The aversive racism (4 types of racism)

In this article, we talk about the origin of aversive racism and the factors that sustain it over time. Marked racism, easy to identify, with social evolution and the enhancement of the image has given rise to this new type of racism. 

What is aversive racism?

Racism, and specifically aversive racism, is often identified with racial discrimination, although these two concepts do not necessarily mean the same thing.

Racism is the positive racial prejudice (praise, the feeling of superiority) towards a specific race, usually their own. However, racial discrimination is the expression of a negative prejudice (marginalization or harassment) towards one or more different races.

Xenophobia or racism are somehow attitudes inherent in society. But why? Next, we develop the concept and social implications of racism, and specifically aversive racism, present in today’s society.

Why does racism exist?

One of the most common causes of racism can be found in fear of what is different. Due to ignorance or lack of information in this regard, we tend to reject and underestimate what is not close to us.

On the other hand, the formation of one’s personality predominates. Based on the education received, as well as the constant influence of close opinions, it greatly influences the way of understanding and perceiving the foreign.

People learn through generalization. Since we are little, we classify the world and its elements. In this way, if indicators such as nationality or religion are used to relate people, they end up creating stereotypes and prejudices around specific individuals that finally become general to their groups of belonging.

In the end, you learn to separate people according to the group to which they belong. And the individual is given characteristics associated with her group, almost nullifying her personality. In this way, effects such as that of self-fulfilling prophecy, based on confirmation bias, are produced. The Us vs Them mentality is what makes you identify yourself with one group you find better then the other.

Black people are the most discriminated, exploited race. This racism against the blacks has been existent since centuries. But now, with the emergence of modern ideologies and more tolerance, Black Lives Matter is the new movement, safeguarding rights of the black.

Aversive racism

During the Second World War, the world witnessed the racism of the so-called “Indo-European primitive race“, coupled with racial discrimination against other ethnic groups, with disastrous consequences. 

Another example is what happened during the Apartheid period. It is true that such explicit racism has declined during the 21st century. However, this does not mean that it is no longer widespread.

In 1986, sociologists Samuel Gaertner and John F. Dovidio explained the existence of a type of racism originating in our history: aversive racism.

Aversive racism displays two trends that are especially widespread in the white race today. The first, the survival of many prejudices against different minority ethnic groups. Prejudices that would have been transmitted in a subtle and often unintentional way by institutions and people with influence.

The second trend would be the simultaneous belief of whites not to be racist, because “they have learned and evolved“. In other words, whites tend to sustain prejudice unconsciously.

However, in this case, they do not refer to any kind of genetic predominance or explicit hatred, but rather maintain a belief of superiority in other dimensions such as cultural or ethical. The aversive racist often fervently defends equality of all races and justice.

How is aversive racism manifested in society?

The problem with this attitude is that the person who develops it truly does not realize that they are experiencing it. Mainly, because aversive racism only manifests itself in situations in which it interacts with members of other ethnic groups or groups.

Interracial contact generates some discomfort in these people. For example, crossing a gipsy at night, in an aversive racist target, would not generate the same feeling as if crossing another target. What happens is that this discomfort is not only generated by the negative prejudices infused, but also by the need of this person to show himself as a “non-racist”.

Thus, the treatment of people of other races in these cases tends to be very careful, sometimes sinning in this sense. And this, after all, is also a kind of discrimination. Race, religion or nationality again prevail over one’s personality.

We are not born racists, but we do learn to be racists. Children, from a very young age, already differentiate who are the people close to them and who are not. Everything else develops as a result of this first separation.

Therefore, working on diversity and inclusion from the moment children begin to understand is essential. If a person is born, grows and forges her personality in an environment that normalizes and embraces all kinds of families, races or religions, it will be difficult for this type of racist prejudice to develop.

The 4 types of racism

There are several types of racism for which people can feel discriminated against or be victims of inequalities:

Aversive racism

It is a type of subtle racism because it is generally used by people who are openly against racism and racist behaviour. In aversive racism, equality of rights and freedom are intended so that each group openly lives its own culture. Instead, racist attitudes occur through distance from the other person, lack of empathy or showing coldness.

Ethnocentric racism

This type of racism is based on the cultural superiority of the group itself, so it assumes that other different groups pose a cultural threat. In this type of racism, there is no right to equality and it is believed that people who are of a different race from their own should submit to the predominant group. 

The rejection of customs, beliefs, behaviours, religions or languages of other ethnic groups are recurring attitudes in this type of racism.

Symbolic racism

Symbolic racism advocates the right to be equal, but with nuances: the right to be equal exists, but for specific areas or certain situations. An example that explains symbolic racism is the freedom that each group has to live as they wish, but in limited areas for that group. These attitudes provoke cultural segregation between the different groups, which in turn produces distance between their members.

Biological racism

It is the least tolerant type of racism. The understanding that one race is biologically superior to the others, which threaten to degenerate the race that is considered main. Biological racism does not believe that members of other races should have any rights, it thinks that they should be totally excluded and even bets on physical segregation. 

An example of this type of racism was carried out by the Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s: they considered the Indo-European primitive race to be a pure and superior race.

