In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Racism

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • The History of Racism
  • The Concept of Race
  • Racist Attitudes
  • Varying Types of Individual Racism
  • Racist Behavior
  • Racism and Social Structure
  • Racist Effects on Health
  • Racist Effects on Criminal Justice
  • Racist Effects on Education
  • Racist Effects on Employment
  • Racist Effects on Politics
  • Racism and Religion
  • Racist Violence
  • Discrimination without Racism
  • Remedies to Combat Racism

Sociology Racism
Thomas F. Pettigrew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0162


Racism is a doctrine that holds that the world’s human population consists of various “races” that are the primary determinants of human traits and capacities. This doctrine typically regards one’s own race as superior to other races. Intergroup hatred and discrimination generally accompanies racist doctrines. Social science investigates racism at three interrelated levels. First, individual racism involves those individuals who hold racist beliefs. Here racist ideas often overlap with such concepts as prejudice, xenophobia, bigotry, and intolerance. But the key distinguishing feature of individual racism is that the group differences are viewed as innate and unchangeable. If assimilation or conversion is viewed as possible, then intolerance is involved but not racism. Second, situational racism occurs when racist behavior is shaped by the social context. This occurs when face-to-face situations are patterned, based on racist beliefs, to place one group in an inferior position in intergroup interaction. This occurs, for example, when one racial group in a situation possesses most of the resources that emphasize the status differences between the groups. Finally, third, structural and cultural racism results when a society’s institutions are shaped by racist beliefs and results in group discrimination. Indeed, racism’s effects can invade virtually all of a society’s institutions. Thus, racism differentiates human beings from one another by presumed “races,” and this leads to unequal access to resources and opportunities as well as to other forms of inequality such as gender-, ethnic-, and class-based inequity. Much of the research on racism has focused on anti-Black racism in the United States; but non-American references with other racist targets are included.

General Overview

The volumes cited here provide a broad perspective on racism in the United States and throughout the world. Gallagher and Lippard 2014 and Mason 2013 are encyclopedias with multiple short entries. Mukherjee, et al. 2019 updates racist beliefs in the United States following Barack Obama’s two presidential victories. Other entries bring theoretical approaches to the subject: Bowser 1995 uses Marxist theory; Miles and Brown 1995 employs British sociological theory; and Memmi 2000 and Fanon 1968 use critical theory to show minority perspectives on colonial racism.

  • Bowser, B. P., ed. 1995. Racism and anti-racism in world perspective. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This older volume presents fourteen chapters on racism in Europe, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and South Africa as well as in the United States. Many of the chapters are written from a Marxist perspective. Of particular interest is an analysis of the influence of Spanish racist ideology in the New World.

  • Fanon, F. 1968. The wretched of the earth. New York: Grove.

    The major work of the Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist that has influenced minority revolutions around the globe. Fanon analyzes the role of class, race, national culture, and violence in the struggle for national liberation in the Algerian War for independence. Racism is interpreted through the prism of colonialism.

  • Gallagher, C. A., and C. D. Lippard, eds. 2014. Race and racism in the United States: An encyclopedia of the American mosaic. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood.

    This four-volume set focuses more on race per se than racism. It traces how race is defined and perceived in America now and compares it with how it was defined centuries earlier. Although restricted to the United States, it offers a useful initial introduction to many facets of the subject.

  • Mason, P. L., ed. 2013. Encyclopedia of race and racism. 2d ed. 4 vols. Detroit: Macmillan.

    These four volumes exhaustively elucidate the many theories of race and racism and their consequences in the modern era. The encyclopedia draws upon all the social sciences. It also includes interesting biographies of relevant figures, from theorists and leaders to notorious racists.

  • Memmi, A. 2000. Racism. Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press.

    This best-selling, translated volume presents an important perspective on the subject of racism. A Jewish Tunisian writing in French, Memmi follows Fanon in viewing racism through the perspective of colonialism across the centuries of Western history. He provides an especially interesting discussion of the status of the Quebecois in Canada.

  • Miles, R., and M. Brown. 1995. Racism. 2d ed. London: Routledge.

    This concise sociological treatment looks at the subject from a British perspective. It defends the use of racism as a useful concept for the social sciences. Given its modest length, it is surprisingly thorough in its coverage.

  • Mukherjee, R., S. Banet-Weiser, and H. Gray, eds. 2019. Racism postrace. Durham, NC: Duke Univ. Press.

    This edited volume details the many modern forms of anti-Black racism in the United States that emerged following Barack Obama’s presidential election victories in 2008 and 2012. A “postracial” myth emerged that claims American racism no longer exists. The book’s chapters provide striking examples of this new racism in its many forms—from sports and television to academic and policy debates.

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