Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
Whether you think modern American culture is woke or not, the issue of racism is front and center in it. I mean everyone has always known what racism was, as a generality at least: not liking someone because of their race or holding a biased grudge against them for the same reason. And if we are honest, it's not like racism has not been on the front pages before.
It seems like since the 1960’s, racism becomes a major issue every thirty years or so. First during the Civil Rights movement of the sixties. Then again during the 1990's with the Rodney King beating, L.A riots, and OJ Simpson trial. And just recently in 2020 with the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent riots, protests, and enflaming of the already existent Black Lives Matter movement. It’s almost like clockwork and this isn't to say that in between these eras nothing was going on. There were other racist events and crimes that occurred, but few that blew up into front page news.
So now, where in days past to call someone a racist or use the term racism carried was an albatross around the person's neck, it now is in danger of becoming trendy. A modern day boy who cried wolf. Legit racists avoid using the term directly while practicing its methodology, and many people who are against it sometimes abuse it to gain leverage they otherwise may not have had. I have personally seen this. What’s more, we have adopted an oversimplified view of racism, at least in America. That someone choosing to be a racist, or its social equivalent, a Nazi, is doing so simply because they hate Black, Asian, Arab, Native American, or Indian people. That there is no other nuance to it, or any worthy of being considered.
For certain, some of this is absolutely true. However, I also feel that such a simplified point of view ignores those nuances that create many racists and therefore hinders the very justice that it’s opposition is after. Moreover, it ignores the spectrum on which racist exists and I thought I’d go over my view of that spectrum. An overview and somewhat simple to be sure, but it's based on my own knowledge and experiences. Feel free to compare these to your own.
"We have no choice. They are fanatics...and no peace will ever be made with them. They will only think one thing their entire lives, and they will never stop thinking of it"
— Saladin, Kingdom of Heaven
Often the most generally assumed, misunderstood, and arguably rarest form, pure racism is unlike the others in that it does not arise from an external reason or circumstance. Pure is racist simply for the sake of being racist. They hate you and want to eliminate you because you exist: period. The pure racist can live either oppressed or as the ruling class and still believe they are the superior race. There is nothing to be learned or appreciated from other cultures, and their citizens are sub-human for the simple reason that they were born. They deserve to be treated like animals because they are animals. Anything they own is worthy of being taken from them because they inherently do not deserve it. The representation for this I say would be the racism expressed by the Nazi’s of 1920’s -1945.
Though Nazi apologists and scientists by the dozens offered ‘scientific’ reasons why the Nordic race, which in their minds largely consisted of Germanic and northern European peoples, was the proven, superior peoples, it wouldn’t have mattered either way. The clearest example of this was during the 1936 Olympics that was held in Berlin. Fascism had just come to power in the form of Adolf Hitler as chancellor and the games were meant to be a showcase of the superiority of the Germanic race over all others. Yet this was indirectly unhinged by the victories of one Jesse Owens, who became a four time gold medalist during the event. And what’s worst: Owens was a Black man.
To the logical mind, this would be cause to reconsider a racist position that posits yourself as superior, when an inferior has fair and squarely defeated you. However, that is not what happened.
Jesse Owens’ victory was conveniently ignored and disregarded by the Nazi Party, whom as we all know continued their racist and eugenic programs till 1945. Even as ‘inferior’ peoples were pushing his armies back, Hitler and the most stubborn of the Nazi regime continued to regard themselves as superior and blamed the defeat on the German peoples’ lack of resolve for victory at all costs, rather than idiotic mistakes the ruling members had made.
Many would also argue that the American South during the pre-Civil War years also qualifies as pure racism. Their imposition of a slavery that was so deep and systematic that it legally regarded Black people as property and treated them as such could back up that claim. The lengths that slave-owners would go to keep the status quo included pursuing runaways slaves even outside of the South, to supposedly playing a part in the initiation of the Creek War of 1813-14 because of the tribe’s alliance with ex-slaves and their intermarriages into their tribe. Even after the American Civil War when the institutions of slavery were literally burned to the ground, a need still existed among many southerners to treat and see Blacks as their lesser because of their wounded pride.
Going back to the Jesse Owen’s story, he says that he felt snubbed, but by the American President Franklin Roosevelt, rather than Adolf Hitler. And Roosevelt’s reasoning apparently was that he wanted to keep the support of southern Democrats (que irony). So American racists were unwilling to question their own beliefs as well in the face of direct proof.
There is no reasoning for the pure racist. They will continue to believe themselves inherently better till their life's’ end.
It often comes across to me that when someone accuses another of being racist, they use it very generally as if the person hates everybody who doesn’t look like them. This actually doesn't happen that often because one, that falls into the category of pure racism, and two, human beings are usually more nuanced than that.
