Are We Secretly Racist?

No one believes themselves to be racists nor do they want to be considered racist. Racism is not as prevalent in today’s society as it used to be, yet we fail to realize subtle racial biases that are held subconsciously in all our minds. In the movie Hidden Figures directed by Theodore Melfi in 2016, African-American women are discriminated against because of the skin color they are born with is not white. Through verbal and non-verbal language, their colleagues, who behave monstrously, discriminate against the women in ways that colleagues do not recognize.

This leads to a question: Do we all believe that there is no such thing as racism unless we see several cases of it or do we all have a subtle way of being racist? Are we all racist without realizing it? Improvement in knowledge of the way racism occurs today may increase the awareness of unintended participation in racist behavior.

The film shows an argument against racial and sexual discrimination.

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Before 1960’s, in the USA, color segregation and gender discrimination were prevalent. Many scenes in the movie depict white people isolating black people; for example, African American women in the movie have to work in a separated place, they have to sit on the colored chair of the buses, borrow books in the separated area in the library and use colored bathroom just like the main character, Katherine. During the 1960s, these signals under the law separate but equal of racial segregation lead “whites” to treat “blacks” unfairly in the direct and conscious way.

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However, this type of racism no longer exists today. New laws were published in 1964 to protect non-white people’s rights and gave the illusory principle that everyone had full of respectability with each other.

Racism still exists today; however, the perceptions of racism are different than the 1960s. According to Cognitive Complexity and the Perception of Subtle Racism, Landon D. Reid states there is still a gap between perception and reality in America. For examples, in 2009, there was a poll taken to show how the people of the country felt as to where we stood on racism in the USA (Reid 291). 26 percent of Americans believed racism is an enormous social problem, 39 percent believed that racial conflicts are still continued today and 77 percent believed that race relations are good (Reid 291). Nevertheless, in reality, 74 percent of blacks said that they have been discriminated against, 60 percent said they felt unsafe and not fit in the melting pot, and 40 percent reported being stopped by police due to their race (Reid 292). This shows how there is a large gap, which states a view of a misconception of racism on one side, can lead to subtle racism. In most recent days, if a person is made fun of due to their culture and skin color, it is considered to be stereotyping and having prejudices but not racism. However, they do not know this is also a type of discrimination because it is difficult to find under this “perfect mask” (Reid 292).

Those different views between whites and blacks in racism are a misconception that has been substantiating how people blur what truly is and is not racism. The more the topic of racism is ignored, the more the topic is becoming blurred in today’s world. We can see in the past, through the movie, the evident signals of discrimination such as the obvious black bathroom sign that makes Katherine runs half a mile from her workplace or “black pot” which her co-workers make to have not to drink coffee in the same pot with her. During the 1960s, those preposterous signals are obvious in society, which are different from now. In today’s society, those signals are not disappeared but replaced by another cloudy way. Racism is not over, it just occurs subtler and more subconsciously.

People have denied that they discriminate against non-white people. According to “It Wasn’t Me!”: How Will Race and Racism Work in 21st Century America”, Euardo Bonilla-Silva states whites American claim that “it wasn’t me” when it comes to issues of racial inequality (112). However, they are not being duplicitous while they said, “it wasn’t me” as they truly believe they have nothing to do with racial minorities standing in society (Bonilla-Silva 112). Whites acknowledge the discrimination exists and when they are faced with evidence of discrimination, they classify these occurrences as isolated incidents (Bonilla-Silva 120). Whites might find justifications to prove they are not racist. According to The New Threat: ‘Racism without Racists’, John Blake states when whites and racial minorities talk about race, there are three phases that often happen in the “conversation”. The first one, I do not see color, as a real example in 2014, a white police officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, they are not particularly troubled by the grand jury’s decision to not issue an indictment (Blake). They said “let the legal system handle the decision without race-baiting” (Blake). The second phase called “But I have black friends”, Charles Gallagher, a sociologist at La Salle University in Philadelphia, gave a hypothetical example: “A white police officer in Ferguson may be married to a black woman and have black and Latino friends, but that doesn’t mean the officer is above racial profiling” (Blake). Racial bias is so deeply engrained in people that it can manifest itself in surprising places. In final phase, “Who you calling a racist?” people refuse to admit their biases. As Blake mentions in his article, Ross who is the author of Everyday Bias, says that the smarter we are, the more self-confident we are, and the more successful we are, the less likely we’re going to question our own thinking. Even the conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, has been suspicious of efforts to achieve diversity in workforces by hiring more officers of color in Ferguson’s police force, believing that they amount to reverse racism or racial preferences (Blake).

