Racial Discrimination Research Paper

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The word discrimination is derived from the word Latin “discriminare” translated as to “distinguish between.” Racial discrimination, as a commonly accepted construct, is conceptualized as distinguishing in an unequal or less favorable manner an individual or institution by another individual, institution, or other entity with power to influence outcomes based on the perceived race, nationality, ethnicity, or national origin of the victim. It can occur as an overt action or in a subtler, covert manner.

Overt And Indirect Discrimination

Overt racial discrimination occurs when there is an illegal and direct link between an individual’s perceived race, nationality, ethnicity, or national origin, or an organization’s perceived characteristics and composition, and a particular negative outcome or pervasive disadvantage. Notably, the conceptualization of overt racial discrimination emphasizes the inappropriate reliance on fallible perceptions of another person’s race or ethnicity as an estimate of their more general characteristics, skills, abilities, or worth. Consistent with the historical use of the word race, contemporary racial discrimination occurs when external characteristics such as skin tone are used as a mechanism for negative appraisal or social or political classification (Goodman 2000). Appropriately or not, race is commonly used to distinguish groups of people according to their ancestry and a more or less distinctive combination of physical characteristics. Ethnicity, a term that includes biological, behavioral, and cultural characteristics, is commonly used to describe groups of people with a common history, ancestry, and belief system. Because terms of categorization such as race and ethnicity are used to quickly appraise and then give meaning to individuals in our environments, they are also principle agents for overt overestimates of knowledge about an individual, group, or organization, and may facilitate inappropriate judgments and social outcomes.

Indirect racial discrimination has existed throughout the history of mankind but has only recently come to the attention of social and medical researchers. The essence of indirect racial discrimination is that a structure or policy that was designed without specific attention to race or ethnicity results in disadvantage and or detriment to a particular group of people based on race or ethnicity. One example is a policy that for security purposes prohibits a particular type of uniform, dress, or head dressing that is the normal uniform, dress, or head dressing of a particular group of individuals of similar racial composition or ethnic heritage. Other examples include the forced participation of school-aged children in a particular celebratory custom or ritual that is incongruent with the religious beliefs or customs of a particular racial or ethnic group of people.

These examples highlight several important factors about overt and indirect racism. The first is that in the context of the multifactoral dimensions of humanity and the multiple characteristics that unite and distinguish individuals (e.g., age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.), it is sometimes difficult to prove that a single characteristic such as race is the basis of a negative appraisal or outcome. Secondly, inherent in the construct of racial discrimination is the presence of a power differential such that benefits or gains are withheld from deserving or entitled individuals or entities. In the absence of a power differential or a negative consequence, racial discrimination cannot exist.

Based on the complex definitions of race and ethnicity, racial discrimination is sometimes difficult to identify. For example, the existence of racial discrimination is not dependent on the volition of the perpetrator; it can exist even when the (accidental) perpetrator’s intentions were honorable. Additionally, in some cases the negative impact on or consequences to a victim may be difficult to identify.

Racial discrimination can occur as a single event or as a more systemic and engrained intentional or unintentional policy. In cases where there is an established pattern of inequity based on race, ethnicity, or culture perpetrated by a definable individual, overt racial discrimination is usually easier to prove, but when it is a single occurrence at issue, or the perpetrator is a system or institution, discrimination may be difficult to document and prove.

Consequences of Discrimination

Recent evidence presented in the American Journal of Public Health indicated that people who experience daily discrimination may be more susceptible to a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular and pulmonary disease and chronic pains (2006). This study was notable because it was the first to explore such issues in a sample of 2,100 Asian Americans, a population traditionally thought to be insulated from negative discriminatory experiences. Similar evidence predicted poor mental health outcomes in black and Latino immigrants who were subject to racial discrimination (Gee et al. 2006). Gary Bennett and colleagues (2005) found that minorities who perceived greater amounts of racial or ethnic harassment were more likely to use tobacco daily, and ultimately may manifest greater risk of tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed to protect an individual’s right to employment without negative consequence or discrimination as a function of his or her race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. Title VII applies only to employers with more than fifteen employees. Current laws and regulations prohibit racial discrimination that results in differences in recruiting, hiring, determination of salary and fringe benefits, training, work assignments, promotions, transfers, disciplinary actions, firings, and retaliation. Yet, the workplace remains one of the most fertile settings for claims of racial discrimination. Each year from 1997 to 2006, more than 26,000 race-based discrimination charges were filed in the United States (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 2007).

Social and Economic Explanations

Beyond individual level explanations, economic models have been posited for many years to explain inequity and racial discrimination. For example, Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate and professor who was often referred to as the “economist’s economist,” was a strong advocate of personal liberty and freedom. Among his many lifetime achievements and controversial theories were ending mandatory licensing of doctors as well as ending social security as an unfair and unsustainable system exemplary of governmental intervention in a free market economy.

In a manner consistent with his previous writings, Friedman also indicated that market racial discrimination and market competition were antithetical. More specifically, that social and political freedom was maximized and racial equality was best achieved by minimizing the interventional and regulatory role of the government, and that free markets and their associated economic forces would facilitate a state of equilibrium and fairness to all who participated (Friedman and Rose 1962).

Certainly, not all social scientists and economists agreed with Friedman. From a sociological and spatial perspective, many argued that there was a positive relationship between the size of a racial minority and discrimination. More specifically, that market competition encouraged racial discrimination. As the relative size of a racial or ethnic minority group increases, motives for the majority racial population to discriminate against the minority population may also increase toward the reduction of market racial competition and reducing threats to the loss of jobs and other essential scarce resources (Blalock 1967).

