Defining and Romans knew nothing about race. They

Defining the issue

Racism refers to practices and beliefs that create a racial hierarchy
and social structure that gives superiority, power, and privilege to some, and discrimination
and oppression to others (Cole, 2017). Racism stems from ideas and assumptions
about racial categories, which are then used to justify a racial hierarchy that
unjustly limits access to resources, rights, and privileges due to a person’s
skin colour/race. Racism also associates characteristics and abilities to
people simply on the basis of their skin colour. This then leads society to
believe that one specific ethnic group shouldn’t be treated equally due to
false presumptions and labels associated with that ethnic group (Shah, 2010).
Nicki Lisa Cole, a social scientist, identified “Discrimination and racism have
been used as powerful weapons to evoke fear in times of conflict and war, and
even during economic downturns (Cole, 3)”. Racism is a preconception that
continues to live on within society because significant groups of people refuse
to challenge this ideology. Ideology is a word used to state beliefs and views
that are shared by a society or culture (Cole, 2017). Ideological racism is
when a society or culture’s beliefs and views are based on racial stereotypes
and biases (Shah, 2010). An example can include the fact that in an American
society, people believe that white or lighter coloured skin are smarter than
those who have darker skin. At the end of the day, anyone can experience racist
behaviour, such as being abused because of the colour of their skin.  However, throughout history, evidence shows
that people of colour are subjected to more racial profiling and racism than
Caucasian people.

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History of the Issue

     For decades, racism has been a part of
society. However, the concepts of race and racism are modern inventions that
sprung and became a dominant part of society when the African Slave Trade
occurred in the 1500’s to 1600’s (Selfa, 2010). Eric Williams, a Trinidadian
historian of slavery, said: “slavery was not born of racism, rather racism was
the consequence of slavery, (Williams, 67)”. Contrary to popular belief,
ancient slavery was not viewed in terms of race, but were often captives in
wars (Selfa, 2010). Also, in ancient Greece and Rome, most of the slaves were
white. Socialist historian of the Haitian Revolution, C.L.R. James, explains:
“Historically, it is pretty well proven now that the ancient Greeks and Romans
knew nothing about race. They had another standard – civilized and barbarian –
and you could have white skin and be a barbarian, and you could have black skin
and be civilized (James, 16).”

The African Slave Trade

     The slave trade lasted over 400 years,
from the mid 1400’s to the late 1800’s (Selfa, 2010). Slave traders forced 12
million Africans to work on plantations in South and North America. The slaves
were taken by boat from Africa to the New World, 1.5 million slaves had died on
the way (Selfa, 2010). This horrendous ordeal was known for being the biggest
forced population transfer in history (Selfa, 2010). In many of the slave
ships, the slaves were treated poorly. They were chained to the floors of the
ship and at the plantations, they were subjected to a regimen of 18-hour
workdays. The slaves were denied any and all fundamental rights. They were
forbidden to carry a weapon, could only get married with their owner’s
permission, their families could be separated, couldn’t get an education, and weren’t
able vote or run for public office. C.L.R. James explains: “The conception of
dividing people by race begins with the slave trade. This thing was so
shocking, so opposed to all the conceptions of society which religion and
philosophers had, that the only justification by which humanity could face it
was to divide people into races and decide that the Africans were an inferior
race (James, 61)”. Racism was then used as a way of justifying the horrible
actions and ordeals of the African slave trade. Ever since then, racism has
portrayed millions of people as inferior. Slavery may have disappeared, but
racism is still being used to justify the domination of millions of people (James,
2016)”. Recent events that has caught the medias attention are the police
killings of African-Americans. One example is Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old
African-American boy was shot and killed by police officers because he was
holding a toy gun that police thought was real. Another example is Eric Garner,
a 43-year-old African-American who was held in a choke hold by police. Eric was
struggling to breath and repeatedly told the officers that he couldn’t breath.
However, they paid him no mind and Eric Garner lost his life. Just a couple of
these examples show the different experiences African-Americans and other
minorities face compared to Caucasian people. 


Psychological Factors

     Edgar Pieterse,
a South African Sociologist, used to be subjected to racist behaviour as a
child. So, as he grew up he decided to research the psychological and physical effects
that racism has on the victims. In one of his projects, Pieterse studied 1800
African-American adults. He found out that people who are exposed to racism
experience the same effects as people who suffer from trauma (Pieterse, 2016).
They also tend to develop a lot of anxiety because victims of racist behaviour
either think about past incidents or worry about future incidents that they may
experience (Pieterse, 2016). They also feel that they have little power in
stopping the racist behaviour which can interfere with their social lives and
what people they can trust. People may also start to question their worth which
then leads to depression and even thoughts of suicide. “These are very strong
mental health outcomes that really impact people’s lives, (Pieterse, 36)”.
Racism can even have physical impacts on a victim. For example;
African-Americas have higher rates of heart disease than Caucasian people (Kowalski,
2016). This could be caused by high levels of stress that can be triggered by



