The Causes of Racism in the USA

Racism is the most common social problem that affects humanity. However, in the United States of America, racism is more prevalent as compared to other countries of the world. This phenomenon haunts our past and has the potential of degrading our future. Many people do not know what the root causes of racism are and yet the majority of them are extremely racist. To eliminate racism, there is a need to establish the basic underpinning of the issue and address its complexity in a thorough manner. Since racism is a personal interaction problem rather than social act, its causes are varied in nature. Whereas the phenomenon is concerned with the influence of the dominant groups or individuals on the existence and wellbeing of others, the implications of this antisocial behavior can be traced within political, cultural, social, legal, organizational, and even individual domains. Therefore, the causes of racism include fear of sharing political power, protectionist and isolationist policies, stereotypes, historic patterns and structures of prejudice, as well as segregation.

Type of service
Type of assignment
Writer level
Number of pages
First order only
15 off

Political Causes

The Fear of Sharing Political Power

To start with, one of the leading causes of racism in the USA is the fear of sharing political power with African Americans, especially in light of the Obama administration reign. As aptly noted by Esposito, an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology at Barry University, since the election of Obama, the number of white American supremacist groups has been increasing. Many whites in the U.S. fear that the population of non-whites progressively dominates them. The researcher finds that the reasons driving these senses of insecurity stem from the policies of the current US President Barrack Obama who is an African-American. It is assumed that he advocates the interests of minority communities. Thus, the country experiences the ‘invasion’ of non-white from neighboring countries, such as Mexico and other parts of the world, due to the economic crisis among other issues. As a result, the demographic projection suggests that the number of non-whites will exceed that of whites by 2050. These are some of the factors that make the white Americans feel like they are “losing their country” based on the shift of the quantity of whites as compared to non-whites, thus depriving the former of their superiority status. Hence, this has been the root cause of the upsurge in racial xenophobia and bigotry in the U.S.

Protectionist and Isolationist Policies

Apart from the assumptions, the fear relates to the actual policies implemented by today’s officials that are positioned as protectionist or isolationist. For instance, according to Broom and Perry, an affirmative action program initiated by the government of Obama is considered to be a leading cause of the present day racism. African Americans claim that they are the biggest beneficiary of affirmative action program by the Obama administration. They argue that they have received house loans, free education, and affordable health care, which the previous government did not give them. All these benefits enjoyed by non-white Americans under the Obama administration have been at the core of growing racism in the country. White Americans believe that the US government makes attempts to use the affirmative action to execute some structural and institutional oppression against white people. Also, the research conducted by Hall, Hall, and Perryaims at altering the status quo, which is preferred by the white Americans. Although white Americans argue that not all manifestations of the racial inequality are naturally racist, others ascertain that it feels great to be black under the Obama administration because of the huge privileges that African Americans enjoy. Nevertheless, whites argue that Americans of the European origin are better than African Americans and skin color rather than a dividend of hard work is a privilege in society. In any case, it is a clear indication that the so-called affirmative action programs under the Obama administration have been a cause of racism, even though they aim to benefit all Americans.

Therefore, a growing belief that white Americans are now a disadvantaged lot, together with an African-American presidency of Obama as well as the perceived attack on the liberal market by the Obama administration, has further agitated the post-racial debate. Obama himself has capitalized on the post-racial discourse in his entire political career to push for African Americans agenda. A good example was the 2012 Health Care Act, or Obamacare, which was meant to ensure all Americans, especially the African American minority, get access to the affordable health care services. Hence, by Obama’s actions, the present structures of racial imbalances are sustained and institutionalized in people’s daily life.

Moreover, selfishness of some racial grouping, such as the Tea Party Movement, has been among important causes of racism in America. The movement has mostly (80%) constituted of affluent white Americans. According to Esposito, they are the majorly driven by the racism of white people who are afraid that immigrant can deprive them of the employment opportunities. Many of the critics of Obama administration, members of the tea party movement, argue that Obama’s ‘big government’ is inefficient and unresponsive to the plight of average white American and his administration champions the interest of minority races thus causing racism. This is well amplified by the passage of the Arizona Senate law, the opponents of which argue that it has encouraged racial profiling as well as preventing the flow of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and other parts of the world and prohibiting ethical studies in the institutions of learning. Furthermore, the claim of inefficiency of the Obama presidency has been severally invoked to support post-racism in the USA.

