits that proved their superiority had faded and most of them were forced to sell their labor on farms or in industries, which made them start to doubt if they were really any better that the African slaves (Rothenberg 34). At the same time, the elite had run out of material gains to offer White people to reaffirm their view of whiteness as something to be proud of and as the superior race. For this reason, they had to result to psychological ways to instill the idea of whiteness as superior to blackness. These psychological ways included funding of White intellectuals who published newspapers, novels, songs, sermons, speeches, and even discussions which showed whiteness as a natural benefit in itself even in the face of lacking material advantages (Rothenberg 34). This psychological sense of superiority allowed struggling Whites to rediscover their superiority over African Americans and all other races. Rothenberg identifies this process as the “psychological wage” that substituted material gains as a reward of being White. Since they used publications to subconsciously instill whiteness as a natural benefit, the elite utilized passive/non-critical consciousness on the poor White masses in order to effectively control them.
Additionally, Blacks and non-White immigrants were always given manual labor and house chores while skilled jobs were strictly given to White men. As a result, Whites believed that their specified jobs set them apart from non-Whites and they began to identify their whiteness and manhood to better jobs with better pay than all other races. White men began competing with each other in terms of productivity, which became the official mark of manhood. In particular, “White man’s work” became the new defining characteristic of whiteness (Rothenberg 35). Freedom, which Whites naturally had a right to, was equated to one’s right to sell their own labor as opposed to slavery which denied these rights. Owning land was no longer the mark of whiteness, rather, by possession of skills, the Whites could use their better employment opportunities to earn wages and independently provide for their families (Rothenberg 35). From this, the elite exercised critical consciousness to control the poor Whites and ensure their allegiance to them. Generally, this method made most Whites came to psychologically internalize their whiteness as a trait that made them more superior to other races.
Due to the long history of racism in the United States of America, it had been highly entrenched into the members of this society. Even today, it has not completely diminished, but it can be noted that it has significantly reduced. Unfortunately, even in today’s modern society, and in our everyday lives, racism manifests itself in various ways and still shows its ugly head and as a result negatively affects the different races that live in the United States, excluding the White race. Perhaps the most affected race in history and still today are African Americans. This race has been subjected to the worst form of racism, slavery. More specifically, they were dehumanized and denied their fundamental human rights. They had to fight very hard to acquire these rights that should be granted naturally. Today, reports show that African-American teenagers are more likely to get arrested, taken to juvenile courts or adult courts, charged and punished in harsher ways than their White counterparts for the same crimes. Rothenberg (224), after carrying out sufficient research, reports that Blacks are six times more likely than Whites to be sentenced to prison; Black youths charged with violent crimes for the first time are nine times more likely than Whites to be sentenced to prison; and Black youths charged with drug offences are forty-eight times more likely than Whites to be sentenced to prison. In addition, the war on drugs is unfortunately targeted at people of color and determined to put Black men behind bars for as long as possible, to the extent of even giving first-time drug offenders’ life sentences (Alexander56).
Latino Americans, on the other hand, are also negatively affected by racism. During the Great Depression, Mexicans were deported based on their race. Rothenberg (224), reports that the average incarceration period for Hispanic youths charged with violent crimes is 305 days compared to 193 days for White youths charged with similar offenses. Such a large disparity and bias in law enforcement based on race is discriminatory and denies the Latino Americans equal rights as Whites. Moreover, research studies have shown that two in every five Latinos have experienced some sort of racial discrimination in the past five years (Rothenberg 242). Additionally, Latinos are racially profiled as holding cleaner and maid jobs and many of them have attested to being confused or referred to using these job titles even though they hold blue collar jobs or are highly accomplished in their fields.
American Indians, next to African Americans, have suffered from racism for a long time. America, being their native land, it seems unfair to discriminate against them. However, racism against this group is still present and keeps on negatively affecting their lives. Throughout history, Native Americans have had resources stripped away from them, especially their land. Today, most people still do not acknowledge Native Americans as true Americans and most high schools have offensive, stereotypical and demeaning Native Indian Mascots in their schools (Rothenberg 269).
Jewish Americans at a point in history were known as the “model minority” and were not acknowledged as part of the White race (Rothenberg 302). However, over the years, they have been assimilated into the White community and are no longer considered a separate race from Whites. The United States have a history of regarding Jews as members of an inferior race (Rothenberg 39). Race mixing, especially with Jews, was considered an abomination since the belief was that “a cross between the three European races and a Jew resulted in a Jew” (Rothenberg 40). In higher education, Jews faced a lot of discrimination since the White Protestants complained that they were unclean, unrefined, loud, pushy, and uncouth (Rothenberg 41). These views led to a lot of opposition of Jews in institutions of Higher education.
Muslim Americans, on the other hand, also suffer the negative effects of racism. For Muslims, the racism they face is that they are all labeled as terrorists. Generally, Muslim Americans suffer racism based on being misunderstood by most Americans and being misrepresented by the media (Rothenberg 358). Additionally, due to the tragedy of 9/11, White Americans have always associated Islam with terrorism thereby treating all Muslims with a lot of suspicion and mistrust.
Asian Americans also faced their fair share of discrimination throughout American history and even today. Americans discriminated against this race since they considered them non-White. In particular, this discrimination was so severe that it led to laws that completely expelled and excluded Chinese in 1882 (Rothenberg 41). During the Second World War and the Vietnam war, Americans regarded Asian men as small, soft, and effeminate. In fact, they hardly acknowledged them as men at all (Rothenberg 90). Additionally, they were also regarded as “vicious and cruel torturers who were immorally disinterested in life itself and willing to sacrifice their people for their whims” (Rothenberg 91). Today, Asians are the victims of casual racism since they do not identify themselves as people of color.
Finally, Arab Americans also suffer their fair share of racism. In media depictions, Arabs in America were depicted as “lowlifes” and “human hyenas” and additionally, the dictionary described them as “vagabond, drifter, hobo, and vagrant” (Rothenberg 35). Arabs have taken up the mantle of a false portrait as a swarthy menace that was carried by Jews for so long and have managed to remain American culture’s favorite whipping boy through the advancement of negative stereotypes of them everywhere.
To sum up, it is clear that racism has been in existence for most of America’s history and it still in existence today. For this reason, there is a need to find practical remedies for it so that all Americans of all races can be able to live in harmony. In fact, if left unchecked, the debilitating social phenomenon of racism will continue to limit the ability of Americans to exploit their skills and expertise, a situation that will make the discriminated groups to remain in a status of perpetual poverty and want.
Alexander Michelle. The New Jim Crow. Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press. 2010.
Rothenberg Paula. Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study. Tenth Edition. Worth Publishers. April 1, 2016.
Washington Harriet. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 8 Jan 2008.