How to reduce racists prejudices and aversive racism?

Before deciding on the best activities and strategies, you can do the following:

  • Learn about your community (e.g. what groups live there, what the origin of their relationship has been, what incidents have occurred in the past due to racist prejudice and racism).
  • Document activities in the community that reflect racist prejudice and racism. Documentation will demonstrate that there is a problem, particularly when the community denies that racism exists.
  • Invite a group of people to participate in the planning process, if appropriate (eg lawyers who are always taking action, representatives of each group, affected people).
  • Understand the depth of the problem (e.g. it is a new problem because of new groups, it is a problem that does not go away).
  • Identify and understand the kinds of policies that may need to be addressed.
  • Determine short and long term goals, if any (eg change people’s attitudes and / or institutional policy).
  • Consider how far the strategy (s) will take the community (eg, from just raising public awareness to choosing officials from the marginalized group).
  • Consider what existing resources can be leveraged and what additional assistance or resources may be needed (eg, anti-racism training, funding, or mayor support).
  • Consider how much time you have (eg, you are responding to a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately, to contain a problem, or to promote a value of diversity).
  • Verify strategies to ensure that they address racist prejudice and racism at the individual, community and institutional levels and that they link dialogue to action.

Actions that can be taken in the workplace

Recruit and hire personnel from various ethnic groups. Although it is not enough to fill the staff with a range of people from different backgrounds, representing a variety of groups is a very important place to start. 

You can contact minority organizations, social groups, networks, the media and places where people from different ethnic and cultural groups meet or where they have access to information.

You can also spread the word through members of these groups or key contact persons. Also, you can consider writing a policy of equal opportunities to hire and promote staff.

Actively recruit members, executives, and managers from diverse cultures and ethnicities. Racist prejudice can be reduced if staff members diversify and raise awareness, but racism is reduced when power is shared by management.

To leave racist biases behind and ensure inclusion, board members and executives must reflect the community or constituencies it serves. For example, a group might reserve a certain number of seats on its board of directors for representatives of cultural and ethnic groups in the community.

Talk to people from traditionally segregated groups who are part of the staff and ask them what barriers and attitudes they face at work. You could start by looking at the organization’s newsletter or other publications and looking for negative representations, exclusions, or stereotypes.

Find out how to improve the workplace of members of the various races and ethnic groups who work there. This will not only provide ideas about what to do but will also mean that the needs of each group are being taken seriously. Are there any groups represented stereotypically? Is there diversity in the representation of people? 

For example, if there is an organization newsletter and images of its members are included, those images should show the diversity that exists.

Actions that can be taken in the media

Write letters to the editor of the local newspaper or contact the local TV and radio station when the coverage is negative or when there is no coverage on the subject.

The media play a very important role in transmitting messages to the public. Racist prejudice exists in the media, for example, reporters always reveal the cultural and ethnic origins of a neighbourhood group when they are people of colour, but never when they are not. 

Writing a letter or contacting media stations will help increase staff awareness of the implications of the prejudiced way in which they cover the news.

Actions that can be taken at school

Form a diverse workforce or club. Recognize festivities and events related to a variety of cultural and ethnic groups.

This can be done at a school or a university. The diverse group may sponsor panel discussions, awareness activities, and cultural events to help prevent racism. 

Commemorating and conducting educational activities about events and dates of significance to minority groups provides an opportunity for students to learn about the history of different cultural and ethnic groups and reduces misinformed or misconceptions.

Actions that can be taken in the neighbourhood

Form a committee to openly welcome anyone who moves into the neighbourhood despite their appearance. You can send representatives from the neighbourhood committee or association to the new person’s house with flowers, a fruit basket, or any other small gift and say, “We are proud that you live here. We welcome you“.

Some neighbours have made small signs or stickers for their homes with slogans that read: “We accept neighbours of all religious traditions, backgrounds, and beliefs.” 

Write articles about different cultures and their traditions in the neighbourhood newspaper or the local newspaper. Place announcements about different cultural celebrations.

Identify and change policies that exclude and maintain the status quo.

Making someone feel part of the neighbourhood helps reduce racist prejudice. Pointing out exclusionary practices (the illegal practice of credit institutions denying loans or restricting the number of loans to people in certain areas of a community) reduces racist policies.

Hold a community forum or city event about racism.

Allowing citizens to talk about how racism affects their community can give insight into how people feel about it, ideas of what can be done to combat racism, an opportunity for people with concerns Similar people form a network among themselves and to make public that the community does not support racism.

This can be as simple as including such events on the community calendar and actively advertising them. The organization can also co-sponsor events to show their support.

Organize vigils, protest marches or anti-racism campaigns.

If a racist group or incident occurred in the community, organizing a public vigil, march or protest not only provides an effective way to respond but also helps give hope to the community by having everyone together.


Changing people’s attitudes and institutional practices is a difficult task, but it is critical to do so. A commitment between individuals, organizations and institutions to assess diversity is essential to form healthy communities. 

Changes won’t happen overnight, but you can start taking small steps to make a difference, as suggested in this section. These small steps lay the foundation for more organized, deeper and broader efforts to build inclusive communities. 

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