The idea of race has a complex history.  It has been used for centuries to categorize, reward, and penalize people based on perceived differences.  Despite often being misguidedly defined by skin tone and other physical attributes, race has no genetic basis.  This powerful social construction has a tremendous impact on individuals’ lives because it is often employed to establish and maintain privilege and power dynamics.  Access to resources and opportunities are often distributed along racial lines.

Commonly defined as “prejudice + power,” racism is prejudice or discrimination against someone based on his/her race.  Underlying this is the belief that certain racial groups are superior to others.  Racism can be manifested through beliefs, policies, attitudes, and actions.  Racism comes in several forms, including:

Individual or internalized racism – This is racism that exists within individuals.  It is when one holds negative ideas about his/her own culture, even if unknowingly.  Xenophobic feelings or one’s internalized sense of oppression/privilege are two examples of individual or internalized racism.

Interpersonal racism – This is the racism that occurs between individuals.  It is the holding of negative attitudes towards a different race or culture.  Interpersonal racism often follows a victim/perpetrator model.

Institutional racism – Recognizing that racism need not be individualist or intentional, institutional racism refers to institutional and cultural practices that perpetuate racial inequality.  Benefits are structured to advantage powerful groups as the expense of others.  Jim Crow laws and redlining practices are two examples of institutional racism.

Structural racism – Structural racism refers to the ways in which the joint operation of institutions (i.e., inter-institutional arrangements and interactions) produce racialized outcomes, even in the absence of racist intent.  Indicators of structural racism include power inequalities, unequal access to opportunities, and differing policy outcomes by race.  Because these effects are reinforced across multiple institutions, the root causes of structural racism are difficult to isolate.  Structural racism is cumulative, pervasive, and durable.

Primers and additional resources

RACE: Are We So Different? – This project of the American Anthropological Association looks at race through the lenses of history, human variation, and lived experience.  The website offers interactive activities, a robust section on resources, and a virtual tour of the RACE museum exhibition.

Race: The Power of an Illusion – a highly interactive website and popular three-part documentary about race in society, science, and history

Race and Racism materials from Portland Community College (.pdf) – concise definitions with examples and class activities

Racism – a short piece from the Anti-Defamation League

Interpersonal Racism (.pdf)  – a short conceptualization from the American Psychological Association

On Racism and White Privilege (.pdf)– a publicly-available excerpt of White Anti-Racist Activism: A Personal Roadmap by Jennifer R. Holladay, M.S. (Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books, Inc., 2000)

Poverty & Race newsletter (.pdf) – This November/December 2006 newsletter from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council contains numerous short articles on structural racialization.

Race-Talk – a blog that facilitates thoughtful but critical discussion on issues of race, ethnicity, social hierarchy, marginalized populations, and related topics.

Institutional Racism (.pdf) – These materials are from a two-hour training on institutional racism from the Summer Youth Leadership Academy in 2009.

Structural Racism (.pdf) – short primer on structural racism from the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

Structural Racism  (.pdf) – a document from the 2004 Race and Public Policy Conference that defines different types of racism and related terms

A few examples of organizations that offer anti-racist trainings

Catalyst Project  (The Anne Braden Anti-Racist Training Program for White Social Justice Activists)

Challenging White Supremacy Workshop

Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training  (assorted trainings and workshops)

Dismantling Racism  (assorted trainings and workshops)

The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond  (Undoing Racism Workshops)

Training for Change  (Diversity & Anti-Oppression workshops)

Anti-Racism Training Programs – Created by UNtraining, this document lists non-profit 501(c)3 organizations that have some capacity and experience with providing consultation and anti- racist training at the individual, organizational, and institutional level.

 Image: Nabil Ounissi