Getting to the point, it’s entirely possible for someone to get along with other peoples splendidly, while also despising a specific group. Targeted racism is the laser-guided bomb of all racism because of this very nature. The background actually comes from the later versions discussed further on in this essay. Essentially that the racist’s reason for hating one or two specific groups while accepting others is because of a history they or their own group has with those people. This perception can be real or imaginary, but the result is still the same.
The difficulty with this racism is that it's hard to detect. Prior to the terrorist attack of 9/11 in 2001, I guarantee you that most Americans would never think of themselves as racist individuals. They could rattle off names of actors from other ethnicities quite easily. You wouldn’t see them praising the likes of neo-Nazis or the Klu Klux Klan, and would support anyone coming over trying to make in America as long as it was honest and not at their own expense.
Post 9/11 that changed.
Now you had those same seemingly benign people suspecting and/or demonizing Muslims and anyone who appeared like they were of Middle Eastern descent. I heard one woman at work at the time exclaim the following: “I would never date a Muslim. I don’t care if I’m racist.” As long as they were brown, they were under suspect, whether they were Muslim, atheist, Sikh, or whatever. And yet, they still would be friends with any other race and wouldn’t suspect them of planting a bomb in a trash can or trying to blow an airplane with a bomb in their underwear.
What also makes targeted one of the worst types is that it would appear like common sense. This becomes especially true when dealing with it in an ancestral context. It’s profiling whole groups of people.
In America, Non-White communities have come to refer to this phenomenon as the ‘immigrant tax’, as almost every group from the Irish and Italians, to the the Arabs and Indians have experienced this form of racism at some point in their history in America.
"Maybe because it is because of the ‘immigrant tax’ that comedian Hasan Minhaj alludes to in his Netflix stand up special Homecoming King. His father’s generation felt that part of the price for being an immigrant in the US was to swallow one’s pride and accept whatever indignities heaped upon you."
— -The Problem with Apu and the ‘immigrant tax’. https://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2017/07/30/the-p
The converted racist is someone who may not have begun as a racist and was more open-minded and less judgmental of different people. Then a traumatic event occurs in their lives, maybe multiple times, where the perpetrator was always of a specific race, cementing the idea in their minds that all such people are vile.
These people don’t believe in their racial superiority by default, but by their experience. Their racism functions as both a lenses and a protective barrier. It is one of the harder types to combat because there's a level of sympathy and logic to their reasoning. Their life experience isn't an indoctrination, brainwashing, or to satisfy some ego. It was a lived event and the realness of it often tends to negate any intellectual knowledge about individual responsibility.
People who have rejected converted racism often do so only because they had another, better experience with someone of the same race who did something kind or beneficial for them, rather than harm them. Many also don’t come back because those few good apples cannot purify the entire barrel, or at the very least grant the person the discernment to tell which is bad and which is good.
Examples of this type would be the Roma or as they are better known as by popular culture, Gypsies. A migratory people from India, they steadily moved westward into Europe and rightly or wrongly, gained a reputation for crime and distrust. This was something I saw myself while in Marseille in southern France, where I met two Roma brothers. One who owned a hostel that I stayed in and was a legitimate businessman, and his brother who tried to teach me how to extort people.
The Roma are so distrusted in Europe that they were often the targets of attacks and persecutions. Even Nazi Germany regarded them specifically as a sub-human group next to the Jews and Slavic peoples of eastern Europe. This “box of chocolates, never knowing what you are going to get'' aspect makes dealing with converted racism very difficult. Especially since more than likely the racist themselves will not see themselves as a racist. It’s just being practical.
"“Hitler didn’t snub me—it was [Roosevelt] who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”
— Jesse Owens, Nazi Games: The Olympics of 1936. https://www.britannica.com/story/was-jesse-owens-snub
No form of racism is easy to deal with or understand, but if there was one, it would be economics-driven racism. Like other versions, it’s rooted in practicality rather than appearance and background. Economic racism tends to occur where a disparity between two or more communities takes place and often flows in all directions for those involved. Those who prosper tend to often appear more generous and benevolent towards other groups. Any malice they hold is often cloaked under polite words, manners, and legal maneuvering aimed to keep themselves at the top of the food chain.
While they may mark rival groups with any level of hostility, its primary goal isn't the suppression or annihilation of those groups, but the maintenance of their position. More often than not, if the group in power had a guarantee that their own power would not be threatened by the rise of another, the hostility is greatly mitigated. However in any society that has some form of social hierarchy while engaging with other peoples, this slightly more positive outcome almost never happens.
