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Modern Racism by Paulo Flores

Categories: ACT Government, Culture, Discrimination/Racism, Education, Ernst & Young

by: Bakchos
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Bakchos has asked me to write a post for Blak and Black about what has come to be known in the United States as Modern Racism a concept which I have discussed under the heading, Modern Racism. While the primary purpose of this post is education and information, it also acts as a rejoinder to comments left on Stumbleupon by Ratbags to Bakchos’s last post on Blak and Black, Lies and dirty secrets in the world’s first Murdochracy.

I have known Bakchos and his family for a long time. I’m a non-Anglo migrant who works with disadvantaged people. In terms of the issues raised by Bakchos in his last post I can assure Ratbags and others that none of these issues have been resolved. The Australian Federal Police refused to act because the complainant is Aboriginal, the Ombudsman, Professor McMillan, at the time these events took place, was a waste of space and tax money. The Labor Party received some of the benefits of the stolen $130,000,000.00, the root cause of all of the issues raised by Bakchos, they’re not going to act!

Ernst and Young behaved disgracefully in this matter; on an organisational level, it meets all of the criteria for being labelled ‘modern racist’. Why their clients would continue to deal with an organisation that is so free and easy with other people’s information, I don’t know.

So Ratbags, how would you like to have been taken from your home at two and placed into the home of white alcoholics where you were sexually and physically abused every day of your life solely because you’re black, then have the racism continue into your work life, again, solely because you’re black? You wouldn’t, no one would.

I worked with the UN in Bosnia and in Rwanda, this is how ethnic hatred begins and this is how it degenerates into racism and terrorism.

I feel sorry for what has happened to you; why not add your story to the ones being collected by Blak and Black? Bakchos and I intend to widen the issues going to the UN after we have finished with the indigenous issues, which concern him.

While to your eyes Ratbags, Bakchos’s article may appear disjointed, it is difficult to write about issues that have destroyed your family and resulted in the suicide of your brother, your uncle, your sister, and your nephew, the murder of another nephew, the death of your father and the deaths of other relatives in police custody.

For Bakchos, Lies and dirty secrets in the world’s first Murdochracy, was a very personal post and the issues remain outstanding. When I discussed these issues with members of the Iranian Parliament, they expressed concern that Australia might be exporting its racism overseas via Australian Federal Police involvement in international ‘peace keeping’ missions; interesting isn’t it!

Remember Ratbags, without justice there is never peace, without peace anything becomes possible!

Modern Racism

Racism is defined as an individual’s discriminatory behavior and prejudicial attitude toward people of a certain race or institutional practices (whether motivated by prejudice or not) that subordinate a certain race’s people. (Myers, 1993) Subtle prejudice may be defined as exaggerating ethnic differences, rejecting minorities for supposed nonracial reasons and feeling less admiration and affection for minorities. I will define modern racism as a subtle form of prejudice. I define it as modern because though some overt forms of racism appear to be on the decline (Myers, 1993) other more subtle forms still exist. Subtle forms entail a subconscious attitude that the holder may be fully unaware of, or one that is known of but repressed, but yet influences their thoughts and behavior. This attitude may become more conscious through education and self-exploration.

Sherman believes modern racism has evolved from aggressive prejudicial behavior to a more subtle form. This behavior is more difficult to see, yet is seen as more severe. Companies may promise equal opportunity, yet there is little doubt that this does not occur. Subtle and modern forms of racism are thought of as creating an image that is more politically correct. This way of discriminating may be seen as a “polite” form of racism. Previously, racism was easier to define and institutionalized. (Sherman, 2000)

Aronson, Wilson and Akert define modern racism as acting unprejudiced while maintaining prejudiced attitudes. They believe that prejudice has become more subtle. People will hide prejudice to avoid being called racist, but when a situation becomes safe, their prejudice will be expressed. An example of this is, most Americans say they are opposed to school desegregation, but most white parents oppose busing their children to desegregate schools. When questioned, parents will state they don’t want their children to spend a lot of time on a bus. But most white parents don’t object to having their children bused from one white school to another, only when the busing is interracial. Modern prejudice can best be studied using unobtrusive or subtle methods. Jones and Sigall use what they call the bogus pipeline, which is a fake lie detector machine. More racial prejudice was present when the bogus pipeline was used. (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2001) This shows that people were hiding their racial prejudice, until they felt this would be discovered.

