This is edited material from Prejudice and Racism by James M. Jones McGraw-Hill, 1997.

Bring this material to class and be prepared for class discussions on it.

You must read this article. It is a newspaper article from the New York Times.


Prejudice and racism describe ways in which people devalue, disadvantage, demean, and in general, unfairly regard others. In this sense, they refer to negative attitudes about, and negative treatment of, people who belong to other groups. Prejudice and racism are also concepts that encompass the ways in which people value, advantage, esteem, and, in general, prefer and positively regard people who are like themselves or belong to their own group. Therefore , prejudice and racism are processes by which people separate themselves from others who are different in certain ways and attach themselves more closely to people who are like them in certain ways.

These processes work in complementary ways to separate people from one another. These may be quite natural processes in the overall scheme of things. But, in U.S. society and in other cultures around the world, this cleaving of people into separate and distinct groups, with positive value attaching to one and negative value attaching to others, is rendered a problem by the existence of differential power. Whether defined numerically, militarily, politically, physically, culturall y, or spiritually, differential power makes the distinctions drawn of enormous human consequence.

Prejudice is a positive or negative attitude, judgment, or feeling about a person that is generalized from attitudes or beliefs held about the group to which the person belongs.

The Problem of Discrimination

Prejudice is a negative attitude toward another person or group; it is based on a social comparison process in which the individual's own group is taken as the positive point of reference. The behavioral manifestation of prejudice is discrimination— those actions designed to maintain own-group characteristics and favored position at the expense of members of the comparison group. I agree with Raab and Lipset (1959) when they state that the behavioral manifestation of prejudice creates the social problem. Therefore, behavior is of more concern to us than attitude is.

Discrimination is, in legal terms, actionable. Prejudice per se is not. The Civil Rights division of the Justice Department can bring suit when there is strong evidence of discrimination. When a person is treated differently and worse on the basis of his or her status (gender, race, age, sexual orientation, etc.), we may presume that the behavior follows from prejudicial attitudes. But the attitudes, when unexpressed, do not cause the problem. When we try to legislate attitudes and their verbal expression-for example, the banning of hate speech-we find the courts relatively unsympathetic. First Amendment guarantees of free speech protect the right to tell individuals that you don't like them and that you think their ancestors were subhuman.

But discrimination is linked specifically to behavior that treats similarly qualified people differently, or dissimilarly qualified people the same. But we discriminate all the time in our society. We may admit a student with comparatively low scores on the SAT to college and reject another with higher scores if the former is the son of an important alumnus. We may hire someone for a job who is the daughter of a prominent family over one who is somewhat more qualified, but not so well connected. We may subsidize an airline that transports wealthy and influential business people and politicians, while rejecting subsidies to community organizations that feed the poor. Discrimination is a fact of our society and is always linked to certain prejudices. When discrimination disadvantages members of certain racial and gender groups, we have the problems of prejudice and racism.

A working definition of discrimination, then, can be stated as follows:

Discrimination consists of negative behavior toward a person based on negative attitudes one holds toward the group to which that person belongs, or, positive behavior toward a person based on positive attributes one holds toward the group to which that person belongs.

What Is Racism?

Racism builds on the negative-attitude view of prejudice, but includes three other important criteria: First, the basis of group characteristics is assumed to rest on biology—race is a biological concept. Second, racism has, as a necessary premise, the superiority of one's own race. Third, racism rationalizes institutional and cultural practices that formalize the hierarchical domination of one racial group over another. Therefore, although racism shares certain aspects of prejudice, it takes on a decidedly broader and more complex meaning....

Racism puts as much emphasis on the positive attributes of one's own race as on the considered negative attributes of the other. As we will see later (Chapters 12 and 13), before we can understand racism, we need to consider what we mea n by race. Moreover, racism does not follow immediately from what we think about race per se, but how we attribute certain attributes or characteristics to people who belong to, or are assigned to, different races. And finally, we need to consider how these concepts of race are utilized in the formation and processes of our society.

