Introduction (Psychology and Mental Health)
The social and psychological study of prejudice and discrimination, including prejudice and discrimination against African Americans, has a long history; the term “racism,” however, did not enter the language of social psychology until the publication of the Kerner Commission Report of 1968, which blamed all-pervasive “white racism” for widespread black rioting in American cities. While usually applied to black-white relations in the United States, the term is also sometimes used with regard to white Americans’ relations with other minority groups, such as Asians or Latinos, or to black-white relations outside the United States, for example, in Britain, Canada, or South Africa. Most of the studies and research on racism have focused on white racism against blacks in the United States.
Racism is seen by many social psychologists not as mere hatred but as a deep-rooted habit that is hard to change; hence, subvarieties of racism are distinguished. Psychoanalyst Joel Kovel, in his book White Racism: A Psychohistory (1970), distinguishes between dominative racism, the desire to oppress blacks, and aversive racism, the desire to avoid contact with blacks. Aversive racism, Samuel L. Gaertner and John Dovidio find, exists among those whites who pride themselves on being unprejudiced. David O. Sears, looking at whites’ voting behavior and their political opinions as expressed in survey responses, finds what he calls...
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Racism and Stereotypes (Psychology and Mental Health)
Stereotypes are ideas, often rigidly held, concerning members of a group to which one does not belong. Social psychologists who follow the cognitive approach to the study of racism, such as David L. Hamilton, Walter G. Stephan, and Myron Rothbart, argue that racial stereotyping (the tendency of whites to see blacks in some roles and not in others) arises, like any other kind of stereotyping, from the need of every human being to create some sort of order out of his or her perceptions of the world. Although stereotypes are not entirely impervious to revision or even to shattering in the face of disconfirming instances, information related to a stereotype is more efficiently retained than information unrelated to it. Whites, it has been found, tend to judge blacks to be more homogeneous than they really are, while being more aware of differences within their own group: This is called the out-group homogeneity hypothesis. Whites who are guided by stereotypes may act in such a way as to bring out worse behavior in blacks than would otherwise occur, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Why is stereotypical thinking on the part of whites about African Americans so hard to eliminate? The history of race relations in the United States deserves some of the blame. Some mistakes in reasoning common to the tolerant and the intolerant alike—such as the tendency to remember spectacular events and to think of them as occurring...
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Policy Guides (Psychology and Mental Health)
Institutional racism occurs when policies that are nonracial on their face have differential results for the two races. For example, a stiff educational requirement for a relatively unskilled job may effectively exclude blacks, whose educational preparation may be weaker, at least in part because of past racial discrimination. The policy of hiring friends and relatives of existing employees may also exclude blacks, if blacks have not historically worked in a particular business. In both cases, the effect is discriminatory even if the intent is not.
Somewhat connected with the concept of institutional racism is Pettigrew’s notion of conformity-induced prejudice and discrimination. A classic example is that of the pre-civil-rights-era Southern United States, where urban restaurant owners, regardless of their personal feelings about blacks, refused them service out of deference to local norms. Another example is the case of the white factory worker who cooperates with black fellow workers on the job and in union activities but strenuously opposes blacks moving into his neighborhood; norms of tolerance are followed in one context, norms of discrimination in the other.
The concept of symbolic (sometimes called “modern”) racism, a form of covert prejudice said to be characteristic of political conservatives, arose from a series of questions designed to predict whether white Californians would vote against black political...
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History and Developments (Psychology and Mental Health)
Although the study of racism per se began with the racial crisis of the 1960’s, the study of prejudice in general goes back much further; as early as the 1920’s, Emory Bogardus constructed a social distance scale measuring the degree of intimacy members of different racial and ethnic groups were willing to tolerate with one another. At first, psychologists tended to seek the roots of prejudice in the emotional makeup of the prejudiced individual rather than in the structure of society or in the general patterns of human cognition. For many years, the study of antiblack prejudice was subsumed under the study of prejudice in general; those biased against blacks were thought to be biased against other groups, such as Jews, as well.
In the years immediately following World War II, American social psychologists were optimistic about the possibilities for reducing or even eliminating racial and ethnic prejudices. Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality, and The Nature of Prejudice (1954), by Gordon Allport, reflect the climate of opinion of the time. Allport, whose view of prejudice represented a mixture of the psychoanalytic and cognitive approaches, used the term “racism” to signify the doctrines preached by negrophobe political demagogues; he did not see it as a deeply ingrained bad habit pervading the entire society. Pettigrew, who wrote about antiblack prejudice from the late 1950’s on,...
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Sources for Further Study (Psychology and Mental Health)
Allport, Gordon W. The Nature of Prejudice. 1954. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1990. This detailed, beautifully written, and influential book, accessible to both the general reader and the scholar, devotes equal space to anti-Jewish and antiblack prejudice, with passing references to other types of prejudice. Contains one of the earliest expositions of the contact hypothesis and one of the earliest treatments of the relationship between prejudice and stereotyping. Somewhat dated by both its optimistic meliorism and its references to extremist political movements of the 1940’s.