     In society, people have normalized racism
and racial profiling, so racism has found its way into the hearts of many
people. This causes people to react with racist behaviour in certain
circumstances either purposely or even by accident. This affects the way people
react in social settings like on the streets, at stores, and even at social
gatherings. Racial stereotypes even affect the way people describe certain
crimes. For example; if a group of young white men were to create chaos at a
sports game by breaking windows, flipping cars over, and fighting with the
police; they would be referred to as “out of control fans” or “overly excited
fans”. However, if a group of young African American men were to do something
similar out of rage or sorrow, and be killed in police custody, they are
referred to as dangerous and “thugs”. This difference in description shows that
when it comes to the white men, they are said to have gotten “out of control”
and that the ordeal had happened due to high levels of emotion and excitement,
and can be forgiven. However, the African Americans who are labelled as “dangerous
thugs” are considered as a threat and unforgivable. Sharon
E. Watkins has stated “Racism is complicated,
and has an individual aspect of prejudice. But even worse is the reality that generations
of racist attitudes are now woven into our systems and institutions like
poisonous threads, hurting us all (Watkins, 4).”


vs. Nurture

     The Nature vs. Nurture debate is about
whether or not DNA or one’s environment plays a bigger role in a person’s
psyche (Wright, 2012). For example; a person who is tall can be pushed to play
basketball which is hereditary. The person’s DNA and genetics is the reason the
person is tall, this could lead them to play basketball, which is nature.
However, if the person is not tall but has 3 siblings that play basketball, the
person’s love for basketball could develop from growing up and being constantly
subjected to the sport, which is nurture. There is no evidence that proves that
humans are naturally racist. Although, studies found that when white adults
look at black adults, there is
increased activity in the amygdala, a brain structure associated with emotion
and detects threats (Wright, 2012). However, Eva Telzer and 3 other researchers
did the same study on children instead. The results were very interesting due
to the fact that the racial sensitivity of the amygdala was only shown in ages
around 14, not any younger. These results suggest that racism is engrained in a
person’s psyche through nurture. When a child is born, they don’t know the
racial stereotypes such as “African Americans are criminals” or that “Hispanic
and Mexican people are illegal immigrants”. Rather, they learn these
stereotypes just by living in a society that follows the ideology that races
have specific attributes associated with their race. Therefore, when it comes
to the debate, Nature vs. Nurture, racism and racial profiling is taught to
kids by society and as they grow, could either challenge this ideology or
condone it.


     There has always been a division in
society in which one group of people believe that racism is not an issue, and
another group believe that racism is a big issue and that something needs to be
done. Over the years, more and more people are starting to say that changes need
to be made regarding racism and discrimination (Neil, 2017). 61% of the people
in America believe that the country needs to continue to give black people equal
rights with white people. On the other hand, 35% say the country has made enough
changes and that black people have equal rights to white people (Smith, 2017).

point #1: 35% of America

     A society with people who believe that
racism isn’t an issue are often people who don’t experience racism at all. 35%
of Americans believe that America has done enough changes to enhance the rights
of African Americans. People with this viewpoint also believe that African
Americans have low IQs, commit more crimes and don’t contribute to society as
much as white people. These people also believe that White and East Asian
people have contributed a lot to society, and have very high IQ averages. That is
the view point that 35% of American people hold (Neil, 2017).

point #2: 61% of America

     The 61% of Americans believe that there
should be more change to give black people the same rights as white people, in
terms of racism and racial profiling. These people believe that African
Americans are still not treated as well as white people, therefore by creating
laws that guarantee equal rights, this can help to reduce the amount of racial
profiling that they are subjected to on a daily basis. The people with this
view point are usually victims of racism, therefore they are left with a crippling
realisation that their self worth comes from what others think of them. So, by passing
laws that eliminate racism from social settings, for example affirmative
action, this will allow African Americans to have the same opportunities as white
people (Smith, 2017).



     John Dovidio is a PhD professor that
teaches psychology and public health at Yale University. He studies the issues
associated with social power and social relations. His work dives into both the
conscious and unconscious influences on how people react towards people of
different races. He researched about “aversive racism,” which is a subtle form
of prejudice, he also researched ways on how to eliminate conscious and unconscious
biases. Dovidio stated: “We used to think about racism in a very simple way –
that people had negative thoughts, negative feelings, hatred toward a group.
But since the 1960s when there was civil rights legislation, it changed the way
we thought about race because it was not only immoral to think that way, but it
was illegal to discriminate. And what we think is that racism has become more
subtle since then. People still have negative feelings, but they may not be
aware of those negative feelings. Instead of feelings of hatred, it’s more like
feelings of avoidance and discomfort. That’s where the name aversive racism
comes from. (Dovidio, 2017)”. Dovidio believes that the world would be chaotic
if people changed their attitudes too easily. Attitudes are not just about the
way you think about a group; rather how you feel about the group. In America, Caucasian
people have been able to change their minds about racism easily, however it’s
much harder for them to change their unconscious or “gut” feelings. To truly
change a person’s attitude, this would require them to experience positive and
personal encounters with people of different races, which will in turn replace
feelings of fear, and anxiety. These experiences will change racial attitudes
and stereotypes at a very basic level (Dovidio, 2017).