Overt racism

Covert racism

Covert racism is a much less public and obvious form of racism or overt racism. It is hidden in the fabric of society, covertly suppressing the individuals being discriminated against. Covert racially biased decisions are often disguised or rationalized with an explanation that society is more willing to accept. These racial biases cause a variety of problems that work to empower the suppressors while diminishing the rights and powers of the oppressed. Covert racism often works subliminally, and often much of the discrimination is being done subconsciously. In the U.S. covert racism usually works against minorities such as Blacks, Jews, Asians, Muslims, and Latinos, and usually gives power to the White majority, but can also work against Whites.

Covert vs. Overt

Race itself is socially constructed and works as a means of control by early imperialists. It is generally used to suppress and exploit the out group or “racialized others”. The idea of race is multi-dimensional and multi-layered with unclear boundaries or rules. In a racially divided society, the most common and obvious form of racism is generally overt. Overt racism uses structures and actions to suppress a specific race or group by developing and utilizing systems of inequality and oppression. Overt racism is the more apparent form of and opposite to covert racism. Covert racism, sometimes called “color blind” racism, is less obvious but can be equally oppressive as overt racism. This “laissez-faire” form of racism is not governmentally sanctioned like the overt Jim Crow laws of the 1950’s, and it is not always blatantly obvious. Covert racism comes in many forms even including unnecessary politeness to a racial group and the use of political correctness. Consequences can lead to an increase in the levels of disease amongst a race, negative sanctions in housing and jobs, inadequate information about healthcare and living, and general lost opportunities. These problems continually victimize racial non-elites while strengthening the racial in-group.

History in the U.S.

With a strong prevailing history of slavery in the United States, racism has always been an issue. The enslavement of millions of Africans along with the huge influx of immigrants throughout its history has not only allowed great diversity but has created racial segregation. With the legalization of slavery different forms of segregation were implemented including Jim Crow laws and the later division of cities into city blocks by race. As overt and obvious racial discrimination became less and less apparent and illegal the idea that the nation was homogenizing became popular. It was thought that as the U.S. accepts more immigrants from different cultures a sort of “melting pot” will occur and unify everyone under one creed. Along with this, ideologies formed that every group of immigrants goes through the same discrimination. Groups were thought to eventually assimilate, but racism remained and is still present today. Covert racism was and is still used to oppress everyone from Irish, Italian, White, Black, and Asian groups.

Racially Constructed Barriers

In the United States covert racism is used to construct barriers that disable and oppress a racial group. Some of these methods are covertly racial profiling and the use of racial stereotypes. In the 1950’s after World War II, urban areas were overtly divided into blocks by race. The wide acceptance of these divisions by the majority and the lack of social integration was covert. These blocks were close to toxic dumps, busy highways, and other undesirable locations throughout cities. Whites lived away from these areas and often time Realtors would not be able to show properties to whites within these areas. Apartments also could not rent to certain minority groups even though the owners and managers were not themselves racists, maintaining segregation. Another covert racial problem occurred when most of the black G.I.s returning from the war were denied money promised to them to go to school or buy a house. FHA loans were also denied to the majority while whites were moving to the suburbs and starting families. In recent years many blacks and Latinos have been discriminated against when applying for jobs because of stereotypes about work ethic based on race. Minorities are less likely to obtain key information regarding job interviews and are often denied access to high-paying jobs. Minorities are also denied access to a quality education, unlike whites in the U.S. This is usually because many poor areas are also predominantly minorities. This means lack of funding in schools. The levels of poverty and lack of educational opportunities perpetuate themselves creating an unbreakable cycle. Racial stereotypes emerge and these populations are further oppressed by covertly by individuals not helping or simply not caring. Prisons are another place where covert racism occurs. Prisons are filled with racial minorities due to the way the U.S. judicial system works and how police work on the street. Black men are more likely to be convicted and spend more time in prison than whites who did the same crimes. This could be perpetuated by the covert racist police on the street level who make split-second decisions, sometimes based on nothing more than subconscious stereotypes.

Power and Color Evasion

Another problem dealing with covert racism is the presence of inequality vs. inequity. Often an attempt at overall equality is made by trying to provide everyone with the same opportunities. Inequity occurs when the conditions and opportunities provided are not equal to those of whites. This generally occurs in the education system in the U.S. This unfairness in the system is not overtly in place but stems from a perpetuated injustice and is often maintained through the invisibility of it. Covert racism uses discursive repertoires to perpetuate racism ant to suppress the “racialized” groups. The White majority usually invests in the “whiteness” of their community. This includes the division of neighborhoods into school districts that avoid integration. Wealthy whites control these divisions and covertly exclude minorities due to the low levels of income in most minority neighborhoods. Covert racism can also act in peculiar and less obvious. One of those ways is simply not talking about race. This creates a problem because by not talking about individuals in a community are not acknowledging that there is a problem. This would include the absence of affirmative action policies in the U.S. People are for equality in principle but against government implementation when it comes to affirmative action. Other covert racist repertoires include broad socially acceptable views on the race problem. Most Whites are no longer guilty of being overtly racist but along with not acknowledging the problem they are generally distant. This is due to white normativity. This means that many people generally associate a person as being like themselves in color unless otherwise told. Whites also try to hide their culture of privilege meaning they simply ignore the fact that they are privileged because of their race. This is covertly racist because even though no intentional racism is present the racialized group is still suppressed. Finally a discursive repertoire may be a white person saying “I never owned slaves.” This is a way to talk around racism without directly addressing the issue and is seen as covertly racist.


Berreby, David. Sept./Oct. 2000. Race Counts. From “The Sciences”.

Brodkin, Karen. 1998. How Jews Became White Folks. Rutgers University Press.

Dyer, Richard. 1994. White. Routledge.

Gallagher, Charles A. 2003. Playing the White Ethnic Card: Using Ethnic Identity to Deny Contemporary Racism. Routledge.

Lipsitz, George. 1998. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness. Temple University Press.

Schlesinger, Arthur. 1992. The Disuniting of America.

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