In this context, another issue that contributed to racism in America is that, when the President Obama took office, he introduced more economic regulations, which could not resonate well, especially to whites. The scientist finds that the Keynesian-style policies adopted by the Obama administration generated the anti-statist backlash that became racialized. Efforts by Americans, in particular, white Americans, to challenge and denounce the Obama administration for what the white Americans perceive as attempts to limit free economy and personal liberty has also divided the country along the racial line. What is more, a CNN writer and producer John Blake aptly notes that while the issue regarding the potential black privilege is still debated in this case, “whites have begun talking about themselves as a racially oppressed majority”. Therefore, whites position themselves as victims allowing no opportunity to minorities to gain at least minimal betterment of their social status or position, and this situation is on the verge with discrimination as one of its root causes.

Social Causes


The U.S. citizen perception of welfare has caused racism, to a great extent. Although most people receiving welfare support from the U.S. government are whites, several studies indicate that many mainstream Americans believe that welfare supports racial minorities more. The tendency among white Americans to associate welfare with racial minorities can be traced back to the 1960s when various anti-poverty initiatives were initiated. Even though poverty eradication measure in the 1960s was not formulated to race-specific, by the 1970s of the recipients of welfare benefits were urban blacks. Therefore, the racialization of welfare, as well as the growing discontent among the whites, depicted African Americans as a struggling group of people, which requires government support. Subsequently, government critics accused the state as a championing the interest of undeserving racial minorities, like the African Americans.

On these grounds, stereotyping is a typical cause of racism with the media playing a central role in ensuring that politically encouraged racism flourishes in the country. It is commonly expressed in people’s interaction, radio, the Internet, television, books and music among others. Ever since Obama took over as a commander-in-chief, the news media has given considerable attention to this phenomenon. For instance, much has been said about the growing popularity of white American supremacist groups, such as the Tea Party Movement, as mentioned earlier. As a result, many people have become stereotyped because of the influence interaction and media. With growing cases of stereotyped people, racism becomes the order of the day. For example, black youth subject to damaging stereotypes, which other youths do not endure. Black youths and African Americans, in general, are perceived to be likely to commit crimes making them potential suspects for white police brutality. The infamous “blacks as criminals” stereotype is dehumanizing this population group. White Americans are quick to associate crime-related objects, such as a gun, to blacks. Despite of the fact that may argue that they are unbiased against non-native especially African-Americans, subconscious associations of Black people with crime and crime-related activities may even impact negatively their perception of non-white people.

Stereotypes are spread through the institutions as well. For instance, children below 10 years are inducted into racist habits through instructions from their teacher pertaining to stereotypes and biases, while older children are influenced by their individual experience through interaction with people from other races. Studies indicate that many stereotypical tropes are usually associated with the black color of skin, as well as with poverty, danger, disgust, and crime. At the same time, the white color of skin is stereotypically associated with trust, respect, and wealth. Even for a black person to secure a job, they must prove own trustworthiness and being a law-abiding person, which in most cases, it is unattainable given the short duration of the interview process. Hence, due to the stereotypes, black people are always presented with the deficit model, which is the root cause of racism.

Historic Patterns and Structures of Prejudice

Cultural and structural forces also cause racism. For instance, black men apart from being perceived as a public menace by the whites, they are also associated with incivility, anger and group of people inclined to violence. According to Brooms and Perry, African American males have been depicted as hypersexual deviants, cunning personalities, dangerous, or childlike buffoons who are lazy or need a kind of assistance. Contemporary researchers argue that the purpose of printing this bad picture about American Americans is an increased effort to commodify racism. Thus, through the oppression of African Americans, whites can benefit in social, political, and economic life. In this regard, a well-known evangelist Tom Skinner also emphasizes that, “African Americans let the white majority into their political and economic lives without whites letting African Americans into their lives”. Thus, minorities have become the ‘means’ of satisfying the wants of the majority.

From a historical perspective, it is evident that parents also play a significant role in what their children think and believe. Every time a parent makes racist remarks against people of different race, this remark directly impacts the child who is most likely to slavery during the colonial era played a key role in causing racism. For instance, Monkfinds that lighter-skinned blacks, especially those who had direct kinship ties with white masters, were favored and they could get easy duties compared to the field duties which were typical for black slaves. Working in the house as compared to the fields could substantially increase the likelihood of lighter-skinned blacks would be trained on matters pertaining to trade and investment. Even after the abolition of slavery, the invaluable educational, social, and economic advantages of the lighter-skinned blacks gave them a competitive edge in comparison to all other non-white groups. The studies conducted by Monk reveal that the skin color association among the American people continues to exist in the modern USA. Both whites and blacks often stereotype lighter-skinned blacks as attractive, intelligent, educated and motivated, and this stereotype causes the racial strain between the darker-skinned and lighter skinned blacks.