Even though not all people believe they behave as racist with racial minorities, looking at the data shows different advantages between two groups of “color”. Today, racism occurs in many fields such as employment, housing, credit markets and consumer markets. Many minorities such as blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans suffer housing discrimination (Pager 182). In The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets, Devah Pager states between 2000 and 2002 the Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted an extensive series of audits measuring housing discrimination against those group of minorities (188). The study result divulges bias across multiple areas (Pager 188). As for blacks, they face discrimination in roughly a fifth of housing searches and for Hispanics, in roughly a quarter of housing searches on both rental and sales they were discriminated against (Pager 188). In credit markets, blacks pay more than five out of a thousand higher interest rates on home mortgages than do whites and this is under the controls of income level, date of purchase, and age of buyer (Pager 189). More than 82 percent of blacks and Hispanics applications were rejected when several risks of default, cost of default, loan characteristics, and personal and neighborhood characteristics happen (Pager 189).

Moreover, according to Systematic Inequality: How America’s Structural Racism Helped Create the Black-White Wealth Gap,” Angela Hanks mentions in 2016 blacks with liability typically owed $35,560 less than 40 percent of the $93,000 in debt owed by whites. However, because blacks owed larger amounts of high-interest debts such as installment credit and student and car loans, the debt they typically owed was more expensive (Hanks). This problem leads to the median wealth for non-retired black households 25 years old and older was less than one-tenth that of similarly situated whites (Hanks). As a simple example from Hidden Figures, Katherine’s boss tells her that she has been forbidden to wear any jewelry except pearls, but NASA does not pay colored female computers enough to afford pearls. During the 1960s, racism is more directly; however, in some cases, the signals of subtle racism like the different wealth between whites and blacks were also occurring.

However, people still do not want to concede these differences are racism; therefore, we now can find some small details happening with an individual as subtle racism. When relating the topic of subtle racism to everyday life, people may think what are some ways in which this is shown. These ways might change our mindset of racism and make us believe racism is not happening. Compared with the movie Hidden Figures, the background of the movie is set up in the 1960s; therefore, the racial and gender discrimination that three main female characters face is more directly due to the period of time that “white and black separation” still be protected by laws. From the movie, those women are discriminated by the way they have to do everything separated from “whites”, for example, separated bathrooms, separated areas in the library, separated areas in the workplace, separated pots and blacks sit on the back of the bus.

On the other hand, in the article “Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students”, Chavella T. Pittman finds that women of color faculty experience gendered racism in the classroom and that their authority is challenged, their competency is questioned, and their scholarly expertise is disrespected almost exclusively by white male students (186). An example from Pittman’s research, white males subconsciously allow themselves to open colored women faculty’s office door without knocking, if a student may call a male faculty Dr., he will call her by first name (188). Another example from an article called Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions, Sendhil Mullainathan mentions 50 percent of result for the callback in an interview is this has a “white” name in the resume. Mullainathan also mentions in a 2009 study, it found that African-American applicants with no criminal record were offered jobs at a rate as low as white applicants who had criminal records. Moreover, several studies show that black patients with heart disease were much less likely to recommended a helpful procedure, even they have the same medical files with those white patients. Mullainathan shows how there is subtle discrimination that is happening more currently but we do not realize it. Bonilla-Silva states that is a new way of maintaining white domination in places like Ferguson, called “racism without racist”. This does not mean you are consciously being racist but rather subconsciously. We use the term stereotype or prejudice as a form of not believing that racism is happening.

Racism is more complex than before, you cannot find the sign appears evidently in front of you but it occurs in every small detail in our day-to-day life. According to The Millennials (Generation Y): Segregation, Integration and Racism, Geraldine Brown mentioned racism just does not concern a dominant racial group overly oppressing minorities. There is subtle racism describes racial microaggressions based on race (Brown 7). According to Unmasking ‘Racial Micro Aggressions’, Tori DeAngelis states one of the forms of racial microaggresions is aversive racism, which is common in today’s society (42). Whereas aversion is based socially and is subtle, microggresion leads to the threat of racism. For example, if race B’s qualifications are just as strong or as week as the race A’s, race A tends not to discriminate against race B (DeAngelis 42). However, when there is a huge disproportion between two race and race B’s qualification seems to lower than race A’s, race A tends to favor their own race versus race B (DeAngelis 42). We choose to think, I only did that because I was the normal thing to do (DeAngelis 42). The same evidence occurs in Hidden Figures, white employees have larger offices than “black” employees and when Katherine is required that does not speak with the department head, Mr. Harrison unless he speaks to her first. The different light between two places that Katherine works in, West Area Computing and Space Task Group continues to give us more evidence to prove the segregation in NASA. In West Are Computing, the room is a little darker than in Space Task Group, where the light is much brighter. This proves the different values that NASA gives the professional skills and people who work in two places. From those examples, we can recognize these are subtle racism, in which “whites” are represented as more intelligent and have higher qualifications class than “blacks”; therefore, they are assumed that they can disregard or discriminate against “blacks”, those who are lower than them.

