What is Racism? 4 Types of Racism- Explained with Examples

When an individual’s race is the grounds for any form of oppression, the resulting actions are ‘racist’ in nature. When this oppression or prejudice is widespread and targeted at particular ethnic groups, it is referred to as ‘Racism’. This is not to be confused with discrimination, specifically because oppression takes into account power – wherein societies have dominant and subservient groups at least in terms of population and representation. More often than not, people who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Colour are targets of racism. This is because they have been invaded by or forcefully migrated by caucasian and/or predominantly white races that felt superior thanks to their technological advances and exercised hard power over these less advanced groups. As the times have passed, although the structures (like slavery) have been abolished, the sentiments seem to remain in some form or the other in the oppressors. Racism is best seen as a manifestation of an oppressive system that has its roots in white supremacy, in which white people treat individuals from mostly “non-white” communities as second-class citizens. Oppression occurs when a section of the population is subjected to cruel or unfair treatment over an extended period of time. Racism as a system complements and acts via the other oppressive systems, such as oppression of individuals based on their economic status, gender (sexism), or identities.  The oppressive system encourages and amplifies existing privilege.

Types of Racism:

Types of Racism

The most widespread view of racism is restricted to “interpersonal” racism which is the personal prejudice and purposeful biases in our individual contacts with people of various races. An alternative and growing explanation of racism say that interpersonal racism is a by-product of a larger structure of racism which can be seen as the set of cultural norms and institutional laws and practices that habitually create racially unjust outcomes, frequently without human intention or malice. Hence it is important to look at the various types of Racism and their examples.

  1. Interpersonal Racism

In its simplest form, interpersonal racism is understood as preconceptions, biases or discriminatory thoughts or actions by an individual identified as “white” toward a person of another race. It is mediated on a personal level and occurs between individuals. This is the prejudice that develops when people engage with one another and their private racial views influence how they behave in public. It is the most visible form of racism. It contains any racial or racism-intended interactions amongst people. Interpersonal racism refers to a wide range of racist acts, including “microaggressions,” using racial slurs, abuse, harassment or discrimination on racial grounds.  and racist hate crimes. Although interpersonal racism is the most frequently recognised type of racism, it occurs as a result of the larger context of society’s historical, institutional, and structural racism.  The consequences are arguably worse owing to the fact that they promote and are strengthened by bigger institutions of racism.


Microaggressions: Microaggressions are often unintended and are directed toward people of marginalised groups. Although they may seem harmless and subtle, the resultant outcome is an acknowledgement of viewing race as a differentiator by attributing stereotypes to that particular group. Constantly asking people of Asian descent if they are from China or Japan when they possess the physical features of an average East Asian is an example of racist microaggressions.

Racist Discrimination: Maintaining the practice of treating people of different races, differently can be seen as racist discrimination. Usually, this type of interpersonal racism is seen in office spaces or when it comes to access to goods and services like restaurants.

  1. Internalised Racism

It includes our personal opinions and preconceptions about race and racism, shaped by our culture. These may exist in many forms such as bias against individuals belonging to another race or internalised privilege where there is a feeling of superiority and the oppressing race experiences a sense of entitlement or internalised oppression where there is a negative perception about oneself by people of other races. Internalised Racism remains within the minds of individuals.


Internalised Racial Inferiority: Acceptance and expression of a negative self-image based on a particular race’s historical categorization is internalised racial inferiority.  This process of alienation and disenfranchisement manifests itself in self-defeating habits across many generations. Being isolated, viewing people of colour differently, doubting/hating oneself and being ashamed of oneself are a few ways this can manifest itself. When there is a stereotype that Asians are good at Mathematics but an individual is bullied for not living up to their stereotype, it results in a sense of racial inferiority.

Internalised Racial Superiority: Recognition and expression of a higher self-definition based on one’s race’s historical classification. This process of empowerment and access manifests itself through many generations as undeserved benefits, accessibility to institutional authority, unnoticed advantages, and self-inflated image based on race. Having a more individualistic approach and being overly comfortable during inconvenient situations are some forms of racial superiority. Tennis and Golf in the US used to primarily be a “white” dominated sport but the induction of notable names like Tiger Woods and the Willams sisters changed this. While this has not been an issue of the present, there was a time when there was internalised racial superiority in these spheres where “white” men and women felt more comfortable.

  1. Institutional Racism

Institutional Racism occurs in the policies and functioning of social and/or political institutions or systems of power. For example, educational institutes, administrative structures and healthcare institutions are the prime locations for Institutional Racism to exist. Thie form of racism includes the method of discrimination against certain groups, regardless of intention. In addition to this, an institution’s failure to have policies that prohibit discrimination or discriminatory behaviour also comes under this type. One example is that nationals from many Asian countries, especially Arab find it much harder to obtain visas to first-world countries while the citizens belonging to those countries can travel freely, sometimes even without a visa, across borders. It can be found in procedures, policies, and behaviours that contribute to biases, and racial stereotyping, which harm ethnic minorities. These non-compliant institutions routinely produce racially unfavourable outcomes for people of colour and advantages for the “superior” race.


Racial prejudice has affected and continues to influence health care in the United States, resulting in inequities across racial groups. The Union Army refused disability pensions to numerous Black soldiers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Tuskegee Institute performed research on syphilis on 600 Black men in the 1930s without their informed consent and failed to offer adequate treatment for their condition.

Also Read: Sociology of Race and Ethnicity

  1. Structural Racism

Structural racism, also known as societal racism, alludes to the notion that society is constructed in such a way, through norms and traditions, that a sizeable population from racially-based backgrounds are denied equal life chances in areas like healthcare, education, mortality rates, child mortality rates, conviction rates, and employment rates. Racism across institutions and throughout society is referred to as structural racism. This is due to the combined and compounded impacts of a variety of social elements, including the history, tradition, beliefs, and the interconnections of policies and institutions that continuously favour white people and disfavour people of colour. The heritage, traditions and current reality of racism within institutions and systems converge to generate a web of racism that affects people of minority races.  This encompasses both unconscious and explicit social interactions that perpetuate as a common narrative by the media.


A notable example of structural racism in the US is the “redlining” system, which was historically utilised by financial institutions and the real estate sector to actually delineate districts where people of colour resided in red ink. Loans were considered dangerous if you resided inside the red lines, and banks were less willing to make loans or invest.        


Now that we have visited all the types of racism, we can observe that each type stems from another and is reinforced by an overarching example of racist practices. While there have been efforts in policies and institutions, because of the existence of internalised and interpersonal racism, they are manifested into institutional racism because of the idea of agency, where an individual represents an organisation. A good example in recent times is that of a police officer that executes bias when dealing with people of colour. When multiple officers practise this behaviour, the entire institution inherently exudes this racist attitude which again cycles back to becoming a part of structural racism. Granted, it may be an extremely hard task to eradicate racist ideologies from our nations. However, if institutions fail to act on individuals that express racist tendencies, they are unintentionally allowing it to fester in society.


Bowser, B. P. (2017). Racism: Origin and Theory. Journal of Black Studies, 48(6), 572–590. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44631325

            DiAngelo, R. (2016). WHAT IS RACISM? Counterpoints, 497, 107–124. http://www.jstor.org/stable/45157301

Nittle, N.K. (2021, March 14). 5 Examples of Institutional in the United States. Thought Co. https://www.thoughtco.com/examples-of-institutional-racism-in-the-u-s-2834624