Economic racism also appears in the visage of the struggling communities competing with each other for scarce jobs. Typically these communities are poor, clustered together among their own, and though all of them may suffer under the hierarchy, survival dictates they do what they can in the immediate.
It’s easy to automatically think capitalism as the culprit with this type of racism. The fact is though that it has happened in other societies long before capitalism ever existed. The oppressed communities will judge both their rivals and those at the top who put them in that position in the first place.
Examples of this are the late antiquity centuries of the Roman Empire where the Visigoths who served or worked in the empire felt they were deliberately being kept down by the native Romans because they were not themselves natives. Also, Nineteenth Century American urban centers like New York and San Francisco also developed such tensions, with influxes of European, Chinese, Japanese, Latino immigrants and runaway or ex-Black slaves looking for work away from the terrorism of the South.
In both these cases, the results were often violent clashes which could then warp into something closer to pure racism despite its economic origins.
This type of racism closely resembles several other types on this list and bears some of the same hallmarks: roots in more practical situations, group association, and the maintaining or gaining power. One thing that makes political racism more unique is that it is often associated with identity. A community that has chosen a particular way of operation that then comes into conflict with another group’s governing/survival will generate an automatic, visual association as human brains attempt to compensate for the change to its environment.
Likewise, the aggressor community will mark the outsiders as threats to its own goals and survival. However unlike other forms of prejudice, politically-motivated racism doesn’t immediately equate violence. Especially as oftentimes those holding the belief are elites in their communities and not killers or soldiers. Behind the scenes actions are their tool and trade. If they feel something requires a more extreme action, they motivate or employ others to do it for them.
Examples of this include Communist China’s persecution of the Tibetans and Uyghur Muslims, as both communities want some type of distinction from the controlling regime. And a second example being the removal of the Cherokee Nation from their native lands in the American south. Though mixed with other racist forms, the stronger political element was motivated by a desire for the land they possessed and to eliminate a natural refuge for political dissidents and runaway slaves to escape to.
Like its political peer, racism motivated by religion is community-based. It targets a community that practices a belief system that is perceived as a threat, or so abhorrently different that it's not worthy of respect. I feel that this type of racism is one of the most violent because it’s not motivated in practicality as much as feeling and conviction. Both are non-rational, non-logical states of being. Someone who holds this prejudice may hate or harm someone simply because they exist and are linked to another belief. Whether or not the individual in question actually believes that barely even matters. The experiences between early American settlers and Native-American tribes of the east highlight these tendencies.
However, some religions offer a way out of this by conversion. If someone from an outside community adopts the new faith, they are often required to show some physical indicator of the change so that they are no longer targeted. This often includes name changes, physical markings, and change of dress or physical appearance.
Because of its roots in inherent superiority or isolationism, religious racism can come close to pure racism. Yet, the diverse range of religious beliefs don’t make them monolithic. And despite popular belief, the amount of times that communities have gone to war over religion is not that often, rather being a side effect of other reasons like resources and glory.
The Middle-Ages is a rife with examples of this type, but the most prominent I feel is how the Muslims viewed the Mongol invaders. Even today, I’ve listened to many Muslims describe to me their destruction of Baghdad in 1258 CE as the end of the golden age of Islam and the beginning of its decline on the world stage. The destruction the invaders wrought being so brutal and so savage that even though many converted to Islam later on, as a community they were still looked down upon.
The Rohingya from the island of Myanmar in 2015 is a modern example of religious prejudice. Many Buddhists in the country regarded or were motivated to see the Muslim Rohingya as a threat that needed to be expunged by any means necessary. Though there are other reasons behind the violence, the fact that the community shared the same religion made it easier for Buddhist extremists to target them.
This is one of the more odd ones when you first hear it, but there’s a reason I say it exists. Sexual racism often exists in the form of racial stereotypes focused on sex, that are given to certain communities. It has been used in pair with pure racism as the establishment of racial superiority, and when it doesn’t, can often still have negative implications. This occurs with both men and women.
Latina women are often viewed as ‘exotic’ or ‘spicy’. The type of woman who’s hot-blooded, hot in bed, and as uncontrollable as the sea. This has led to some instances of Latin women being mistreated or judged as undesirable because of their perceived volatility in work places, as well type-casting when portrayed on screen.
With men, it exists with the Black man having a large penis. One would think that this isn't a bad thing. However like with Latin women, it has had the unspoken implication of Black men being seen as sexual predators, rapists, delinquent fathers, and faithless partners. The more interesting point though is the unspoken views implied by sexual racism: how it views White women and men.
