Racial Bias and Discrimination: From Colorism to Racial Profiling

Racial bias and discrimination come in a variety of forms. Racism, for example, may refer to internalized racism, reverse racism, subtle racism and more. Racial profiling targets certain groups based on the notion that some demographics are more likely to commit certain crimes than others. And racial stereotypes are generalizations about racial groups that prejudiced people often use to justify excluding them from housing, educational, and employment opportunities. Familiarity with the various forms of bias and discrimination that exist in society may help to counter racial intolerance.

Different Forms of Racism

Hands of different skin color holding puzzle pieces of the same puzzle
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While racism generally refers to the systemic oppression of a racial group due to the idea that some groups are inherently inferior to others, racism can also be broken down into specific forms. There’s internalized racism, which refers to the feelings of self-hatred experienced by individuals from oppressed groups. Victims of internalized racism may loathe their skin color, facial features​, and other physical characteristics because the traits of minority groups have historically been devalued in Western society.

Related to internalized racism is colorism, which is discrimination based on skin color. Colorism results in darker-skinned people from a variety of racial backgrounds—African Americans, Asian, Hispanic—being treated worse than their lighter-skinned counterparts by whites or even members of their own racial group.

Subtle racism refers to the seemingly minor ways minorities experience discrimination. Racism doesn’t always involve extreme acts of bigotry such as hate crimes but more often than not involves everyday slights such as being ignored, ridiculed or treated differently because of one’s racial background.

Lastly one of the most controversial forms of racism is “reverse racism,” the idea that whites, who’ve been historically privileged in the Western world, now experience racial discrimination because of affirmative action and other programs that aim to level the playing field for minorities. Many social justice activists doubt the existence of reverse racism, as they assert that Western society still benefits whites first and foremost.

Overview of Racial Profiling

New York Police Department Car
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Racial profiling is a controversial form of discrimination that largely targets members of minority groups—from Muslim Americans to Hispanics to Blacks and more. Advocates of racial profiling say the practice is necessary because certain groups are more likely to commit certain crimes, making it necessary for law enforcement to target these groups in airports, border checkpoints, on highways, city streets and more.

Opponents of racial profiling say the practice simply doesn’t work. Black and Hispanic men have been targeted in cities such as New York by police who stop and frisk them for drugs, guns, etc. But research from the New York Civil Liberties Union indicates that police actually found more weapons on whites than their minority counterparts, calling into question the strategy of racial profiling.

The same holds true for Black shoppers who say they’ve been racially profiled in stores. Research has found that white female shoppers are the group most likely to shoplift, making it doubly offensive for store personnel to target Black shoppers for theft. In addition to these examples, a number of law enforcement agencies have faced charges of misconduct for mistreating Latinos they believed to be unauthorized immigrants. Moreover, racial profiling has not been found to reduce crime.

Defining Stereotypes

Graffiti sign bearing the slogan, "Break the Stereotype"

Stereotypes help perpetuate racial discrimination in a number of ways. Individuals who buy into these sweeping generalizations about racial groups use stereotypes to justify excluding minorities from job prospects, renting apartments and educational opportunities, to name a few. Stereotypes have led racial minority groups to be discriminated against in healthcare, the legal system and more. Yet, many people insist on perpetuating stereotypes because they believe there’s a grain of truth in them.

While members of minority groups definitely share some experiences, such experiences don’t mean that members of racial groups all share certain personality or physical traits. Because of discrimination, some racial groups in the U.S. have found more success in certain professions because doors were closed to them in other arenas. Stereotypes do not provide the historical context for why certain groups seem to excel in some areas and lag behind in others. Stereotypes don’t view the members of racial groups as individuals, denying them their humanity. This is even the case when so-called positive stereotypes are at play.

Examining Racial Prejudice

The musical "Allegiance" at the Old Globe Theatre.
Old Globe Theatre

Racial prejudice and racial stereotypes go hand in hand. People who engage in racial prejudice often do so because of racial stereotypes. They write off entire groups of people based on sweeping generalizations. A prejudiced employer might deny a job to a member of a racial minority group because he believes that group is “lazy,” regardless of the actual work ethic of the person in question. Prejudiced people may also make a number of assumptions, assuming that anyone with a non-Western surname couldn’t have been born in the United States. Racial prejudice has historically led to institutional racism. During World War II, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans were rounding up and forced into internment camps because government officials presumed that these Americans would side with Japan in the war, ignoring the fact that Japanese Americans viewed themselves as Americans. In fact, no Japanese American was found guilty of espionage during this period.

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Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Racial Bias and Discrimination: From Colorism to Racial Profiling." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/types-of-racial-bias-and-discrimination-2834985. Nittle, Nadra Kareem. (2023, April 5). Racial Bias and Discrimination: From Colorism to Racial Profiling. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-racial-bias-and-discrimination-2834985 Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Racial Bias and Discrimination: From Colorism to Racial Profiling." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-racial-bias-and-discrimination-2834985 (accessed June 1, 2023).