Socioeconomic Causes and Effects of Racism

Racism is directly caused by the belief that some races or groups are superior to others. In most cases, racism is based on the false idea that different physical characteristics, such as the color of one’s skin, make certain people better than others.

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The problem of racism is inherent in attitude; in the fear and ignorance people have of others who are different than them. Racism is not limited to prejudice and discrimination against black and colored people. The Holocaust, during which six million Jews were murdered, represents one of the most heinous examples of racism ever seen (Lewis, 1998).

Racism is a fear people that people possess of others who are different, regarding language, sex, color or nationality, usually causes racism (Searing, 1989). This fear is instigated by beliefs and stereotypes that are passed between different generations.

Racism is a dangerous way of thinking that can result in great harm for those who are the targets of racial discrimination. Racist propaganda has been used in the past to bond a country together and has resulted in mass hatred for groups of people.

According to Ridgeway, racism is often violent. In his book, he describes a racist crime,.”..Everybody jumped on him, beat the hell out of him… Everybody was hitting him or kicking him. One guy was kicking at his spine. Another guy hitting on the side of the face… He was unconscious. He was bleeding. Everybody had blood on their forearms. We ran back up the hill laughing…He should have died… He lost so much blood he turned white. He got what he deserved” (Ridgeway, p. 167.)

The group of white supremacists, who performed this random act of racial violence in 1990, had no reason to cruelly beat their victim other than the fact that he was Mexican (Ridgeway, p. 167).

By describing someone as “racially inferior” and dangerous, dictators can unite their people in hatred, rendering them unable to see the problems within their own community (Racissmus, 2003).

Racist people judge others solely on their appearances and view certain races as biologically inferior. Racists perceive themselves as superior. The consequences of racism are very serious, as demonstrated during the Holocaust, when millions of Jews were “discriminated against, exploited, tortured, and finally industrially killed (Racissmus, 2003).”

Racism was also seen in its worst during the early days of slavery, when whites “owned” blacks simply because they were seen as inhuman.

Many people mistakenly believe that racism and discrimination is the same thing. However, discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favorably due to skin color, race, nationality or national or ethnic origin, while racism is based on a belief that one race is superior to another.

The effects of racism are frightening and one of the most heinous examples of the effects of racism can be seen in the history of South Africa. Until 1994, South Africa practiced apartheid, meaning that all South Africans were classified specifically according to their race (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2003). An entirely white government ran the country and passed a series of apartheid laws.

In the Afrikaans language, the word apartheid is translated into separateness. This word is very appropriate because apartheid was actually a form of government that caused racial segregation within South Africa.

The apartheid laws called for the separation of races in South Africa. This meant that blacks and whites were separated in all places, including places of worship, schools, restaurants, buses, public areas, workplaces, houses, and parks.

The laws established were designed to enforce restrictions based solely upon race. Under these racist laws, South Africa became the first country in the world to legalize racism, allowing the legal discrimination of people-based entirely upon the color of their skin.

Perhaps one of the most tragic occurrences in apartheid South Africa was the initiation of tests to determine black people from colored people, who were seen as a mixed race, from white people (Gutteridge, 1995).

As a result, many members of the same family were separated, simply because the tests determined that they were a different color. These tests determined where an individual lived, worked and socialized, based on the color of their skin and hair, and the shape of their lips.

As a result of apartheid, the black population, which made up almost 80% of South Africa, was stripped of their rights as citizens. Blacks were no longer allowed to vote and were forced to carry identity documents, which described which areas they were permitted to be in.

According to research, there are four factors that contribute to the formation of racism (Van Dijk, 1995). The first is known as grouping, and occurs when certain groups perceive others as outsiders and exclude them. This creates feelings of superiority and inferiority.

Scapegoating occurs when a particular group is blamed when something goes wrong. For example, ethnic minorities in a country are often used as a scapegoat during times of economic crisis. In Germany, the Nazis blamed the Jews for their problems. In South Africa, the blacks were seen as the problem.

