Racism is prejudice and discrimination against individuals or groups based on the historically discredited idea that they are biologically inferior.
Racial discrimination can be individual, institutional or structural and may involve everything from overt violence agains others based on their race, unfair policies which discriminate agains a particular group, such as excluding them from educational or work opportunities or at the societal level it may involve a whole hierarchy based on the idea of race.
The concept of race is historically tied up with power, and for Europeans the most well-known historical manifestation of racism is the global slave system in which white power, wealth and privilege was built on the exploitation of mainly people from Africa and Asia.
While today modern slavery based on the concept of race is long behind us, there are still many ways in which American and European societies appear to be racist.
What is Racism?
Racism = Race Prejudice + Power
A specious classification of human beings created by Europeans (whites) which assigns human worth and social status using ‘white’ as the model of humanity and the height of human achievement for the purpose of establishing and maintaining privilege and power. The idea of Race, is based on the ideas of white supremacy and white privilege.
A prejudice is a pre-judgment in favor of or against a person, a group, an event, an idea, or a thing. An action based on prejudgment is discrimination. A negative prejudgment is often called a stereotype. An action based on a stereotype is called bigotry.
Power is a relational term. It can only be understood as a relationship between human beings in a specific historical, economic and social setting. It must be exercised to be visible.
Five key aspects of power are:
- Power is control of, or access to, those institutions sanctioned by the state.
- Power is the ability to define reality and to convince other people that it is their definition.
- Power is ownership and control of the major resources of a state; and the capacity to make and enforce decisions based on this ownership and control;
- Power is the capacity of a group of people to decide what they want and to act in an organized way to get it.
- (In terms of an individual), power is the capacity to act.
Structural Racism, Institutional Racism and Individual Racism
These are best seen as different levels of Racism – structural racism being TOTAL historical and systemic racism, institutional, is the next level down, at the level of institutions such as the police, and individual is obviously just at the level of the individual
Structural Racism in the U.S. is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of colour.
It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by white supremacy – the preferential treatment, privilege and power for white people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other racially oppressed people.
Structural Racism Structural Racism lies underneath, all around and across society. It encompasses:
- history, which lies underneath the surface, providing the foundation for white supremacy in this country.
- culture, which exists all around our everyday lives, providing the normalization and replication of racism and,
- interconnected institutions and policies, they key relationships and rules across society providing the legitimacy and reinforcements to maintain and perpetuate racism.
Structural Racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism (e.g. institutional, interpersonal, internalized, etc.) emerge from structural racism.
Indicators of Structural Racism
The key indicators of structural racism are inequalities in power, access, opportunities, treatment, and policy impacts and outcomes, whether they are intentional or not.
Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually producing new, and re-producing old forms of racism.
Institutional racism is discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and inequitable opportunities and impacts, based on race, produced and perpetuated by institutions (schools, mass media, etc.). Individuals within institutions take on the power of the institution when they act in ways that advantage and disadvantage people, based on race.
These are private manifestations of racism that reside inside the individual.
Examples include prejudice, xenophobia, internalized oppression and privilege, and beliefs about race influenced by the dominant culture.
White Supremacy, Whiteness and White Privilege
An aspect of Racism which often goes unconsidered is the idea of ‘whiteness’ as being the baseline from which everything else is judged. As with everything else in sociology, this idea started somewhere in history and is a social construction.
The term white, referring to people, was created by Virginia slave owners and colonial rulers in the 17th century. It replaced terms like Christian and “Englishman” (sic) to distinguish European colonists from Africans and indigenous peoples. European colonial powers established white as a legal concept after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 during which indentured servants of European and African descent had united against the colonial elite.
The legal distinction of white separated the servant class on the basis of skin color and continental origin. “The creation of ‘white’ meant giving privileges to some, while denying them to others with the justification of biological and social inferiority.
A privilege is a right, favor, advantage, immunity, specially granted to one individual or group, and withheld from another. White privilege is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of:
(1) Preferential prejudice for and treatment of white people based solely on their skin color and/or ancestral origin from Europe; and
(2) Exemption from racial and/or national oppression based on skin color and/or ancestral origin from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Arab world.
White supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.
In a white supremacy system, white privilege and racial oppression are two sides of the same coin. “White peoples were exempt from slavery, land grab and genocide, the first forms of white privilege (in the future US).”
Signposting and Relevance to A-Level Sociology
I would usually teach this material as part of a two week introduction to sociology.
The concept of Racism is central to understanding differentiation and inequality in society, and it is a fundamental key concept in sociology. It is especially relevant to explaining differences in imprisonment rates and educational achievement, and why some countries are less developed than others.
To return to the homepage – revisesociology.com
All of the definitions above are taken from one source, which is US based, source below, so don’t forget to be critical of the ideas here:
Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities POVERTY OUTCOMES Structural Racism By Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center at UC Berkeley For the Race and Public Policy Conference 2004