On overt and covert racism

28 april 2013 | In Emotion theory Hate Crime Moral Psychology politics Psychology | 1 Comment

The face of racism is often characterized by a swastika crudely painted on a wall, or a group of young white men screaming out their hate and anger towards a member of a hated group. The consequences of racism is often portrayed as a beaten up, dead body. This, most of us think, must stop. Presumably, open, convinced, ideologically driven racists thinks so to. Presumably, as with any kind of war, they regret that it had to come to this.
These expressions of hate and prejudice are highly problematic, and the long term effects, especially if they are not swiftly and forcefully dealt with, should not be underestimated. But what would happen if they disappeared? Would the problem av everyday racism – expressed in mild aversions, the unlikelihood of succesful encounters, covert discrimination – diminish as well, or would it, in fact, become worse? The question is this: what is the relationship between overt and covert instances of racism?
If we want to point out why racism is a bad idea, we are well served to point to these worst cases – the lynching of James Bird, the murder of Matthew Sheppard, and we do that rather than point to a job applicant narrowly losing out to another due to the foreign sounding nature of his or her name.
Yet the latter kind of situations are in all likelihood much more common and their effects much more widespread in  modern racism. Most people overtly believe in the value of equality, but still suffer from unconscious prejudices. We can deal with the easy cases, but when it becomes complicated, and we can make up a reason that justify our aversion, prejudices have a chance to win out.
Explanations are afforded by generalizations, but motivations and emotions often draw their power from individual cases.
We are on the watch for populisitic right wing parties, because we still got the more obvious racists to keep before our eyes. We remember. We often recognise and react towards our own racist tendencies by the self loathing that comes with sharing beliefs with violent and obviously misinformed perpetrators. But what if they disappeared? Would we lack these markers of racism and thus loose our bearings?
Or, alternatively: do these instances now serve the function of carrying the weight of all racism, and the problems with it? So that if they DID disappear, we would have to face the fact that it’s actually as much the implicit racism of convinced egalitarians and liberals, that cause the unfair outcomes? Or would such a scenario rather be used in support of the racist idea that any inequality remaining in the absence of overt racism must be due to inherent inequality between the ”races”?

1 kommentar »

  1. I very much appreciate your thoughts on this. I recently wrote about covert racism operating in the NYPD Stop & Frisk case at http://thechalicewell.blogspot.com/2013/06/stop-frisk.html. I agree that covert racism does tremendous harm and am intrigued by your questions about its relationship to overt racism, and I think the presence of overt racism can affect covert racists differently. A reasonable analogy to an overt racist is a politician whose sexual dalliances are made public in the press; his actions are blatant and form a caricature of the covert desires of many people. Some will be emboldened to act similarly by hearing the story while others will be chastened by focusing on the negative repercussions the politician has endured. There is no single impact of such extreme examples on the public psyche. Perhaps much of the impact of these stories has to do with the way the stories are told in the press, and the ways in which we bend and repeat them to each other.

    Comment by Danielle Rizzo — 20 juni 2013 #

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