Subtle forms of prejudice can be measured in scientific studies. Duncan in the mid 70’s had White students observe a videotape of a White man lightly shoving a black man during an argument. Only 13% percent rated the behavior as violent. When the situation was reversed, 73% stated the Black man was acting violently. Attitude researchers like Dovidio state that the attitudes of prejudice persist in subtle forms. Critics of the existence of subtle prejudice may reply that policies opposing busing and affirmative action are enforcing the values of individual choice and self-reliance and are not prejudicial. Devine has shown that automatic emotional prejudicial reactions linger. A low prejudice person will consciously suppress prejudicial feelings and thoughts. Resentments in essence still lurk beneath the surface, though open racial prejudice has declined. (Myers, 1993)

In a sense, the invisible veil could be considered a component of modern or subtle racism. People are all products of cultural conditioning. Therefore, a person’s world view operates outside of their level of conscious awareness. This world view contains biased and prejudiced belief systems. People are taught to hate and fear others that are different. The biggest obstacle toward moving to a multicultural society may be peoples’ failure to understand their unintentional and unconscious complicity that perpetuates bias and discrimination. (Sue & Sue, 1999)

Cultural tunnel vision could be considered a form of modern or subtle racism. Corey, Corey and Callanan discuss how many psychology students enter training with monocultural tunnel vision. They may make statements that they don’t want to work with poor people or minority groups. They may state implicitly or explicitly that minority groups are unresponsive to professional psychological intervention due to a lack of motivation to change or due to some sort of resistance in seeking professional help. Wrenn describes the culturally encapsulated counsellor as one who defines reality with one set of cultural assumptions, shows insensitivity to individual cultural differences, accepts unreasoned assumptions with no proof, doesn’t evaluate other viewpoints nor tries to accommodate the behavior of others and is trapped in one way of thinking. Sue, Ivey and Pedersen state that many therapeutic practices are biased against racial minorities and may reflect racism. Sue claims that these practices have damaged the chance for equal access and have oppressed those culturally different in society. (Corey, Corey & Callanan, 1997)

A consideration of language usage may also help explain how modern racism has continued into society. Fromkin and Rodman discuss how racial and national epithets tell us something about the users of these words. The word “boy” is not a slur when used to describe a child, but it is a slur when used to describe an adult Black man. In this case, it reflects upon that attitude of the speaker. Other words like “nigger” express the chauvinistic and racist attitudes of society. If bigotry and racism did not exist, then these slurs’ usages would either die out or lose their racist meanings. They also mention that many pejorative terms exist for women, but that there are far fewer for men. If a person views Hispanics or Blacks as inferior, then their special characteristics of speech will be seen as inferior. What the society institutionalizes, the language reflects. When everyone in society is equal and treated equally, there won’t be any concern about language differences. (Fromkin & Rodman, 1993) Modern racism may be culturally reflected in the way certain accents (such as a Hispanic accent) or dialects (such as Black English) are seen and discouraged.

Dovidio, Mann and Gaertner argue that white opposition to affirmative action is rooted largely in a subtle, pervasive form of racism they call “aversive racism.” They define aversive racism as the adaptation of one’s attitude which has resulted from assimilating an egalitarian value system with racist and prejudiced beliefs. This causes an ambivalence between racial biases and a desire to be egalitarian and racially tolerant. Some social psychologists state that aversive racists believe they are nonprejudiced and not overtly racist. But when aversive racists are uncertain about what the right thing to do is, or if they can justify their actions on something different from race, their negative feelings toward Blacks will come out. When white college students were asked to rate Black and White people on a simple “good-bad” level, the students rated Whites and Black positively. When the continuum was made more subtle, Whites were more often consistently rated better than Blacks. The researchers believed that aversive racists see Blacks as not worse, but Whites as better. When white college students were asked to rate weakly qualified Black and White job candidates, both were rejected, showing no bias. When applicants had moderate qualifications, Whites were evaluated a little bit better than Blacks. When the candidates had strong qualifications, there was a significant difference in the ratings. The bias was even more obvious when a Black person was rated in a position superior to the White person evaluating them. The researchers postulated that the bias was even greater because the possibility of being in a subordinate position to a Black person threatened deeply held (but possibly unconscious) notions of White superiority. (Tatum, 1997)