Another factor that causes racism is power. In many cases, one group’s desire to become more powerful than another creates a sense of racism and discrimination.

In addition, fear and ignorance are contributing factors to racism. People create stigmas and assign scapegoats because they are afraid. This fear often stems from ignorance, as people fear what they do not understand.

For example, many people in South Africa stated that they “don’t like blacks” (Gutteridge, 1995, p. 311). Psychologists believe that this statement is an example of xenophobia and stems from ignorance and fear.

In South Africa, a white minority group that held economic and political power implemented and maintained, through apartheid, a regimented separation between white, black, colored and Indian members of society in order to maintain and support its own supremacy.

The effects of this outright racism were shocking. During the years of apartheid in South Africa, white racism caused incredible amounts of violence, poverty, poor education and police brutality (Thompson, 1995).

The apartheid measures taken by the all-white government perfected racial segregation through political, social, cultural and economical discrimination against blacks. As a result, everyone in the country was classified as black, colored, Asian and white, and their positions and benefits were based on these classifications.

Blacks were restricted to specific types of jobs, curtailed labor unions, and denied political, y social, economic and cultural rights on the basis of their race (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2003). In addition, the government created homelands, in which all blacks were sent to live in, despite the fact that they were born and raised in other areas of South Africa.

Black children were forced to accept Afrikaans as their language in school. As a result of this outrageous racism, blacks and other minority groups resisted the laws and caused riots, in which thousands of lives were lost.

Fortunately, after a tremendous struggle and the deaths of thousands of innocent people, apartheid has been dismantled. In April 1994, after 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president (Thompson, 1995).

In spite of the fact that the blacks and other minority groups in South Africa today enjoy political rights, the effects of racism are still seen in the country, as blacks still occupy the positions of economic, cultural and social inferiority that continue to be a source of major political conflict in the nation.

The effects of apartheid are heinous, and include poverty, malnutrition, infectious diseases and violence. These effects carry a harsh legacy. According to recent research, blacks make up 95% of the 18 million people living below the minimum standard of life, with 60% of this group living in total poverty.

Illiteracy is a huge problem, as an estimated three million adults, the majority of whom are black, are functionally illiterate. The effects of racism live on in South Africa, despite the fact that apartheid has been broken.

Unfortunately, even in modern society, racism remains a fact of life. Determinations about children based on race are made by teachers, school principals, high school guidance counselors, and many others, with results that cut across socioeconomic lines and place young minorities in the ranks of the disadvantaged, despite how much money their parents have or how talented they are (Fish, 1993).

Racism is a social and cultural fact, and while its effects may be diminished by socioeconomic variables, the effects of racism are still very strong in the world today. Until people get can past their hatred and ignorance, it is likely that racism will remain a dominant force.


South Africa, History of.” Encyclopedia Britannica 2003 Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. 16 Mar, 2003. retrieved on the Internet at:

Fish, Stanley. Reverse Racism, or How the Pot Got to Call the Kettle Black. The Atlantic, November, 1993.

Gladwell, Malcolm. “The Subtler Shades of Racism.” Washington Post, July 15, 1991, A3.

Gutteridge, William (ed.) South Africa. From Apartheid to National Unity, 1894-1994. Dartmouth, 1995.

Lewis, Bernard. The Historical Roots of Racism. American Scholar, Winter 1998.

Racissmus. Racism – a dangerous phenomenon, 2003. Retrieved on the Internet at

Ridgeway, James. Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads, and the Rise of a New White Culture. Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1995.

Searing, Susan. Racism and Homophobia: Readings to Raise Awareness. Women’s Transit Authority, March, 1989.

Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa. London, 1995.

Van Dijk, Teun. Communicating Racism. Sage, May 13, 1995, p 41-3.

The Socioeconomic Causes and Effects of Racism