4 Different Types of Racism - From Colorism to Racial Microaggressions

Racism is a complex issue with a variety of effects

Say the word “racism” and many people imagine someone in a white hood, but discrimination, which comes in different types, is much more complex. In reality, ordinary people perpetuate racism daily.

Moreover, racism doesn’t just concern a dominant racial group overtly oppressing minorities. There’s subtle racism—slight snubs or racial microaggressions based on race. There’s also colorism within minority groups in which lighter-skinned people discriminate against their darker-skinned counterparts.

Internalized racism is an issue as well. It occurs when minorities experience self-hatred because they’ve taken to heart the ideology that dubs them as inferior. And in the 21st century, claims of reverse racism are growing, whether or not they're valid.

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Ward Connerly
Ward Connerly worked to ban affirmative action in California. Freedom To Marry / Getty Images

Reverse racism is arguably the hottest form of racism in the 21st century. It’s not that reverse racism is a huge problem in the U.S., it’s that people keep claiming they’ve been victims of this form of racism in which whites fall prey to discrimination.

So, do whites ever face racial bias? The U.S. Supreme Court has decided so in a few landmark cases, such as when white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were prohibited from being promoted because their minority counterparts didn’t qualify for promotions as well.

All in all, however, whites are rarely on the receiving end of racial discrimination. As a growing number of states ban affirmative action, it has become even harder for whites to say they’ve been reverse racism victims.

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Oprah
Oprah Winfrey has experienced "shopping while black.". C Flanigan/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Subtle racism, or racial microaggressions, doesn’t make the headlines that, say, reverse racism does, but it’s likely the form of discrimination that people of color most often experience.

Victims of subtle, or covert, racism may find themselves snubbed by wait staff in restaurants or salespeople in stores who believe that people of color aren’t likely to be good tippers or able to afford anything expensive, as Oprah Winfrey has described about a shopping experience abroad.

Targets of subtle racism may find that supervisors, landlords, etc., apply different rules to them than they do to others. An employer might run a thorough background check on an applicant of color, while accepting a job applicant from a prospective white employee with no additional documentation.

Racial prejudice is the driving force behind subtle racism.

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Michael Jackson
Phil Walter/Getty Images

In a society in which blonde hair and blue eyes are still widely regarded as ideal and stereotypes about minority groups persist, it’s not hard to see why some people of color suffer from internalized racism.

In this form of racism, people of color internalize the negative messages spread about minorities and come to loathe themselves for being “different.” They may hate their skin color, their hair texture and other physical features or intentionally marry interracially so their children won’t have the same ethnic traits that they do.

They may simply suffer from low self-esteem because of their race—performing poorly in school or in the workplace because they believe their racial background makes them inferior.

Michael Jackson was long accused of suffering from this kind of racism because of the changing color of his skin and plastic surgeries.

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Lupita Nyong'o
Actress Lupita Nyong'o has struggled with colorism. Monica Schipper/WireImage/Getty Images

Colorism is often viewed as a problem that’s unique to communities of color. It occurs when minorities discriminate against those with darker skin than they have. For years in the black community, lighter skin was viewed as superior to darker skin. Anyone with skin color that was lighter than a brown paper lunch bag was welcomed into elite organizations in the black community, while darker skinned blacks were excluded.

But colorism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s a direct offshoot of a white supremacist ideology that values whites over people of color and equips Caucasians with what’s known as white skin privilege.

Colorism also exists outside of the African-American community. In Asia, sales of skin whitening products remain sky high.

Wrapping Up

To eradicate racism, it's important to understand the different types of racism that affect society. Whether you're experiencing racial microaggressions or helping a child to overcome internalized racism, staying educated on the issue can make a difference.