|I was born in Bombay, India in 1962 but my family moved to
Northern Ireland when I was four years old. I was brought up in
N. Ireland (part of the United Kingdom). This short piece
on the signs of racism reflects a lifetime experiencing the kind
of "hidden" or "subtle" racism which the
British have pioneered (in the same way as they pioneered the
transatlantic slave trade carried out by European nations in the
17th and 18th centuries and imperialism in
the late 19th century to the end of the second world
war). As societies become ever more multi-racial and members of
minority groups reach positions of power and influence, subtle
racism will be the predominant form in all countries in the 21st
century. It is a hugely more pernicious and dangerous form than
the more explicit varieties because of a fundamental truth - the
spirit of a person can only be diminished by loss, bereavement or
defeat, in the long run the human spirit will always rise up and
triumph in the face of overt oppression because no one can
respect his oppressor.
Although people whose ancestors came from different geographic
regions look different, no scientific or biologic evidence exists
to support even the idea of race. Not surprisingly, it is rare,
today, for a person to admit to being a racist. Despite the
prevalence of racism (the belief that members of a particular
"race" or ethnic group share common qualities), the
word "racist" has acquired a very negative connotation
and is even somewhat pejorative. It is even rare for people to
openly espouse racist philosophy. Someone can be a racist
regardless of their religion, intelligence, cultural level,
social status, benevolence towards members of their own race or
social motivation. Racists come from all races (sometimes the
race which they feel they belong to may not be obvious). Racism
is thus only implicit in behavior. What are the signs?
- Reducing people of other races to racial stereotypes.
This can often be done in very subtle ways. For
example, confusing race with culture, a belief that
certain races are more adept in particular jobs or
functions, a belief in differences in intelligence
between the races, etc.
- Advocation of segregation. This advocation
represents a belief that different races should live
apart, be educated separately or not intermarry. The
advocacy can occur explicitly or implicitly.
- Extreme pride in one's own country or race.
Patriotism can be laudable but when taken to extremes,
this sentiment becomes the basis of all fascist
- Association. It is common for racists
to associate with other racists. While not necessarily
espousing racist opinions themselves it is common for
them to personally defend other racists (without
directly defending their opinions).
- Belittlement of members of other races.
Racist will constantly criticize the opinions of other
races or even ridicule them. Often they will do
it without explicitly making mention of the race of the
person or persons.
- Latent hate. An exaggerated reaction to any
misconduct from a person of the other race, where the
punishment is out of all proportion to the original
wrong (real or perceived) and completely ignores the
provocation which could have led to the original
"wrong". Also, no feeling of moral debt to a
racially "other" person for any favors he may
- Denial. Racist denies that the other
person's or group's intelligence, cultural level,
social status or other merits even in the face of
overwhelming evidence which proves these qualities. The
racist will attempt to "objectively" show
proof, usually in the form of insignificant details to
contradict the obvious.
- Constant references to race. A mere mention of
someone's race on a first encounter could be benign but
when these references continue after a long period of
knowing that person, no matter how innocent the
references may appear, they establish an unmistakable
- Antagonistic sentiments. When a
person has anatognistic towards someone at first
sight it is often related to skin color. The only
information that one normally has about someone on
seeing them for the first time is their skin
- Invisibility. An indifference to the plight
of members of society who are of other races when they
suffer injustices. It is typical of the racist to claim
that he is under no obligation to help or that the
situation in question is somehow an
"inevitable" by-product of some greater good.
When the great majority of members of the disadvantaged
group are not of his race a pattern emerges.
- Presumption of racism in members of own race.
Racists typically expect members of their own race to
be similarly racist. This often results in expectations
of preferential treatment and they expect, for example,
members of their race to see the humor in racist jokes
or join with them in what but for the race of the
victim would be seen as morally reprehensible behavior.
- Condescending attitude or behavior. Racists show
condescending attitudes towards members of other races.
For this reason they often try to use even members of
the race which they despise to attack members of that
race which cause them most offense. They believe that
these other members of the victimized race will
collaborate because of the magnanimity which the racist
is showing in momentarily treating them as members of
the "superior" race.
- Strongest reaction to members of other race which
rebut racist model. The members of the other
race which a racist will typically try most to
denigrate are those which act as a rebuttal to his
model of what members of the other race should
be. If this model is a weak, timid and stupid person,
he will see a strong, independent and intelligent
person of the "inferior" race as a threat to
his model. If they do not attack this person directly,
racists contend with this by speaking of
"exceptions" to their theory.
- Extreme reaction to word racist. Normally the
worst insult which an extreme racist can receive is to
be called a racist in public. For the extreme racist it
is infuriating because there is no adequate response.
On the one hand he does not really want to deny it but
he knows that the implications of this word are
generally negative. It is not like being called stupid
or ignorant, because it is difficult for him to
counterattack by simply reverting the accusation. The
idea that a member of the other race could look down
upon the race of the racist normally challenges the
model that the racist has about this other race (he
typically sees it as weak, timid and cowardly). If he
attempts to ridicule the other person he will publicly
prove the original accusation correct.
- No insight into own prejudice. It is common for
racists to have no insight into their own prejudice.
This is because they believe their prejudice to be
based upon objective grounds.
- Indifference to the opinions of members of the other
race. It is typical of racists to e.g. make fun of
members of the "inferior" race without any
consideration for what those members will then think of
these racists. At best, racists only care about what
people of their own race think of them.
- Lack of impartiality. This is extremely common
and affects practically all the racist's opinions and
decision-making. Its effects extend beyond the obvious
areas like jobs, education and housing. Veneration of
great historical figures, membership of clubs and
- Acceptance of racist behavior or conduct.
To view "mildly" racist acts as either
reasonable or, at least, not racist and to feel that
more severely racist acts are wrong but
- Failure to recognize impact of racism on the victim.
To believe that a victim of racism can be unaltered by
racism. For example, when racists examine apparent
differences between members of different races or
ethnic groups they completely ignore all differences in
circumstances and history which could have affected the
- Maintaining superior position "By all means
possible". A phrase often remembered as a
precept of the maintenance of slavery in the Southern
United States during the nineteenth century. A racist
will use all means possible to preserve the
inferior position of the victimized race. Even a person
with social motivations and benevolent to members of
his own race is capable of violence and other forms of
crime towards members of what he views as the
"inferior" race. He could easily support the
use of force to maintain those disadvantaged by racism
in their present condition.