Understanding Racism

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Racism has existed throughout human history. It may be defined as the hatred of one person by another — or the belief that another person is less than human — because of skin color, language, customs, place of birth or any factor that supposedly reveals the basic nature of that person. It has influenced wars, slavery, the formation of nations, and legal codes.

During the past 500-1000 years, racism on the part of Western powers toward non-Westerners has had a far more significant impact on history than any other form of racism (such as racism among Western groups or among Easterners, such as Asians, Africans, and others). The most notorious example of racism by the West has been slavery, particularly the enslavement of Africans in the New World (slavery itself dates back thousands of years). This enslavement was accomplished because of the racist belief that Black Africans were less fully human than white Europeans and their descendants.

This belief was not “automatic”: that is, Africans were not originally considered inferior. When Portuguese sailors first explored Africa in the 15th and 16th centuries, they came upon empires and cities as advanced as their own, and they considered Africans to be serious rivals. Over time, though, as African civilizations failed to match the technological advances of Europe, and the major European powers began to plunder the continent and forcibly remove its inhabitants to work as slave laborers in new colonies across the Atlantic, Africans came to be seen as a deficient “species,” as “savages.” To an important extent, this view was necessary to justify the slave trade at a time when Western culture had begun to promote individual rights and human equality. The willingness of some Africans to sell other Africans to European slave traders also led to claims of savagery, based on the false belief that the “dark people” were all kinsmen, all part of one society – as opposed to many different, sometimes warring nations.

One important feature of racism, especially toward Blacks and immigrant groups, is clear in attitudes regarding slaves and slavery. Jews are usually seen by anti-Semites as subhuman but also superhuman: devilishly cunning, skilled, and powerful. Blacks and others are seen by racists as merely subhuman, more like beasts than men. If the focus of anti-Semitism is evil, the focus of racism is inferiority — directed toward those who have sometimes been considered to lack even the ability to be evil (though in the 20th century, especially, victims of racism are often considered morally degraded).

In the second half of the 19th century, Darwinism, the decline of Christian belief, and growing immigration were all perceived by many white Westerners as a threat to their cultural control. European and, to a lesser degree, American scientists and philosophers devised a false racial “science” to “prove” the supremacy of non-Jewish whites. While the Nazi annihilation of Jews discredited most of these supposedly scientific efforts to elevate one race over another, small numbers of scientists and social scientists have continued throughout the 20th century to argue the inborn shortcomings of certain races, especially Blacks. At the same time, some public figures in the American Black community have championed the supremacy of their own race and the inferiority of whites – using nearly the identical language of white racists.

All of these arguments are based on a false understanding of race; in fact, contemporary scientists are not agreed on whether race is a valid way to classify people. What may seem to be significant “racial” differences to some people – skin color, hair, facial shape – are not of much scientific significance. In fact, genetic differences within a so-called race may be greater than those between races. One philosopher writes: “There are few genetic characteristics to be found in the population of England that are not found in similar proportions in Zaire or in China….those differences that most deeply affect us in our dealings with each other are not to any significant degree biologically determined.”

An American perspective, however, the same is true of black people in the UK and many other countries:

Black people absolutely face systematic oppression. Statistics overwhelmingly support this. Black people are more likely to live in poorer neighborhoods than white people who have comparable incomes. This illustrates that income isn’t the main factor when it comes to segregation. Housing segregation is a real and powerful deterrent to black families.


There is an overwhelming discrepancy between the wealth of white households and black households. White households are, on average, worth 13 time more than black households. White people make up 64% of the country’s population, yet have 88% of the country’s wealth. Compare this to black people who make up roughly 13 percent of the population, yet only make up 2.7% of the country’s wealth. The median outcome for white families in 2011 was $111,146 versus $7,113 for black families.

These 2 Charts Prove We’re Nowhere Near A ‘Post-Racial Society’



Between 1984 and 2009, the wealth gap between whites and blacks has almost tripled despite the promise of equality, post Civil Rights Movement. This shows that white people are able to accumulate wealth at a much faster pace than black people and that there is an unequal distribution of opportunities.


The recession had less of an impact on white families than it did black families. From the years 2007 to 2010, the average white income fell 11% compared to 31% for the average black income. In addition to this, the home equity of white families fell by 24% versus 28% for black families. More shocking, is that the retirement savings of white families actually grew by 9%. For black families, retirement savings fell by 35%. This indicates that black families had to tap into their savings to make ends meet, whereas white families were still able to support themselves without tapping into their savings.

Racial Wealth Gap Widened During Recession

Black people are more likely to be the targets of subprime loans compared to white people who have similar credit scores. Subprime loans are loans given to people that don’t qualify for the loan at a prime rate due to poor credit history. Instead they are given the loan at a subprime rate, which has a high interest rate. In other words, there was over a 30% chance that blacks would receive higher interest rates than whites of similar credit history.


Conversely, minorities are more likely to be rejected a conventional mortgage loan than whites with similar credit history. According to statistics, the Government Sponsored Enterprise (GSE) denied housing loans to 40% of all African American applicants versus just 14% of Caucasian applicants in 2012.

How well do the GSEs serve minority borrowers?

Black and Hispanic children are more likely to attend underfunded schools than white students. One study showed that a 10% increase the number of minority students corresponds to a $75 decrease in spending per student. In other words, for every 10% increase in students of color, the school loses $75 for every student that they have. On average, schools invest $334 more on white students than they do on non-white students.


One study showed that black boys are thought to be older and less innocent than white boys of the same age (i.e. black children are dehumanized). This contributes to minority juveniles receiving harsher sentences than white juveniles.


In the USA, white Americans use drugs more than black Americans, however black Americans are arrested over three times more than white Americans for drug possession.

White America Does The Crime, Black America Gets The Time

Black Americans receive nearly 20% longer prison sentences than white Americans who commit similar crimes.


According to a 2003 study, white men with felony records are more likely to get a job interview (17%) than black men with clean records (14%).

Race, Criminal Background, and Employment

Employers are more likely to turn down job applicants who have names that don’t sound “white”.


Black Americans are less likely than white Americans to positively benefit from social mobility. If you are a black American, you are less likely to advance in social class and more likely to fall in social class.

Upward Mobility: It’s a Race Thing

The truth about social mobility and demographics