You are on page 1of 6

Jenny Huang

24 February 2015

The Land of (Unequal) Opportunity: A Discourse on Modern Racism

The average white American today believes that racism is all but gone (Sanders). And he just
might be right, if he still believes in the antiquated and archaic definition of racism which
involves slavery and Jim Crow and claiming the supremacy of one race over the other. But the
reality of racism is that it is not just a belief one can hold; it is an institution upon which Western
society was built, it is a system methodically and deliberately maintained to reinforce a power
structure that oppresses people of color, and it is ingrained and entangled in every aspect of
American life.
To begin to attempt to understand and dissect modern racism, one must first relearn what
racism is. Often times, society, the education system, the media, the entirety of Western society
teaches that racism is simply the belief that one race is superior to others. On one hand, that is
true; but on the other, that is only the shallow truththe murky surface of something that runs
much deeper. While modern racism is still built upon such a belief, it has been morphed into
something that employs the use of more subtle prejudicial behavior. It has entered schools, the
news, politics, pop culture, the justice system, the workplace, and even casual conversation. And
though it is complex and hard to define, modern racism can most easily be analyzed in four

levels: Internalized, interpersonal, institutional, and racism. These strata all work together to
reinforce each other and perpetuate racism at every level.
Internalized racism consists of the internalizing of prejudices and other harmful beliefs; often
times most people arent even aware they hold such beliefs. This can include, for example,
feeling apprehensive or nervous while passing through a predominantly black neighborhood
reveals the subconscious stereotyping of black people as violent and thuggish. When a person of
color holds prejudices against his own or another marginalized group, he, too, has internalized
racist beliefs. This can include believing physical traits that are dominant within a certain race,
for example, dark skin or small eyes, are unattractive; internalized racism can also lead to the
acceptance of stereotypes as truth.
Interpersonal racism occurs when ones actions and words reflect internalized prejudices that
can affect interactions with another person. This can include things as casual as telling a person
of color that they look/act white as a compliment-- suggesting that white or
European/Western qualities are more desirable and the nonchalant use of slurs which were used
throughout history to dehumanize people of color.
When racism goes as far as influencing policy and conduct of private establishments and
even government bodies, it becomes institutionalized, which results in policies that result in
unequal treatment and other forms of discrimination against marginalized groups. In American
history, the Jim Crow laws of the former half of the twentieth century exemplify such policy
decisions that resulted in furthering racial inequities by enforcing the strict segregation of
African-Americans from white society. And while the Jim Crow laws were abolished in 1965,
the impacts of segregation still exist: There remains a wage gap between people of color and

white people, in which black and Latino people make only seventy-five and sixty-eight percent
as much as white men do, respectively, for the same job (and when factoring in gender, the
disparity is even larger; women of color make only sixty percent as much as white men doing the
same job); because of this, higher percentages of black and Latino people live in low-income or
poverty-stricken areas and thus have less access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities,
which thus perpetuates the systemic oppression of people of color through the restriction of
opportunities to escape poverty and financial insecurity (Ludden, Ashton). And while laws that
explicitly spell out segregation or otherwise blatantly racist policies are not in use today, there
still exists a plethora of institutions whose policies still find their foundation in upholding white
supremacy through more subliminal means. A large example lies within the American
incarceration system: While black people make up only twelve percent of the national
population, they account for forty percent of the prison population (Tonn). Along with this goes
the fact that black people are stopped by law enforcement significantly more often than white
people, and are more likely to have unnecessary force used upon them. All of this can be
attributed to the negative stereotypes which associate African-Americans with violence.
The media is an institution which plays a large role in reinforcing racism through either the
heavy stereotyping or the blatant lack of representation of people of color. Within the realm of
pop culture and Hollywood, there exists a sharp disparity in the recognition of white actors and
non-white actors. For example, the Oscars, one of the most prestigious, globally-reaching award
shows has recently come under fire for lack of diversity; the Academy, the body of prominent
persons in the film industry, is comprised of an overwhelming amount of white menwith an
average age of 63 and tends to favor films that follow white, male protagonists (Horn,
Williams). This is an industry in which people of color are rarely cast; when they are, its to

portray a stereotype or fill a diversity quota with flat characters. In fact, only six percent of the
250 top grossing films of all time center around a non-white protagonist. When narrowing down
the scope to look at news media, one finds that conservative and popular press tend to reaffirm
racial stereotypes and otherwise harmful prejudices. This can best be seen when contrasting the
recent coverage of the Ferguson protests-- which were a response to the controversial death of
Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer-- in which mostly African-American,
peaceful protestors were portrayed as violent and senseless, to the coverage of riots following the
conclusion of varying sports events in which rioters were described as mischievous and rowdy,
as opposed to thuggish and violent (Callahan).
When racial inequities that uphold white supremacy are normalized and fully submersed
in society, such racism is said to become structural. Structural racism serves as the foundation
upon which other forms of racism are built; it is historical, in that it arises from the centuries of
European imperialism and white oppression; it is cultural, in that it touches every aspect of
American life; and it is institutional, in that it supports policies and discourses which maintain
white privilege. While it is structural racism that perpetuates other forms of racism, it is
internalized, interpersonal, and institutionalized racism that holds structural racism in place.
While the majority of white Americans seem to perceive racial prejudice against minorities as
obsolete, they also perceive a growing sense of reverse racism, or oppression by people of
color. However, it is simply not possible for a white person to experience racism because racism
is a system which was built to benefit them; they cannot face the brunt of the oppression because
they are the oppressor. And while a white person may experience prejudice, its important to
consider the context behind any hostility they experience. After centuries of harassment,
segregation, murder, enslavement, and genocide, it would only be natural for any marginalized

group to feel resentment towards their oppressors. Claiming that such resentment is reverse
racism is claiming that any negative feelings are unjustified; it is decontextualizing the anger,
fear, and pain of people of color that is rightfully felt after centuries of abuse.
After insight into the different forms of racism, it is clear to see that it is still alive and
well within American society. Americans, as a whole, need to look at their country and
reevaluate the nation they see before them. Because as of today, modern America is, for any man,
the land of opportunity, the land of freedom, the land of equality, so long as he is white.

Works Cited
Ashton, Deborah. "Does Race or Gender Matter More to Your Paycheck?" Harvard Business
Review. Harvard Business Publishing, 10 June 2014. Web. 05 Mar. 2015.
Callahan, Yesha. "Black People Riot Over Injustice; White People Riot Over Pumpkins and
Football." The Root. N.p., Oct. 2014. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.
Horn, John. "Unmasking the Academy Oscar Voters Overwhelmingly White, Male." Los Angeles
Times. Los Angeles Times, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.
Lauren, Keith, and Terry Keleher. Structural Racism and Community Building. Washington, D.
C.: Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, 2004. 2004. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Ludden, Jennifer. "Despite New Law, Gender Salary Gap Persists." NPR. NPR, 19 Apr. 2010.
Web. 08 Mar. 2015.
Sanders, Katie. "NBA Legend Abdul-Jabbar: 'More Whites Believe in Ghosts than Believe in
Racism'" Tampa Bay Times. PolitiFact, n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Tonn, Shara. "Stanford Research Suggests Support for Incarceration Mirrors Whites' Perception
of Black Prison Populations." Stanford News. Stanford University, 6 Aug. 2014. Web. 03
Mar. 2015.
Van Djik, Teun. "Media, Racism, and Monitoring." Media, Racism and Monitoring (n.d.): n. pag.
1998. Web. 7 Mar. 2015.
Williams, Brennan. "Why It Should Bother Everyone That The Oscars Are So White." The
Huffington Post., 20 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2015.