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Overt and Covert Racism

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Power + Prejudice

Identifying Racism

The tragic cases of Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin have brought the issue of 21st century racism to the surface.  There is a dialogue taking place in the media, from internet bloggers to major news networks.  The American public seems ready to own up to some of our held prejudices[3338].  Hopefully, from these discussions, we may better identify the existing forms racism, in order to better manage in a culturally diverse society.

For clarification, 'Racism' is an instance when a racial group asserts some form of domination over another racial group.  The article "Racism equals power plus prejudice: A social psychological equation for racial oppression."  by Don Operario and Susan T. Fiske will be used to define racism.  Operario and Fiske break the construct down to: Racism = Power + Prejudice (I only intend to focus on racial prejudices).

Racism exists in both overt and covert forms.

Overt Racism

This is the most widely understood form of racism.  Overt racism classifies intentional acts which are undeniable racist.  Acts such as these are typically very direct, and the motivations are normally surface level.

Covert Racism

Covert racism is a little more difficult to pinpoint, which has been suggested by the Trayvon Martin case.  This is mostly because covert racism is not on the surface, rather integrated into an individual's value system or beliefs.  Among the common manifestations of covert racism:

  • Denial of white privilege
  • Invisibility of race: "I don't see race."  It is now understood that race does not exist biologically, but race is still a social construct.  Race exists only as culture.
Either of the two forms of racism are further classified into three types: Personal, Institutional/Systematic, and Cultural/Societal.[3337]

 Personal Racism

Personal racism is normally overtly expressed in interpersonal interaction.  Consistent with the definition of 'Racism', there is an assertion of power made on the basis of race.


  • deliberately avoiding contact with members of a racial group.
  •  ignoring or silencing members of a racial group.
  •  racially insensitive jokes, comments, or messages.
  •  violent behavior targeting someone because of race.

Institutional/Systematic Racism

This is the more systematic form of racism, which is responsible for, and includes, disproportionate representation of individuals according to racial affiliation.  Racism in this form is common in professional and educational arenas as well as in correctional institutions.


  • culturally bios curriculum, or curriculum which uses racial stereotype, or omits material due to race.
  • retaliation against anyone who makes a complaint about racial discrimination.
  • disproportionate representation of radicalized groups at any level in a University.
  • the assumption that radicalized people are unqualified; rather hired for equity reasons.

Cultural/Societal Racism

Cultural/Societal racism exists more covertly than the other types.  Cultural/Societal racism refers to held beliefs about radicalized groups, as well as assumptions made on the basis of race.  A lack of sensitivity can also contribute to this type of cultural oppression.

cultural/Societal racism is further complicated, because no thought nor human behavior occurs absent of a cultural prospective.  It is especially important to have an awareness of differing value systems, and not to devalue another culture.  Many of us are able to recognise African Americans as culturally different from White Americans, yet we fail to recognise the values associated with African American Culture.  African American culture, generally, values authenticity and relationship over competition.


  • Culturally bios assumptions made, tested, or concluded.  (all tests are culturally influenced) if culture bios cannot be avoided, it is important not to devalue other prospectives.
  • Ignoring the contributions of radicalized people.
  • Associating cultural behaviors or values with inferiority.
Realizing our Role

As unfortunate as it is, we are all guilty of these behaviors, at least, to some degree.  There is a wealth of information and research that is helpful in understanding these behaviors, but not everyone is aware of the level of thought invested in understanding social issues such as racism.

As researchers continue to advance our understanding of racism and prejudice, we have come to the conclusion that race does not exist.  Social Darwinism and Eugenics have lead us to believe that race further classifies Homo Sapiens into sub species, but there is no biological evidence for the existence of race.  The phenotypic differences emphasized by race are only examples of human variation.  Race exists only as a social construct, and is only used to identify cultures.[3342]

The Talk

the talk

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  1. JANAYE INGRAM "The Media, The Race Card and the Myth of a Post-Racial America." Loop21. 30/03/2012.
  2. David Schweingruber "The Social Construction of Race." public.iastate.edu. 04/04/2005. 12/-4/2012 <Web >
  3. Edouard Machery and Luc Faucher† "Social Construction and the Concept of Race." Philosophy of Science. 72 (2005): 1208–1219.

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