The relationship between the size of the minority population and the magnitude of discrimination is imperfect, at best. For example, the more effective the discriminatory economic practices against minorities, the less threat there is to perceived or real resources and, consequentially, the less the need for discriminatory practices. In contrast, ineffective discriminatory practices promote the use of additional or more potent attempts to regulate racial competition and preserve resources of the majority. Adjustments to the marketplace mobility and economic growth of minority and majority populations is designed to preserve majority resources, particularly in the upper echelons of status, while maintaining incentives for the minority racial populations to remain engaged in such a limited and punitive system (Reich 1981).

The compelling logic of this socioeconomic model of discrimination is that the more prominent minorities are in a labor force equally accessible to majority and minority populations, the worse their ultimate economic position at the hands of the majority. Secondly, that a ceiling of economic achievement and mobility will be imposed and maintained by the majority population to preserve economic status and resources as a function of the degree to which minority racial populations are perceived as threatening. Lastly and particularly, for example, in the U.S. market, discriminatory practices against minorities will most likely persist due to the increasingly large number of minorities in the workplace and their perceived threat to the economic existence and stability of the majority unless there are regulatory and other governmental remedies.

Other Forms of Racial Discrimination

There are several marketplace and non-marketplace forms of racial discrimination. For example, statistical discrimination is unfair or unequal treatment of a racial group because of stereotypes or generalized estimates of group behavior or assumptions about an individual within a group based on the “average” estimated behavior for that group (i.e., greater interest rates for home mortgages for African Americans due to perceptions of greater risk of loan default). Customer discrimination refers to the process by which the racial composition of customers of a direct-public-contact business influences the race of who is hired as an employee. Although customer discrimination occurs in businesses that serve white and black customers, this practice appears to result in some reduction in overall labor demand and wages for blacks (Holzer and Ihlanfeldt 1998).

Social discrimination is the process by which nonmeritorious judgments are made and differential treatment is given based on estimates of lower social status or lower social class of an individual secondary to their race or ethnicity. Governmental discrimination, like any other form of racial discrimination, is committed by governmental personnel or in a government setting against an individual based on their race or ethnicity. This can be manifest as direct actions against an individual or as policies that negatively effect groups of individuals. The difficulty of defining and then distinguishing racial discrimination from other concepts such as “preference” or “choice” is highlighted by non-market forms of private discrimination. An individual, based on previous experiences, social norms, or preferences can decide to exclusively pursue or exclude members of a group for mate selection. When is preference for a race elevated to the level of racial discrimination? Is this form of private discrimination harmful? Who gains and, if anyone, who is disadvantaged by such actions? Answers to these types of questions are as varied as the individuals who attempt to answer them.


In the context of a growing list of psychological and physical morbidities associated with racial discrimination, and what appears to be consistent numbers of claims of discriminatory acts each year, there remains a robust interest in factors that influence equity of processes and outcomes. Some theories suggest that racial discrimination is pathological and is to be remedied with policies and regulations. Others suggest that marketplace factors should produce a form of equality and that there is no role for government in facilitating equality of process or outcomes. Independent of theoretical orientations for resolving racial discrimination, its economic, social, interpersonal, psychological, and physiological consequences are not in question nor is the degree to which it demoralizes its victims.


  1. Bennett, Gary G., Marcellus M. Merritt, Christopher L. Edwards, and John J. Sollers III. 2003. Perceived Racism and Affective Responses to Ambiguous Interpersonal Interactions among African American Men. American Behavioral Scientist 47 (7): 963–976.
  2. Blalock, H. M., Jr. 1967. Toward a Theory of Minority Group Relations. New York: Wiley.
  3. Friedman, M., and D. Rose. 1962. Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  4. Holzer, H. J., and K. R. Ihlanfeldt. 1998. Customer Discrimination and Employment Outcomes for Minority Quarterly Journal of Economics 113 (3): 835–867.
  5. Krieger, Nancy, Pamela D. Waterman, Cathy Hartman, et al. Social Hazards on the Job: Workplace Abuse, Sexual Harassment, and Racial Discrimination—A Study of Black, Latino, and White Low-Income Women and Men Workers in the United States. International Journal of Health Services 36 (1): 51–85.
  6. Merritt, Marcellus M., Gary G. Bennett, Redford B. Williams, et al. 2006. Perceived Racism and Cardiovascular Reactivity and Recovery to Personally Relevant Stress. Health Psychology 25 (3): 364–369.
  7. Reich, M. 1981. Racial Inequality: A Political-Economic Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  8. Ryan, Albert M., Gilbert C. Gee, and David F. Laflamme. 2006. The Association between Self-Reported Discrimination, Physical Health, and Blood Pressure: Findings from African Americans, Black Immigrants, and Latino Immigrants in New Hampshire. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 17 (2 Suppl): 116–132.
  9. Terrell, Francis, Aletha R. Miller, Kenneth Foster, and C. Edward Watkins Jr. 2006. Racial Discrimination-Induced Anger and Alcohol Use among Black Adolescents. Adolescence 41 (163): 485–492.
  10. Tigges, L. M., and D. M. Tootle. 1993. Underemployment and Racial Competition in Local Labor Markets. Sociological Quarterly 34 (2): 279–298.
  11. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 2007. RaceBased Charges FY 1997–FY2006. http://www.eeoc.gov/stats/race.html.
  12. Wadsworth, Emma, Kamaldeep Dhillon, Christine Shaw, et al. Racial Discrimination, Ethnicity and Work Stress. Occupational Medicine 57 (1): 18–24.

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