Harms of Racism Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Racism refers to “the belief that there are inherent differences in people’s traits and capacities that are entirely attributed to their race”. This means that the characteristics of human beings and their abilities to perform particular roles in life are entirely determined by their genetics. The traits associated with the various races are used to classify them as either superior or inferior races. The belief in the superiority of one race over the other is normally used to justify the unequal treatment of different races.

Historical analysis reveals that the inferior races are entitled to unfair social, economic, political and legal treatment. Thus the practice of showing preference for a particular group of people on the basis of racial backgrounds amounts to racism. Some scholars argue that the mere act of holding a prejudiced belief that some individuals are inferior due to their racial origins is also a form of racism.

The history of racism dates back to the colonial era whereby the colonials mostly from the European countries expanded their territories to Africa, Asia and even America. The colonials considered their subjects especially the blacks as inferior species. The colonials’ beliefs were mainly based on perceptions rather than empirical proof. However, such biased perceptions still exist today and is responsible for racial discrimination and segregation.

Reason for Choosing the Topic

Racism has been considered a worldwide problem due to its consequences in every society. Research indicates that the practice of racism in any form has been one of the major causes of social conflicts. As the oppressed races learn of their rights, they unit against the dominant races in order to protect their interests. This has led to social disorder and even loss of life. At the institution level, racism has been condemned as an unethical act that should be avoided at all costs.

This is because it leads to antagonistic behavior among members of the organization and even poor delivery of services. Despite the efforts and measures put in place by the governments and non-governmental organizations to end racism, the problem still persists. It is thus important to conduct an academic research with the aim understanding the harms of racism (violation of human rights) and how it can be eliminated. This proposal provides the theoretical and methodology for studying the harms of racism and how it can be eliminated.

Scope of the Study

As discussed above, racism not only leads to oppression but also undermines the moral standards in the society. This leads to the research questions:

  • What are the specific harms of racism?
  • How can the harms of racism be managed?

In order to answer the above questions, the following aspects of racism will be studied. First, the concept of racism will be defined and explained with the aid of philosophical theories. Second, the concept of racism as a violation of human rights will be discussed. Third, the ethical implications of racism in society will be illuminated. Finally, the factors responsible for the persistence of racism and how racism can be reduced will be explained.


The research will be based on secondary data analysis. This means that the information about racism will be obtained from secondary sources of data. The secondary sources will include previous research reports on racism, journal articles and textbooks.


Racism refers to the “belief that members of each race have characteristics, abilities or qualities specific to that race so as to distinguish it as superior or inferior to other races and the expression of such prejudice”. This definition means that race is the main determinant of human traits or attributes as well as capacities. The racial differences resulting from the different human traits lead to intrinsic superiority or inferiority among the races. Based on the human traits exhibited by the different races, one race is considered superior to the other. The act of expressing prejudice based on ones perception of racial differences thus amounts to racism. In most cases the concept of racism is used negatively. It is normally associated with acts such as discrimination, violence and dislike. This paper will analyze the concept of racism with a focus on its contribution to human rights violation. It also explains the factors contributing to the persistence of racism and how racism can be eliminated.

History of Racism

The racist ideology began as early as the middle age and the renaissance periods. During these periods, racism was expressed mainly in terms of ethnic prejudice. For example, in the Arab world some ethnic groups especially those which had darker skin colors were considered inferior. The racist ideology became more popular in the nineteenth century with the rise of colonization. The European colonialist considered their subjects an inferior race. The poem titled the “white man burden written in 1899 by Rudyard demonstrates the belief in the intrinsic superiority of the European culture over the rest of the world”.

Due to the belief in the inherent inferiority of the colonized communities, the colonials introduced preferential treatment for specific races. In the twentieth century, anti-racism ideologies began to emerge but the practice of racism was still widespread across the globe. The abolition of slavery was one of the major steps towards ending racism. As more nations became independent especially in Africa and Asia, racism became illegal. In the twenty first, century, the emergence of interest groups and human rights bodies such as the UN has led to a drastic reduction in racism. However, stamping out racism completely has not been possible since some races particularly in Europe still believe in their inherent superiority over the other races.

