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Covert racism is a form of racial discrimination that is disguised and subtle, rather than public or obvious. Concealed in the fabric of society, covert racism discriminates against individuals through often unnoticeable or seemingly passive methods. Covert, racially biased decisions are often hidden or rationalized with an explanation that society is more willing to accept. These racial biases cause a variety of problems that work to empower the suppressors while diminishing the rights and powers of the oppressed. Covert racism often works subliminally, and often much of the discrimination is being done subconsciously.
George M. Fredrickson states that racism possesses a generative force more powerful than mere class or caste self-interest alone and is suspicious of arguments that discount matters of ideology, thought and culture and overvalue those of instinct and habit. Others believe that racism in all its forms are part of the human psyche, as xenophobia, or fear of those outside the group, is a primordial attitude deeply embedded in human history.
Background on race
One popular theory on race, promulgated by Judge Tucker, posits that there exists natural, physical divisions among humans that are hereditary, reflected in morphology, and roughly but correctly captured by terms like "black", "white", and "Asian" (or "Negroid", "Caucasoid", and "Mongoloid"). Some argue this theory serves to suppress and exploit the outgroup or "racialized others".
Covert racism, sometimes called "color blind" racism, is less obvious than overt racism. This "laissez-faire" form of racism is not governmentally sanctioned like the overt Jim Crow laws of the 1950s, and it is not always obvious. Covert racism comes in many forms including unnecessary politeness to a racial group, the use of political correctness.
History in the U.S.
With a strong prevailing history of slavery in the United States, racism has always been an issue. The enslavement of millions of Africans along with the huge influx of immigrants throughout its history has allowed great diversity, but has created racial segregation. With the abolition of slavery, different forms of segregation were implemented, including Jim Crow laws and the later American political structures which invited extreme segregation within cities and the suburbanisation of the white working and middle class. As overt and obvious racial discrimination became illegal and less and less apparent, the idea that the nation was homogenizing became popular. It was thought that as the U.S. accepted more immigrants from different cultures a sort of "melting pot" would occur and unify everyone under one creed. Along with this, ideologies formed that every group of immigrants goes through the same discrimination. Groups were thought to eventually assimilate, but racism remained and is still present today.
Another example of covert racism occurred when most of the black G.I.s returning from the Vietnam War were denied the money promised to them to support their education and help them buy homes. There were estimates that 25% of soldiers serving in Vietnam were black, but anecdotal evidence put the numbers as much higher. Black servicemen were twice as likely to re-enlist in the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force and three times as likely to re-enlist in the Army than their white counterparts, not for any sense of adventure, but because they found the monetary rewards to be promising and they were treated as equals or near equals.
Racially constructed barriers
In the United States, covert racism is used to construct barriers that disable and oppress a racial group. Some of these methods include covert racial profiling and the use of racial stereotypes. In the 1950s, shortly after World War II, urban areas were overtly divided into blocks by race. The wide acceptance of these divisions by the majority and the lack of social integration was covert. These blocks were close to toxic dumps, busy highways, and other undesirable locations throughout cities. Whites lived away from these areas and often realtors would not be able to show properties to whites within these areas. Apartments also could not rent to certain minority groups, hence maintaining segregation. Until the late 1960s, the government sanctioned discrimination in housing markets by promulgating rules preventing blacks from receiving mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
Even today, FHA loans, a Federal Mortgage programme, goes to the white majority and reaches few minorities. In a study done in Syracuse between 1996 and 2000, of the 2,169 FHA loans issued, only 29 (or 1.3 percent) went to predominantly minority neighborhoods, compared with 1,694 (or 78.1 percent) that went to white neighborhoods. Mortgage discrimination played a significant part in the real estate bubble that popped during the later part of 2008. It was found that minorities were disproportionately steered by lenders into subprime loans. In recent years, many blacks and Latinos have been discriminated against when applying for jobs because of stereotypes about work ethic based on race, and having a name that sounds "black" can sometimes lead to that person being denied an interview. Minorities are less likely to obtain key information regarding job interviews and are often denied access to high-paying jobs.
