Understanding 4 Different Types of Racism

Young black man standing outside on a sunny day with his head bowed in profile.

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

Racism doesn’t just concern a dominant racial group overtly oppressing minorities. It can manifest in a number of ways, including slight snubs or racial microaggressions based on race and colorism, where dark-skinned people are discriminated against in comparison to lighter-skinned people. People of color can also internalize racism. It occurs when people of color experience self-hatred because they’ve taken to heart the ideology that dubs them as inferior.

Examples of Subtle Racism

Oprah Winfrey smiling at the camera.

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Subtle racism is another way to refer to racial microaggressions.

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. Oprah Winfrey has described this happening to her during a shopping experience outside the U.S.

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.

Internalized Racism

Bitty Baby dolls
Bitty Baby dolls. American Girl

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

With internalized 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, hair texture, and other physical features. They may 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, such as performing poorly in school or in the workplace because they believe their racial background makes them inferior.

Perhaps one of the best-known studies that documents internalized racism's impact on children is the Doll Test. It involved showing 253 Black children, all between the ages of 3 and 7, four different dolls: two with white skin and yellow hair, and two with brown skin and black hair. Each child was asked to identify the race of the doll and which one they wanted to play with. The study found that most Black children liked the white doll with yellow hair and discarded the brown doll with black hair, which they assigned negative traits to.

What Is Colorism?

Actress Lupita Nyong'o posing on the red carpet.

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Colorism is often viewed as a problem that’s unique to communities of color. It occurs when people of color discriminate against those with darker skin. This can manifest in a number of ways, but one key example from Black communities was the paper bag test. 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 people were excluded.

However, it's important to remember that colorism doesn’t exist in a vacuum. While people of color can perpetuate colorism and should be held responsible for that, it’s a direct offshoot of a white supremacist ideology that values white people over people of color.

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.

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Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Understanding 4 Different Types of Racism." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/4-different-types-of-racism-2834982. Nittle, Nadra Kareem. (2021, July 31). Understanding 4 Different Types of Racism. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/4-different-types-of-racism-2834982 Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Understanding 4 Different Types of Racism." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/4-different-types-of-racism-2834982 (accessed March 20, 2023).