After reviewing these multiple definitions, we have extracted the following as some basic elements of racism:

  1. Belief in racial superiority and inferiority.
  2. Strong in-group preference and solidarity, as well as the rejection of people ideas, and customs that diverge from those customs and beliefs.
  3. A doctrine of a cultural or national system that conveys privilege or advantage to those in power.
  4. Elements of human thought and behavior that follow from the abstract structures, social structures, and cultural mechanisms of racialism.
  5. Systematic attempts to prove the rationality of beliefs about racial differences and the validity of policies that are based on them.

Three Types of Racism

In the first edition, I distinguished three levels of racism—individual, institutional, and cultural. These correspond to levels of analysis and are distinguished by the interactions among psychological, behavioral, institutional, structural, and cultural dynamics in the unfolding of racialist beliefs and practices.

Individual racism. The first level is most closely aligned with race prejudice. It fits the definition of racist given above. Consider the following example, quoted from Abraham Lincoln, which is illustrative of individual racist thinking:

I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hol d office . . . I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. (cited in Hay [ed.], 1894, pp. 369-370, 457 458)

These statements represent what most writers term individual racism. Of the three types of racism, individual racism is closest to race prejudice and suggests a belief in the superiority of one's own race over another and in the behavioral enactments that maintain those superior and inferior positions.

Institutional racism. Individual racism and race prejudice do not differ to a major degree. However, the white racism indicted by the Riot Commission (also known as the Kerner Commission, after the Illinois governor who chaired it) goes beyond the level of individual racism to the more general, more insidious, and more debilitating institutional racism. Carmichael and Hamilton (1967, p. 4) describe institutional racism as

. . . [when] five hundred black babies die each year because of lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and discrimination in the black community . . . or when black people are locked in dilapidated slum tenements, subject to the daily prey of exploitative slumlords, merchants, loan sharks and discriminatory real estate agents.

Racist institutions are but extensions of individual racist thought in order to achieve racist objectives through manipulation of institutions. Thus, for example "grandfather clauses" and "poll taxes" can be seen as the manipulation of the political process to achieve individual (or collective) racist ends.

Institutional racism, then, has two meanings: (1) It is the institutional extension of individual racist beliefs, consisting primarily of using and manipulating duly constituted institutions so as to maintain a racist advantage over others. (2) It is the byproduct of certain institutional practices that operate to restrict—on a racial basis—the choices, rights, mobility, and access of groups of individuals. These unequal consequences need not be intended, but they are no less real for being simply de facto.

Cultural racism. The third type, cultural racism, contains elements of both individual and institutional racism. Cultural racism can generally be defined as the individual and institutional expression of the superiority of one race's cultural heritage over that of another race. Culture is defined in many different ways, but Kroeber and Kluckhohn defined it comprehensively as

. . . patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas, and especially their attached values. Culture systems may on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other, as conditioning elements of future actions. (1952, p. 181)

The point of cultural racism is that, when one group enjoys the power to define cultural values—and the individual forms those values should take and to reward those who possess them and punish or ignore those who do not, cultural groups will be marginalized and disadvantaged to the extent that they claim cultural heritage that diverges from these core cultural beliefs. When the diverging cultural group also is defined as a racial group, the basis for bias (culture versus race) is hard to distinguish. Given that racism is feelings of racial superiority reinforced by the power to determine the outcomes for other racial groups that are consistent with one's own group's best interests, then cultural differences are bound up inextricably with racial differences. For this reason, simply asserting that a "colorblind" approach is the best way to eradicate racism is much too simple.

It is cultural racism that has been most apparent to U.S. race relation analysts. It is a matter of cultural racism when the achievements of a race of people are fully ignored in education. It is a matter of cultural racism when the expression of cultural differences is unrewarded or is interpreted negatively. It is not just black people who have been victimized by the myth of the cultural melting pot, but all ethnic minorities. White Western European religion, music, philosophy, law, politics, economics, morality, science, and medicine are all generally considered to be the best in the world.

Within the United States, we are led to believe that black people have contributed absolutely nothing to the national expression of these cultural forms. More significantly, any person, regardless of his or her cultural background, who cannot function well according to the dictates of white Western cultural norms does not have much opportunity for success in this society. Many black Americans are now reacting to cultural racism by asserting their blackness, their African heritage, their cultural uniqueness.