Sherman describes one type of modern racism, the glass ceiling effect. This describes the invisible differences in appraisal, salary and position between men and women. Modern racism may also be seen in the myths that certain races may be better or worse in certain abilities, such as Blacks being better at jumping and running. Due to a lack of familiarity with other races, people are more likely to unconsciously discriminate against others. (Sherman, 2000)

Axelson discusses the ramifications of racism. He defines racism as the belief that some races are inherently superior to other races. Prejudice is defined as the emotional aspect of racism. The way a culture or a nation names themselves or other nations, may betray their prejudices. Farb states that when U. S. citizens call themselves Americans, they effectively ignore all other peoples of the Americas. Racial prejudice, defined as a psychosocial process, can be used to make one feel superior to others by making erroneous assumptions based on racial characteristics. The reality is, statistically speaking, the genetic differences between two different geographical populations are the same as the differences within one population. Racial preconceptions will hinder the development of the higher levels of personality functioning, for those perceiving it and those perceived by it. The term “cultural group” is more accurate and acceptable language than using the term “race.” (Axelson, 1998)

Racist attitudes can be used to subtly control and subjugate other groups. Racism plus power equals control. Racism plus power plus control equals intergroup and interpersonal conflict. A perpetuation of racial superiority helps the dominant group maintain things the way they are to keep their advantages over the subdominant groups. These benefits include the gains manifested in personal psychological feelings. Axelson defines culture lag as the period of time it takes for a society to reach one of its valued goals. The elimination of racism may be one of these goals. (Axelson, 1998)

Axelson defines three forms of racism: individual, institutional and cultural. In individual racism, in a circular and reciprocal process, those perceived as inferior may internalize the other’s perception as valid and behave accordingly. The person perceived as inferior may develop a self-fulfilling prophecy in relation to this, until this cycle is broken. Individualistic racist beliefs include those that state that all people are treated fairly and equally and can pull themselves up by themselves, denying the existence of racism entirely and laughing at racist jokes. The effects of individual racism include lowered self-esteem and inadequate self-concept. The Pygmalion effect is a self-fulfilling prophecy where people conform to others’ expectations regardless of their true abilities. Racism may become a state of mind and a set of emotions and values, and a set of behaviors. Individual racist modes range from hostile domination to passive acceptance (defined as avoiding, ignoring or pretending to be correct and polite). In the social changes of the last twenty years, change, like the reduction of outward hostility has occurred, yet more understanding is needed before equal acceptance and good will can occur. (Axelson, 1998)

Institutional forms of racism may include police practices, unemployment, housing and education issues, discriminatory practices and inadequate welfare programs. Cultural racism may show up in the forces behind majority group dominance in deciding what is socially valuable. People tend to take as valuable what is most familiar to them. Prejudiced attitudes can be found in many cultural elements, including language, education, religion, norms of morality, economics and aesthetics. A mental and emotional connection of the majority group with cultural superiority and connecting minority cultures to cultural inferiority makes cultural racism. This is the hardest racism to recognize. Jones states that cultural racism occurs when a race’s achievements are ignored in education and when white Western-European cultural attributes are considered to be without question the best in the world. (Axelson, 1998)

The use of the terms racism and racist may evoke negative responses and may not help improve group relations. It has been proposed that the use of the term “bias” may be more advantageous and may more accurately reflect the actual conditions in society today. Bias may be defined as an unreasoned distortion of a person’s judgement. This may lead to a slanted viewpoint, caused by ignorance and a lack of information. Racism could be defined as representing only extreme conditions. (Axelson, 1998)

But does the use of the term “bias” help to weaken the terminology used to define modern racism. Or perhaps both approaches may be necessary from a psychological perspective. The first, using the term “modern racist,” may wake a person up to the fact that their perspective is racist or at least biased. The second can describe to a biased person that they have a cognitive and emotional bias that needs to change for their growth and societies’ growth as well.

