For most Americans, the racial epithets by White supremacists at Charlottesville were racist. Blatant forms of racism are easy to identify. Racism is defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior.” But racism does not solely reside within White supremacists.
Racism has been described as a disease that everyone in the United States is exposed to. Everyone is racist to some degree. Racism is a continuum. White supremacists are at the extreme end. Most other people are less racist, but still have some racism in them. Everyone tends to favor their own group. Racism is not a rare disease. It is more like the common cold.
Whites tend to have higher thresholds for racism than people of color. For many Whites, only blatant racism qualifies as racism. Subtle forms of racism do not. Not calling a person for an interview with a “Black sounding name”, despite having an identical resume to someone with a “White sounding name”, is an example of subtle racism.
Psychological science reveals three reasons why Whites have high thresholds for racism. One reason is self-protection. Many Whites are very concerned about appearing racist. If racism is limited to blatant and extreme forms of behavior, then they don’t have to see themselves as racist.
Another reason for high thresholds for racism is lack of experience. The American Psychological Association found in a national survey that Whites experience less race-based discrimination than people of color. Less experience with racism results in less sensitivity to it.
A third reason for high thresholds for racism is lack of awareness. Research indicates that both Whites and Blacks who could not distinguish historical facts from fiction about racism were less likely to detect racism on a subsequent test.
The good news is both Whites and Blacks who could distinguish fact from fiction about racism were better able to accurately detect racism.
Repudiating White supremacists and stopping there will have a small impact. White supremacists are a small group. Focusing on racism that is subtle and more widespread is needed.
These three steps may help:
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