Minorities are also denied access to a quality education. This is usually because many poor areas also predominantly consist of minorities. This means that there is often a lack of funding in schools. The levels of poverty and lack of educational opportunities perpetuate themselves, creating an vicious cycle. Racial stereotypes emerge and these populations are further disenfranchised by individuals who do not help or do not care. In the new Civil Rights Project report from UCLA, dated January 2009, it stated that schools are more segregated today than they have been in the 1950s. Millions of non-white students are locked into "dropout factory" high schools, where huge percentages do not graduate, and few are well prepared for college or a future in the U.S. economy.
Prisons are another place where covert racism occurs. A majority of the prison population in the U.S. consists of racial minorities due to the way the U.S. judicial system works and the behavior of some police officers. Black men are more likely to be convicted and spend more time in prison than whites who committed the same crimes. This could be perpetuated by the beliefs held by police on the street level, who make split-second decisions sometimes based on nothing more than subconscious racist stereotypes. Since the beating of Rodney King (1991) was videotaped and was broadcast around the world, local and federal law-enforcement agencies have opened investigations to determine whether or not there is a pattern of police brutality not only in Los Angeles but around the country.
Demographic differences in healthcare
In the United States, health disparities are well documented in ethnic minorities such as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Hispanics. When compared to whites, these minority groups have higher incidence of chronic diseases, higher mortality, and poorer health outcomes. Among the disease-specific examples of racial and ethnic disparities in the United States is the cancer incidence rate among African Americans, which is 25% higher than among whites. In addition, adult African Americans and Hispanics have approximately twice the risk as whites of developing diabetes. Minorities also have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, HIV/AIDS, and infant mortality than whites. Caucasian Americans have much lower life expectancy than Asian Americans. A 2001 study found large racial differences exist in healthy life expectancy at lower levels of education.
Public spending is highly correlated with age; average per capita public spending for seniors was more than five times that for children ($6,921 versus $1,225). Average public spending for non-Hispanic blacks ($2,973) was slightly higher than that for whites ($2,675), while spending for Hispanics ($1,967) was significantly lower than the population average ($2,612). Total public spending is also strongly correlated with self-reported health status ($13,770 for those reporting "poor" health versus $1,279 for those reporting "excellent" health).
There is a great deal of research into inequalities in health care. In some cases, these inequalities are caused by income disparities that result in lack of health insurance and other barriers to receiving services. In other cases, inequalities in health care reflect a systemic bias in the way medical procedures and treatments are prescribed for different ethnic groups. Raj Bhopal writes that the history of racism in science and medicine shows that people and institutions behave according to the ethos of their times. Nancy Krieger wrote that racism underlies unexplained inequities in health care, including treatment for heart disease, renal failure, bladder cancer, and pneumonia. Raj Bhopal writes that these inequalities have been documented in numerous studies. The consistent and repeated findings were that black Americans received less health care than white Americans, particularly when the care involved expensive new technology. One recent study has found that when minority and white patients use the same hospital, they are given the same standard of care.
Power and colormute society
Another problem dealing with covert racism is the presence of inequality vs. inequity. Often, an attempt at overall equality is made by trying to provide everyone with the same opportunities. Inequity occurs when the conditions and opportunities provided are not equal to those of the majority of Americans. This generally occurs in the education system in the U.S. This unfairness in the system is not overtly in place but stems from a perpetuated injustice and is often maintained through the invisibility of it.
Covert racism uses discursive repertoires to perpetuate racism and to suppress the "racialized" groups. The white majority is afraid of saying the wrong thing and being labeled as racist, so they confine themselves to the social circle they are most comfortable in — an all-white one. This is especially true for the older generations. This translates to the division of neighborhoods into school districts that avoid integration that end up investing on the "whiteness" of their neighborhoods. The wealthy also control some of these divisions, which results in the minorities being excluded due to the low levels of income in most minority neighborhoods. The residential and social segregation of whites from blacks in the United States creates a socialization process that limits whites' chances for developing meaningful relationships with blacks and other minorities. The segregation experienced by whites from blacks fosters segregated lifestyles and leads them to develop positive views about themselves and negative views about blacks.
In her 2004 book Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School, Mica Pollock called for "a strategy of questioning the validity of race categories to describe human diversity even while keeping race categories strategically available for the analysis of local and national racial inequalities" for American schools. Later, in 2008, Pollock served as editor for Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School. In this book, "leading experts offer concrete and realistic strategies for dealing with race in schools in a groundbreaking book that should become required reading for every teacher in the country."
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