We might not realize subtle racism exists or is real until we are the person who is the victim of it. That is an explanation for the way your mind automatically puts certain groups of people in certain categories, leading to racism. According to “Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist?”, Nicholas Kristof states the main point in this article is they are people who believe in equality yet they have a biased view on the world causing racism to happen. There is an experiment tested undergraduate students on subtle racism. A student from University of Colorado used an online shooter game to test if there was bias between white and black. It shows the views on racial bias based on gender as well as whether they react on playing the video game. The students were police officers who were shown a series of black and white males with some holding guns and some holding innocent objects. As Kristof mentions ordinary players routinely shoot more quickly at black men than at white men, and are more likely to mistakenly shoot an unarmed black man than an unarmed white man. In the result, more blacks were shot in the video game, especially undergraduate students. Kristof is also an example, he states the first time he took the test, he shot armed blacks in an average of 0.679 seconds while shooting armed whites in 0.694 seconds. This experiment shows that subtle racism is the new definition of racism in the 21st century and that this opened the eyes of those who do not believe or know if racism still existed.

On the other hand, when we think about our everyday life, we seem to interact with people who look similar with us and tend to favor those types of people more. Sometimes we have friends that “look similar” to us. It is not necessarily for us to put ourselves to stick with our own race or culture but subconsciously we feel safe and comfortable when we are in a group that we look like most. This shows how racism has changed from the conscious way to much more subtler. That leads to a tendency, which can describe as we do not judge these types of action as racism because they happen subconsciously. We used to view it as bluntly segregating races whereas now it is sort of blurred into subconscious actions we do every day with our friends.

No matter what race we are, we have bias within and out of our race. According to Blake, a psychological experiment is tested. There are two pictures: one picture is of a white man with a knife attacking an unarmed white man and the second is the white man with a knife attacking an unarmed black man. When asked who was armed, many people picked the white man with a knife in the first picture (Blake). However, in the second one, both black and white people said that the black man was holding the knife (Blake). Some colored people even assume themselves as lower class in society or discriminate themselves. Everyone all subconsciously does discriminate against others

Today, the definition of racism is a misconception has been “substantiating” how people misunderstand and blur what truly is and is not racism. Racism nowadays is much more subtler. Ultimately, we are all subconsciously racist. We hold preconceptions about racism that we don’t realize and make snap judgments in our heads. When something about race happens and seems not to be right, we sometimes say those are prejudices. However, prejudices originate in racism. We have a tendency to use prejudice as a justification to not believe that racism is happening every day and reject that we act as racists. Often we rely on the past definition of racism, where one race is considered superior to another race, to help us avoid confronting the sensitive topic. We need reminding that the definition of racism is constantly evolving and not talking much about it leads to the concept of subtle racism, ultimately making everyone subconsciously racist. Improving a person’s awareness may not effect change as thoroughly as changing an organizations or everyone’s mind. If each of us works to actively promote equality in our society, whether in civic groups, schools, workplaces, we may be able to make more impactful contributions to the decline of unintended racist behavior.

Work Cited

  1. Blake, John. The New Threat: ‘Racism without Racists’. CNN, Cable News Network, 27 Nov 2014. Web. 25 Mar.2019
  2. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, A.Forman, Tyrone, E.Lewis, Amanda and G.Embrick, David. It Wasn’t Me!”: How Will Race and Racism Work in 21st Century America. Political Sociology for the 21st Century, volume 12, pp. 111-134.
  3. Brown, Geraldine. The Millennials (Generation Y): Segregation, Integration and Racism. ABNF Journal, vol. 28, no. 1, Winter2017, pp. 5-8.
  4. DeAngelis, Tori. Unmasking ‘Racial Micro Aggressions’. Monitor on Psychology, American Psychological Association, vol. 30, no. 2, 2009, pp. 42. Web. 25 Mar.2019
  5. Hanks, Angela, et al. Systematic Inequality. Center for American Progress. Web. 25 Mar.2019
  6. Hidden Figures. Directed by Theodore Melfi, performances by Taraji P. Henson, Octavis Spencer, Janelle Monte, 2016.
  7. Kristof, Nicholas. Is Everyone a Little Bit Racist? The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Aug. 2014. Web. 25 Mar.2019
  8. Mullainathan, Sendhil. Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions. The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Mar.2019
  9. Pager, Devah, and Hana Shepherd. The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets. Annual review of sociology, 34:181-209, 17 Mar.2008. Web. 25 Mar.2019
  10. Pittman, Chavella T. Race and Gender Oppression in the Classroom: The Experiences of Women Faculty of Color with White Male Students. Teaching Sociology, vol. 38, no. 3, 2010, pp. 183-196.
  11. Reid, Landon D., and Rob Foels. “Cognitive Complexity and the Perception of Subtle Racism.” Basic & Applied Social Psychology, vol. 32, no. 4, 2010, pp. 291-301.
Cite this page

Are We Secretly Racist?. (2019, Dec 03). Retrieved from

Are We Secretly Racist?
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