Philosophical Perspective of Racism

The concept of racism can be explained by the cognitive theory. The cognitive theory considers a person to be “a self-contained information processor with a limited capacity”. This implies that all human beings think in a similar manner and they all have a limited capacity to handle information. Consequently, even though people may view those close to them as true individuals, they often categorize others in ‘folders’ in order to enable the mind to handle information easily. The ‘folders’ are characterized by racial groupings as well as the biased stereotypes associated with raced groups. The stereotypes will thus be projected whenever a person meets a member of a raced group.

From the cognitive theory, racism can thus be explained as the idea of assigning socio-political significance to a person’s genetic ancestry. This implies that a person’s intellectual and personality traits are developed and passed on by his or her internal body chemistry. Consequently, racist judge other people not by the characteristics or actions associated with such people as individuals but by the collective actions or characteristics associated with their ancestry.

Racist consider the content of a man’s mind to be hereditary. Hence the values, convictions or character associated with a person are predetermined by forces which are out of his control. This belief is biased because it ignores the influence of the environment in shaping the character and competency of a person. Thus from a philosophical stand point, racist invalidates the importance of rational faculty in describing or judging others.

In the contemporary society, racist use historical achievements of the members of their races to prove the superiority or inferiority of particular races. However, this is a misconception because racial achievement just like the racial mind does not exist. Individual achievements can not be associated with the entire race. Besides, such an achievement may not be necessarily attributed to the racial background of the achiever. Thus racism leads to automatic assessment of a person’s characteristics that ignores the duty of applying moral judgment.

Racism implies a pursuit for automatic self-esteem which does not exist. Individuals attain true self-esteem out of their achievements and not because of the races they belong to. Associating a person’s virtues to his racial background implies that he is not aware of the process through which virtue is developed and that such a person has failed to develop the appropriate virtue.

Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination is the act of separating individuals through a process that involves social divisions. Racial differences are used to categorize people in the society. Racial discrimination can be practiced in places where people from different socio-cultural backgrounds are working together. For example, research indicates that in the American society, job applicants whose names are associated with the black community are 50% less likely to get interview opportunities as compared to the white race.

The blacks are discriminated against during recruitment exercises due to the popular belief that they are less educated and incompetent at work. This type of discrimination is a violation of human rights since each and every person has a right to equal opportunity in life. Besides, biased judgment based on racial backgrounds is a violation of the raced group’s right to fair and equal treatment in the society.


Segregation involves the act of separating human beings in every day life based on racial differences. It is based on the belief that different races are not equal and thus they should not mix or share facilities or resources. For example, in a city where segregation is being practiced, various races will have particular facilities such as schools or restaurants that are exclusive to them. Segregation is not right since it undermines the raced group’s right and freedom of association. The right of association is provided by the constitution and thus no one should be denied the right to associate with others in society.

Institutional Racism

This involves race based discrimination that is mainly practiced by the government, large corporations, religious institutions and any other organization that has influence over people’s lives. Institutional racism is mainly characterized by preferential treatment for particular races. Consequently, it undermines the institution’s capacity to offer quality services to all members of the community. The inferior races are deliberately offered poor services due to the color of their skins. Unjustified preferential treatment is also a violation of human rights since it promotes unfairness and oppression of the minority. The raced groups are denied quality services of which they have the constitutional right to access.


Racism leads to conflict as different races try to protect their interest. Racism-related acts such as xenophobia have always been characterized by bloody violence and loss of many lives. Besides, they have led to loss of peace and harmony in the community. Consequently, racism is a violation of people’s right to peaceful coexistence in the society.

Ethical Implications of Racism

Racism tends to contravene the principles of ethics at the personal, professional and global level. To begin with, racism breaks the principles of personal ethics and this can be explained as follows. First, it discourages concern for others as different races reject members of races opposed to them. Second, as different races hold biased opinion about other races, the principle of trustworthy and honesty suffers. They tend to lose trust for one another and even practice dishonesty in order to harm each other.

Third, racism promotes unfairness and limits the dispensation of basic justice. If various races hold biased beliefs about each other, justice can not be achieved in the society. Fourth, the principle of benevolence can not be exercised in the presence of racism. This is because a belief that members of a particular race are inferior and thus deserve poor services limits one’s ability to do what is good to all.