The advent and development of the more modern and subtle forms of racism can be seen as a major step change along the road toward the goal of the elimination of overt racism and the total elimination of racism. However, it needs to be fully seen as only a step, albeit a big one in some ways, but one that needs to be moved to the more advanced step of the total elimination of racism. Those that don’t see modern racism or refuse to acknowledge its existence may in essence be blocking the progress toward the step of the total elimination of racism. Or their denial of this step may simply be part of a natural progression of a healthy growth process, where people move from the improvement of almost eliminating overt racism, at least in most parts of society, to where people need to see the next step to progress further.

Ways to educate people to move toward the final step of the total eradication of prejudice and racism may include taking self tests and questionnaires to develop the awareness of their individual biases, promoting views that encourage the acceptance of all cultures and languages as valuable, remembering that overcoming racism, bias and prejudice is like overcoming a bad habit and that one needs to be persistent in their efforts to overcome socially promoted internalized biases, education about the deleterious personal and social effects of racism and the studies that show its pervasive existence and dealing with the psychological issues of personal insecurities to ensure that one is able to accept other cultures. Major steps have been made toward the elimination of racism in the past 40 years. With increased vigilance, hard work and public education, our society should be able to move from the intermediate step of the development of modern racism to the final step of the elimination of racism.


American Psychological Association (1993b). Guidelines for providers of psychological services to ethnic, linguistic, and culturally diverse populations. American Psychologist. 48. 45-48. Retrieved January 25, 2003 from http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/guide.html

Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D. & Akert, R. M. (2001). Social psychology (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Axelson, J.A. (1998). Counseling and development in a multicultural society. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Baker, C. (1995). A parents’ and teachers’ guide to bilingualism. Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters Ltd

Baker, C. (1996). Foundations of Bilingual education and bilingualism (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters Ltd

Brannigan, G. G. (2002). Experiences in social psychology: active learning adventures Boston, MA : Allyn & Bacon

Corey, G., Corey, M. & Callanan, P. (1997). Issues and ethics in the helping professions. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.

Freeman, D. E. & Freeman, Y. S. (1994). Between worlds: Access to second language acquisition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fromkin, V., Rodman, R. (1993). An introduction to language (5th ed.). Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company

Massey, D. S., Fischer, M. J. (1998, December). Where We Live, in Black and White. The Nation. Retrieved December 10, 2003, from http://members.aol.com/digasa/stats5.htm

Myers, D. G. (1993). Social psychology (4th ed). Columbus, OH : McGraw-Hill

Sherman, R. (2000). Tutorial produced for Psy 324, advanced social psychology, spring 2000 at Miami University. Retrieved December 10, 2003 from http://www.units.muohio.edu/psybersite/workplace/modernweb.shtml

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (1999). Counseling the culturally different: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Wiley & Sons.

Tatum, B. D. (1997). “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” New York: Basic Books.


  1. Davo says:

    am, of course, a little old nobody sitting on a hillside in NSW. Am, basically, not very able to assist your cause. Do, however, try to listen.

    • Bakchos says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read our little offerings.

      All we ask at Blak and Black is that people take a few minutes and read about the issues we are trying to bring to the attention of the Australian public. While the site is focused on indigenous issues, many of these issues have the potential to impact negatively on the wider community. Once the government gets away with bending the law to disadvantage one group or even one person, the logical conclusion of this type of behaviour is the loss of everyone’s civil rights.

      Cheers Bakchos

  2. Watershedd says:

    Thanks for your learned opinion, Paulo. The subtleties of racism often slide by unnoticed. Take the news yesterday that Cadbury had to remove an advert for their new chocolate “Bliss”, in which they compared the creamy indulgence to Naomi Campbell. (Although you then you have the photograph further down in the article of Campbell atop a large chocolate bunny, so her argument seems a little self serving.) It seems it’s not the first or even second time Cadbury has slipped up like this, either.

    I’ve read about dark skinned women being described as “a nice but of chocolate” … you’d think Cadbury would be a little more attuned. They may have been putting the emphasis on the diva, but the unspoken line can be read as racist.

    In ending racism, it’s necessary to interrogate every aspect of our own views and attitudes. Refusing to use racist terms such as ‘WOG’ (the meaning of which has changed substantially over the last 60 years from the original ‘Western Oriental Gentleman’) in daily expression can perhaps make us aware of the stereotypes, which we apply to others, that then serve to marginalise and possibly discriminate.

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