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Racism in America


Racism is refers to such feelings of prejudice that lead to hostility or hatred and subsequent actions against others due to difference in ethnicity (Fredrickson, 2000, 1). Often racism has taken extreme forms and led to some of the most brutal examples of human antipathy against fellow human beings, whether it’s the case of Hitler’s extermination of Jews or years of repression of blacks in USA. Despite the slogans of democracy, equality and justice to all, racism continued to define attitude of many nations and people across the world.

Racism came under severe criticism in the 20th century, and the newly liberated countries of Africa and Asia completely denounced it, especially in the period after the Second World War. The developed world also responded to the curse of racism. The civil rights movement in the US helped in eradicating legalized racial segregation and discrimination in the 1960. However, the underlying fear and rejection of other ‘races’ and ethnicity has not subsided and eve today people from different cultural, national and ethnic backgrounds are viewed suspiciously, a tendency that has increased post September 11, 2001.

Racial prejudice

Although the original form of racial prejudice was directed against Jews in the form of anti-Semitism, it based itself on the color of skin in the American context. The white population of United States, of European character and lineage, tried to keep itself pure from black slaves and the ethnic Red-Indian population. To achieve this segregation, such theories were presented that argued in favor of people with fair skin being more intelligent than blacks, thus giving racism a biological justification. It was necessary as it helped in legitimizing slavery that had become the backbone of South’s economic structure.

The racial prejudice and the notion of color and race supremacy strongly entrenched itself in the white mindset through the years of their conquest over native populations in USA, central America and Africa. It resulted in a number of discriminatory events and deliberate steps to deny people from other races their valid legal and social rights. Much of this racial prejudice was directed against the black community that was subjected to intense hate and malice from the white population. Black population was segregated, they had separated schools and churches and they enjoyed few civil and social rights as compared to their white counterparts. The Jim Crow laws passed in South were aimed at dividing society along racial lines and it caused intense hatred against black people in the late 19th century and early 20th century USA.

However beginning in the 20th century, and especially after Nazi hatred of Jews was exposed, there was a growing realization in the American conscience that Jim Crow laws contained same elements towards blacks and other races as reflected by the Nazi philosophy of hate (Fredrickson, 2000, 129). After World War II, the movement for equal rights for every one intensified under the aegis of NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) that aimed to bring down segregation policies followed in schools and public transport system. It was also helped by the cold war politics where USSR was had gained huge moral grounds by calling in question the American standards of racial discrimination, separation and segregation followed in its southern states. That the newly liberated nations of Africa and Asia were finding Marxist and communist ideology of USSR more appealing and close to their interests further alarmed US policy makers and intensified the drive towards evolving an egalitarian model of social interaction.

Ordinary people like Rosa Parks and gifted leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. led people movement that made government take up the issue in serious earnestness. The civil rights bill was widely discussed under President John F. Kennedy and in 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed that ended all forms of discrimination in the public places, restaurants and public transport system. It also protected black rights to vote. In 1967 the US Supreme Court struck down the state laws that had banned racial intermarriage, giving a major boost to the movement towards civil equality and liberty.

Notwithstanding these major constitutional and social achievements against racism, ethnic based discrimination still finds its way daily social life in USA. People are continued to be discriminated on the basis of their religion, culture, or ethnic background, a tendency that has increased during last couple of years. The violence and instances of growing intolerance towards people from Asia are indicators towards the latent seeds of racial prejudices extant in the social conscience. It appears that political movements to abolish discrimination have worked largely on policy level rather on principle level. Even the government zeal to bring about equality seesmt o emanate from compulsion of being politically correct before the international community rather an innate desire to eradicate the seeds of racial segregation from people’s mindset. In the present, constitutionally liberated atmosphere, there are people whose lives have been indelibly affected by ages of racial discrimination, slavery, apartheid, and unjust laws. These people are on the fringe, impoverished, vulnerable and economically disadvantaged.


Fredrickson, G.M. 2002. Racism: A Short History. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ.