Societal racism

Societal racism is a term which refers to racist attitudes within a society[1] It has also been called structural racism, because, according to Carl E. James, society is structured in a way that excludes substantial numbers of people from minority backgrounds from taking part in social institutions.[2]

According to Walter R. Allen, racism can be categorized into five types:

  • overt racism, for example, when an individual says something racist;
  • covert racism, which is also an individual phenomenon;
  • institutional racism, which is when institutions treat people of different races differently;
  • societal racism, and
  • civilizational racism.[3]

Andrew L. Barlow writes that the reason proposition 209 was passed in California was due to those supporting it being "successful in promoting the myth that societal racism no longer exists in California".[4] George M. Fredrickson has written that societal racism is deeply embedded in American culture and that in the 18th century, societal racism had already emerged with the purpose of maintaining a white-dominated society.[5] and that "societal racism does not require an ideology to sustain it so long as it was taken for granted".[6]

Relationship to agency

Structure and agency are opposites. Agency is the idea that a person's life outcomes are due entirely, or significantly influenced by their own individual efforts. Social structure is the idea that life outcomes are due entirely, or significantly influenced by the individual's race, class, gender, social status, inherited wealth, legal situation, and many other factors that are outside the individual's control.

A society, even a "colorblind" society, can be structured in a way that perpetuates racism and racial inequality even if its individual members do not hold bigoted views about members of other racial groups. Society can still effectively exclude racially disadvantaged people from decision-making or make choices that have a disparate impact on them.[7]


  1. Scheurich, James (23 July 1997). Research method in the Postmodern. Routledge. p. 136. ISBN 978-0750707091.
  2. James, Carl E. (8 February 1996). Perspectives on Racism and the Human Services Sector: A Case for Change (2nd Revised ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 27.
  3. Allen, Walter R. (22 January 1991). William A. Smith; Philip G. Altbach; Kofi Lomote, eds. The Racial Crisis in American Higher Education. State University of New York. ISBN 978-0791405215.
  4. Barlow, Andrew L. (5 June 2003). Between fear and hope: globalization and race in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 8. ISBN 978-0742516199.
  5. Ray, George B. (1 May 2009). Language and Interracial Communication in the U. S.: Speaking in Black and White. Peter Lang. p. 7. ISBN 978-0820462455.
  6. Fredrickson, George M. (30 June 1988). The Arrogance of Race: Historical Perspectives on Slavery, Racism and Social Inequality. Wesleyan University Press. p. 202. ISBN 978-0819562173.
  7. Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2009) Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in America. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. ISBN 9781442202184.
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