Institutional Causes

Social Inequality across Organizations

Social inequality within different institutions has contributed immensely to causing racism. Studies show that social inequalities between African Americans and whites on the basis of skin color have helped to fuel inequalities in the criminal justice systems, housing, and inequalities in the labor market. Sean Mcklwee, a Research Associate at Demos, ascertains while different institutions have managed to deeply root racism within their walls, the phenomenon is not a mere manifestation of terror and violence anymore, like in the times of the Ku Klux Klan when non-whites were physically abused to demonstrate the superiority of whites. On the contrary, its implications are manifested through approved high tax rates for the people of color as compared to whites by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs or chilling online videos with racially prejudiced mottos and teasing from the white students of the Oklahoma University. Hence, institutional racism can be regarded as part of the organizational culture, to a great extent. In addition, the researchby Ellis Monk from the University of Chicago indicates that there is an extreme color continuum among the African American representatives, which produces and reproduces inter-categorical racism. Therefore, skin tone among African Americans is not only a trait of ethnoracial categories but also a fundamental distinguishing factor of differences between the ethnicities. While medium-tone blacks are less likely to suffer from interracial skin tone discrimination.


A strong group affiliation leads to heightened worldviews, ‘us versus them’, which causes racism in most instances. Brooms and Perry find that stereotypes about African-Americans tend to impact police shooting due to a shooter bias. The researchers also claim that white police officers in the U.S. commonly use the labels like “perpetrator” and “suspect” to create an idea that African American civilians pose a potential threat to the US well-being. White police officers and black male civilians are likely to have more physical confrontation based purely on racial prejudice. To illustrate, Hall et al. Assert that “young black male civilians were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white male civilians”. In addition, human beings are naturally wired to feel threatened when their family, culture, and identity are in danger. The authors suggest that racism is the tool employed by people to protect what they cherish. For instance, in the U.S., whites protect free economy. Also, they do their best to encourage the Obama administration to regulate the economy making an emphasis on both racism against African Americans and criticism from white Americans.


Segregation is also among the causes of racism. In the U.S., people who belong to different racial groups do not stay in the same neighborhood. Also, their children do not attend same educational establishments. In this respect, Brooms and Perry (2016) conclude that they have access to different services and do their shopping in different stores. Furthermore, a BBC news reporter, Vaidyanathan, indicates that white-black segregation is slowly declining in big cities, while ranges from 50% to 70%, but extremely high in small towns. Therefore, interactions between races are becoming difficult. Lack of interaction creates an avenue for ignorance of inter-race matters to thrive, thus reinforcing racism. Undoubtedly, until an individual’s ignorance is educated, racism will continue to flourish. Legal segregation also contributed to racism. For instance, housing policies in some states of the U.S. prohibit African Americans from staying in certain cities, such as Kansas City. The U.S. government contributed to the segregation process in the 1930s through the prevention of African Americans from acquiring property in some cities. Based on the findings of Vaidyanathan, while the U.S. government provided the house loans to whites, it practically “excluded African Americans from one of the greatest motors of wealth in the 20th century – home ownership”. Even in the 21st century, banks continue to design the lending policies in a manner that avoids serving some communities based on color, with the prime victims being African Americans, using the financial risk scapegoat to lock some communities from accessing the mortgage.


Summarizing the findings of the analysis, it is justified to assert that the causes of racism are rooted in different aspects of social life, including fear of sharing political power, protectionist and isolationist policies, stereotypes, historic patterns and structures of prejudice, as well as segregation. The paper showed that no single cause of this antisocial phenomenon can be found, while each of the aforementioned issues have greatly contributed to its long-term existence with acute consequences for the US society in particular. As emphasized in the discussion, political, social and institutional causes of racism have sharply divided whites and non-whites into two clearly distinct social classes, superior and inferior accordingly. For instance, the recent studies state that the policies of an African American president Obama, which seemingly should have united the different sides of the debate, have led to even deeper abyss between them. In addition, the situation has not been better from the historical perspective with a reference to the slavery times, for example. Similarly, social causes revealed numerous stereotypes and prejudices that guide behavior and attitudes on the verge of white-to-non-white relationships. Finally, the institutional set of root causes also showed that race-based discrimination is prevalent within the key organizations in the country, ranging from police enforcement and community housing agencies to educational facilities, to list a few. Therefore, the complexity of the problem of racism requires thorough and holistic studying in order to eliminate this shortcoming of human existence to the fullest.

Related essays