Barndt, Joseph. Understanding and Dismantling Racism: The Twenty-First Century Challenge to White America. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2007. This resource provides the history of racism in the United States and looks at how racism has been expressed in a variety of ways on the issues of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and undocumented workers.
Bell, Derrick. Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. New York: Basic Books, 1992. This book gives a clear insight into racism in the United States.
Campbell, Duane. Choosing Democracy: A Practical Guide to Multicultural Education. 4th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2009. A textbook for teachers and other educators on how to create a nonracist classroom.
Dovidio, John F., and Samuel L. Gaertner, eds....
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A World Conference Condemns Racial Discrimination (Great Events from History II: Human Rights Series)
Article abstract: The Declaration of the World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination condemned apartheid and racial policies of governments, suggesting economic and political boycotts of regimes with these policies.
Summary of Event
The World Conference to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination met in Geneva, Switzerland, from August 14 to August 25, 1978. Representatives of 125 states attended. A number of United Nations agencies and several intergovernmental organizations also sent observers. The conference marked the halfway point in the United Nations’ first Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination (DACRRD. 1973-1983).
The United Nations convened the world conference in 1978 to promote the goals of the DACRRD of preserving rights and freedoms for all persons without any distinction of race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin; of opposing and eliminating any policies and practices of racist regimes; and of pursuing a vigorous worldwide campaign of information to dispel racial prejudice. The conference held fifteen plenary meetings. It adopted a declaration and a program of action, which were later endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly. The draft resolutions (Resolutions 33/99 and 33/100) were considered on December 16, 1978. The first was adopted by a roll-call vote of 107 to 18, with 11 abstentions, and the second by a roll-call vote of 101 to 19, with 15...
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Racism (Encyclopedia of Psychology)
The belief that members of one (or more) races are inferior to members of other races.
Racism is most commonly used to describe the belief that members of one's own race are superior physically, mentally, culturally, and morally to members of other races. Racist beliefs provide the foundation for extending special rights, privileges, and opportunities to the race that is believed to be superior, and to withholding rights, privileges, and opportunities from the races believed to be inferior. No scientific evidence supports racist claims, although racism exists in all countries and cultures. The definition of racism has evolved to describe prejudice against a group of people based on the belief that human groups are unequal genetically, and that members of some racial groups are thus inferior. Sociologists distinguish between individual racism, a term describing attitudes and beliefs of individuals, and institutional racism, which denotes governmental and organizational policies that restrict minority groups or demean them by the application of stereotypes. While such policies are being corrected to eliminate institutional racism, individual racism nonetheless persists.
Scientists have acknowledged individual differences among ethnic and racial groups, citing the importance of environment in shaping...
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Racism (Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity)
Once considered an objective scientific theory of difference within human populations, racism has become regarded as an ideology of social domination and exclusion on the basis of biological and genetic variation. The scientific basis of racism has been largely discredited, but the ideas that human populations can be divided into distinct groups based on phenotype, that the culture and behavior of these groups is determined by genetic differences, and that biological difference justifies the dominance of certain races over others remain widely influential.
Racism often figures prominently in the ideologies that justify and promote genocide and other crimes against humanity. Dominant social groups commonly use racial categorizations to differentiate other social groups and justify their exclusion and marginalization. The belief that personality and social behavior are linked to biology and therefore are unalterable makes physical removal or annihilation the only possible means of solving the perceived problem of undesirable social groups.
The idea that human populations can be divided into distinct racial groups based on physical differences dates back many centuries. Modern racism, however, is distinguished by the assumptions that racial categorizations are scientifically valid and objective, and that personality, mental ability, and social behavior of individuals within racial groups are biologically determined. Racial prejudice and discrimination may be based on various factors, but racism focuses explicitly on the hereditary and immutable nature of social difference. Racism blames the subordinate and exploited status of certain racial groups on genetic inferiority.
The roots of modern racism lie in the late Medieval period, when Jewishness came to be regarded as an issue of ancestry rather than belief and black skin was seen as a curse that doomed Africans to mental and cultural inferiority. Because racism regarded Jewishness and blackness as unalterable biological facts, it followed that Jews and blacks could never be reformed and integrated into civilized society. Racism thus justified the expulsion and massacre of Jews in Spain beginning in 1492, and the subsequent persecution of Jews in other countries. It also justified the enslavement of millions of Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The British came to excuse their domination of Ireland, in part, by depicting the Irish as an inferior race who would benefit from British rule.
During the Enlightenment, race became a focus of scientific analysis, as biologists and anthropologists sought to develop objective measures for differentiating between peoples. Yet the study of race was never truly objective, because race scientists were deeply influenced by the assumption that Caucasians were more evolved than other races and that Western civilization was superior to all others. The measurement of physical attributes of various racial groups, phrenology, the quantification of intelligence, and other supposedly objective tools were used to explain the biological sources of the preconceived inferiority of non-white groups and to justify their colonization and domination by Europeans.