In the context of professional ethics, racism breaks the principles of ethics due to the following reasons. First, it discourages impartiality and objectivity due to the fact that the prejudices expressed by the racist interfere with the process of making decisions by professionals. Second, it discourages due diligence since a professional who believes in racism will deliberately fail do his best if he knows that he will benefit a member of an ‘inferior’ race. Besides, racial beliefs lead to conflicts of interests as professionals try to achieve both personal interest in regard to racism and the expectations of the organization they work for.

Racism also contravenes the principles that inform global ethics. As discussed above racism encourages injustice especially in the distribution of resources. This means that it limits the extent to which global justice can be exercised. It also makes it difficult to promote interdependence. It is difficult to promote cooperation in an environment whereby members of the community do not trust each other. This means that achieving collective responsibility at the global level is limited by the practice of racism in various parts of the globe.

The Persistence of Racism

Despites the numerous measures that have been put in place by both government and non governmental organizations, racism continues to exist in the society. The factors responsible for the persistence of racism in society can be explained by the critical theory. The theory asserts that the “allowance and retrenchment of civil rights is determined by the interest of the Caucasians”. In most western countries, racism is an important mechanism for maintaining the socio-economic structure. Consequently, eliminating racism through appropriate legislation has always failed.

According to the critical theory, racism is considered a normal occurrence especially in US and the European countries. This means that racism is perceived as a normative factor in the countries where it is widely experienced. It is thus used in most countries to define and endorse the citizens’ access to various privileges. Economic determinism is particularly responsible for the persistence of racism. This is based on the fact that racism has always been a means for justifying the skewed distribution of resources as well as the oppression of the raced groups.

This illustrates the practical role of the negative attitudes and beliefs associated with racism. Since changing these attitudes is close to impossible due to their role as discussed above; eliminating racism “through antiracism education or civil rights programs” has largely failed. Civil rights programs have only succeeded in reducing the overt types of racism but have failed to eliminate socio-economic class system brought about by racism.

Liberalists have always believed that embracing racial neutrality will help in eliminating racism. Their argument is based on the fact that the US and European countries believe in rationality and reason. Thus antiracism laws would help to eliminate racism. Contrary to the liberalist perspective, racism has persisted due to the fact that the privileges associated with the whites “remain institutionalized through legal precedence”. In practice, race neutrality has only helped to perpetuate race-based inequality instead of reducing it. The above discussion illustrates the difficulty in eliminating racism. It is thus necessary to use a multi-dimensional approach in the fight against racism. Such an approach should promote voluntary change of attitude, equality and tolerance in the society.


The above discussion indicates that racism is a belief that some human beings are intrinsically superior or inferior by the virtue of their racial backgrounds. Such beliefs are used to justify preferential treatment for various races. In the context of ethical standards, racism is wrong since it contravene most of the principles of ethics. As discussed above, racism is wrong since it promotes violation of basic human rights in the society. Violation of such rights is a great impediment in the process of national development and peaceful coexistence in society. Consequently, it should be eliminated by all means. The process of eliminating racism can be achieved through a combination of measures which promote voluntary change of attitude.

Works Cited

Cashmore, Ernest and Jary Jeming. Racism. New York: SAGE, 2004.Print.

Collins, Walter, David Raymond and Simon Ray. “Low-income Africa American Mother’s Perceptions of Exposure to Racial Discrimination and Infant Birth Weight.” Epidemiology 12(2000): 337-339.

Fernando, Steve. “Racism as a Cause of Depression.” International Journal of Social Psychology 21(2001): 112-141.

Karlsen, Susan. “Relationship between racial discrimination, social slass and health among ethnic minority groups.” American Journal of Public Health 10(2002): 624-631.

Memmi, Albert. Racism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. Print.

Reilly, Kevin, Stephen Kaufma and Angela Bedino. Racism: a global reader. New York: M.E Sharpe, 2003.

Same, Lawrence. “Reconciling rule and principles: an ethical-based approach.” Journal of Business Ethics 3(2005): 314-336.

Sidanius, James and Christopher Frederico. “Racism, Ideology and Affirmative Action Revisited: the Antecedents and Consequences of Principled Objectives.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82(2002): 488-502.

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