Within the context of the above examples, hot and exotic women implies that White women are cold and lacking passion or ability to inspire sexual desire in their partners. White men, though depending somewhat on their nationality, are often implied to generally have small-penises when compared with other races and lacking a certain spark in bedroom skills and their own ability to give their partners orgasms. Though this type of racism was supposed to further encourage the view that Black men were animals and not human, it clandestinely also created this other view as well in the minds of many White people.
In fact, the concept of the “noble savage” carried with it an unspoken sexual appeal because of the unknown and different qualities that those people and cultures brought to sex, enflaming the imaginations of would-be White partners.
The same as political and religious racism, but with the exception of it applying to regions of land rather than some intangible element. This is one of the easiest types of racism to have because it's completely rooted in something we can put a solid finger on. It also makes it one of the hardest to break because it can form stereotypes that can chain people whose ancestry is either from said places, or just happens to look like so.
Though there are more violent occurrences of this type, many others are more benign. Someone may not hold any hostility to someone who looks or maybe sounds like they come from a certain region. But they may unconsciously react to them in ways that align with how they view that area of the world, rather than anything the person has done. Like how some Americans treat Latinos, Arabs, and Indian people.
It can also be introvertedly hostile in that people may view anything from that region as inferior to their own or the rest of the ‘civilized’ world. Though this is usually unspoken in today’s world of watch-what-you-say, we still have a real time example of this type of prejudice in Former President Donald Trump’s expression of the African continent and Haiti as “shit-hole countries” in 2018. As infuriating as that was, he was also just saying aloud how many people viewed those places.
I don’t see many westerners signing up for tours of Somalia. Do you?
Another case of this type exists in London where it is sometimes referred to as ‘Londonistan’, because of communities from central Asia That live there. And there’s also the issue of racism between Many Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese.
This dovetails into the fact of how hugely media portrayal plays a role furthering this prejudice. Throughout the last quarter of the Twentieth century, we were bombarded with images of Africa as starving and war torn in need of help. Latin American countries were viewed similarly as well. Today, we see images of the Middle East and Central Asia as backward, violent, and sexist terrorist dens.
Interestingly enough however, is that this also backfires on the Western world. Many countries that we see as backward and inferior also judge our society as just as bad or worse. This too shares blame with media presentation: specifically sexuality, feminism, and equality. It is also deeply intertwined with living and old history. Non-Western communities still remember quite strongly their rule under the West and more recently, how American interests have often played a role in events in their own lands.
The final form of racism I have observed is cultural racism. Sharing similarities with some of the other types, it makes itself distinct by a certain adaptability that most of the others lack. It can be based on how a person looks like pure racism and where they come from like regional, political, and religious if those traits are common. Yet it can also be completely divorced from them as well, such as if someone of a particular race adopts another culture’s lifestyle. This often leads to a view of that person as a traitor to whatever their native culture is, but can also lead to that traitor being treated the same way as the despised group. They’re excommunicated in the eyes of their native community’.
Cultural racism doesn't have to be rooted in appearance, but can be in ethnicity, even if different communities are of the same race. The ancient Greeks were the most notorious for this. It is from them that we have the word, barbarian, because of how they heard outsiders speak.
Other examples occur with Hip Hop/American urban culture of the last forty years, where White kids adopting urban wear, language, and music were seen by others of their peers as at best, ‘wannabes’ and at worst, traitors.
It is very hard to separate the individual from their native culture, just like in regional racism. And this comes from the natural and biological fact that it's easier for animals to categorize a lifestyle by simple first appearance, rather than overthinking the many other factors at play.
These are the forms of racism that I have observed and studied. This piece is just an overview and as you may already have been able to tell, all of these can be interconnected so deeply and flow into one another so naturally, that it almost becomes impossible to distinguish between them: or care to do so, and it's in the latter aspect that the problem lies.
As I said at the beginning, I feel that most people today greatly over simplify racism and thus have led to a great many mistakes and mistaken opinions. The only tool that solves any kind of problem universally is destroying the problem in totality. And even this then creates yet more problems.
Americans tend to judge people on their appearances. The people within those communities do not see it that way, much less the people in other countries. People can have different levels of hostility towards different people for a myriad of reasons and to mistakenly label one can lead to more problems and reinforces their negative view of you, if they didn’t have one already. As a American who likes to travel, I have stepped into this dog-pile more than once. It was only through practicing a nature of being open to learning, putting in some work, and just generally not being a dick that overcame those issues.
People are people and though I’m a fatal optimist, more than likely racism as a whole will probably always exist as long as humans do. At the very least, it will last another millennia until communication has become so diverse and intricate that it leaves no room for that prejudice and isolationism to exist.
But if that does happen, it's a long shot at best.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2021 Jamal Smith