Comte Arthur de Gobineau's 1855 "Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races" popularized the idea that social differences were linked to biology, and inspired extensive scientific study of the biological roots of social distinction and identity. Francis Galton, adapting Darwin's ideas on evolution to the study of human development, argued in 1869 that selective breeding could be used to create a superior race of human beings. He coined the term eugenics for this idea, which later influenced the development of Nazism and other genocidal ideologies.
Racism and Genocide
The idea that group identities are fixed and that group characteristics are rooted in biology has often been used to justify crimes against humanity. Minority groups have commonly faced exclusion and discrimination on the basis of their language, religion, or other cultural factors, but when cultural differences are regarded as natural and therefore immutable, more drastic and violent responses become more defensible. Viewing other racial groups as not simply different but inferior effectively dehumanizes them, making violence against them more acceptable.
Racism influenced the development of the institution of slavery in the Americas in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, shaping an emerging distinction between indentured laborers from Europe and and those who came from Africa. The status of European indentured servants gradually improved, while Africans lost rights and benefits, until slavery became an institution uniquely imposed upon those of African ancestry.
The assumption that black people were inferior, even subhuman, justified the extreme brutality of the slave trade, in which Africans were captured and shipped across the Atlantic in terrible conditions, leading to the deaths of millions. Even after the elimination of slavery, ideas of racial superiority continued to justify the social, political, and economic dominance of whites or those with more European ancestry in the United States, Brazil, the Caribbean, and South Africa, the denial of rights to black people, and atrocities such as lynching.
Racism also justified colonialism and the massacre and subjugation of native populations by colonial powers throughout much of the world. Viewing Native Americans as a different, sub-human race allowed Spanish colonizers to feel justified in enslaving and slaughtering them in Central and South America, wiping out entire native peoples. The belief in racial inferiority likewise allowed colonists in North America to displace, subjugate, and kill Native Americans. Colonial conquest of Asia and Africa was promoted as a moral obligation for Europeans, the "white man's burden" to bring civilization to supposedly inferior races. When indigenous populations resisted conquest, these same ideas of their inferiority were used to justify the use of brutal force against them, as in the German extermination of the Herero in Southwest Africa from 1904 to 1907. Africa was colonized after ideas of scientific racism had become widely accepted, and this powerfully shaped colonial policy on the continent. In particular, the British and Belgians understood ethnic group differences in racial terms, and discriminated among their colonial subjects on the assumption that certain "tribes" were better at ruling, others at fighting, and others at laboring.
Within Europe, scientific racism transformed the nature of anti-Semitism, providing scientific justification for the exclusion and persecution of Jews. These ideas reached their peak in the ideology adopted by the National Socialist Party in Germany. The idea that Jews were not simply believers in a different faith but were a different race whose supposed negative characteristics, such as greed and cunning, were biologically programmed excluded the possibility of conversion, assimilation, or reform. Because Nazis regarded the Jewish race as inherently dangerous to Aryan civilization, their complete extermination was posited as the only possible "final solution" to the "Jewish problem," ultimately justifying the massacre of six million Jews. Ideas of racial inferiority and the need to preserve Aryan racial purity were also used to justify the Nazi extermination of an estimated 400,000 Roma people, pejoratively known as Gypsies.
Racism has served as a factor in more recent genocides as well. In the early 1990s, Serbian and Croatian leaders in the states of the former Yugoslavia depicted Muslims not simply as a religious minority but as a non-Slavic racial group, related to the much-hated Turks, who had to be eliminated from the territory in order to purify it. Such beliefs were used to justify ethnic cleansing and ethnic massacres in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Rwanda, German and Belgian colonizers understood the Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa as three distinct racial groups, an artificial interpretation of ethnic differences that Rwandans themselves came to internalize. Colonial policies regarded the minority Tutsi as a superior Hammitic race and gave them control over the rest of the population. A Hutu uprising just prior to independence transferred power to Hutu hands, transforming the Tutsi into a persecuted minority. Hutu extremists ultimately used the idea that the Tutsi were a separate race whose origins lay outside Rwanda to dehumanize the Tutsi and justify the mass slaughter of more than 500,000.
SEE ALSO Anti-Semitism; Eugenics; Genocide; Holocaust; Nationalism
Balibar, Etienne, and Immanuel Walerstein (1991). Race, Nation, and Class: Ambiguous Identities. London: Verso.
Bauman, Zygmunt (1989). Modernity and the Holocaust, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Fein, Helen (1993). Genocide: A Sociological Perspective. London: Sage Publications.
Fredrickson, George (2002). Racism: A Short History. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Marx, Anthony W. (1998). Making Race and Nation: A Comparison of South Africa, the United States, and Brazil. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Memmi, Albert (2000). Racism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Sanders, Edith R. (1969). "The Hamitic Hypothesis: Its Origins and Functions in Time Perspective." Journal of African History 10(4).