To summarize, racism has three faces. Individual racism is closely akin to race prejudice, but differs from the latter in (1) the importance of biological considerations and (2) the role of behavioral enactments. The concept of institutional racism has gained prominence since Carmichael and Hamilton (1967) and the U.S. Commission on Civil Disorders (1967) sought to clarify and elaborate on it. The term cultural racism refers to the intersection of cultural and racial differences, where superiority on both factors is assumed.

Working Definition of Prejudice

Let's review the discussion of prejudice:

  1. Prejudice is an evaluative judgment or behavior directed at a person.
  2. Although any given evaluation may be favorable or unfavorable, positive or negative, analyses of prejudice are usually concerned only with the negative evaluations.
  3. The evaluation is based, to a significant degree, on real or imagined characteristics of a group to which the person belongs or is thought to belong.
  4. The person may or may not possess the characteristics ascribed to him or her.
  5. To the extent that the person does not possess the characteristics assigned, whether positive or negative, the evaluative judgment and corresponding behavior are prejudicial.
  6. The persistence of this pattern of evaluation and inappropriate behavior when contradictory information is presented is an indication that prejudice exists.
  7. Prejudicial attitudes and behavior may result from actual experiences with members of the target group.

With these basic points as guides, we can now offer a working definition of prejudice. It is on this definition that we will base our discussion when we refer to prejudice in the remaining chapters of this book.

Prejudice is a positive or negative attitude, judgment, or behavior generalized to a particular person that is based on attitudes or beliefs held about the group to which the person belongs.


A Working Definition of Stereotype

Taking these issues into account, we must accept that a stereotype will involve both positive and negative beliefs about the characteristics of a group of people. These beliefs might be relatively accurate or inaccurate in representing the group. A stereotype may reflect the beliefs of a single person or it may be a set of beliefs shared by a group about another group. These considerations of stereotypes lead us to the following working definition:

A stereotype is a positive or negative set of beliefs held by an individual about the characteristics of a group of people. It varies in its accuracy, the extent to which it captures the degree to which the stereotyped group members possess these traits, and the extent to which the set of beliefs is shared by others.

Simply holding a stereotype is not necessarily problematic. A stereotype, even if evaluatively laden and negative, only becomes problematic when it is actively used to affect how we treat a specific other person. We can therefore distinguish between existence of a stereotype (and all the characteristics that it entails) and the process of stereotyping, which we define below:

Stereotyping is the process by which an individual employs a stereotypical belief in the evaluation of or behavior toward a member of the stereotyped group.

With these definitions of stereotype and stereotyping for guidance, let's proceed with our discussion.

Following is a list of possible reasons that stereotyping is a problem:

  1. Stereotypes are factually incorrect. It cannot be true that all members of a group possess specific traits. Even the most salient race characteristic, darker skin color, is not possessed uniformly, or at all, by all African Americans. Not all Hispanics speak Spanish. Not all American Indians are spiritual nor do they all live on reservations. So, a stereotype, as an all-or-none characterization of a group, is bound to be wrong. But maybe this is not what we mean by stereotype. Let's dig deeper.
  2. Stereotypes are illogical in origin. Stereotypes do not arise from personal experience, but from hearsay or second-hand information. Maybe our parents tell us something about a group, either directly or indirectly. Maybe we draw inferences about a group based on certain information—for example, the Turks massacred millions of Armenians, or Bosnian Serbs massacred thousands of Bosnian Muslims. So, it may be inaccurate or it may not be. It may be illogical or it may have some basis in fact.
  3. Stereotypes are based on prejudice. According to this view, stereotypes simply reinforce already held beliefs and rationalize them. For example, the belief that women are nurturing and not able to make "tough decisions" may be a rationalization for keeping them out of the workplace or top decision-making positions. According to this view, stereotypes don't cause prejudice, they reflect it.
  4. Those who hold stereotypes are irrationally resistant to new information that contradicts the stereotypes. We have already seen how difficult it is to change or rebut stereotypes. How many disconfirming examples do we need in order to change our mind? Stereotypes are problems because those who adhere to them tend not to change these beliefs easily, so that if the ideas are shown to be inaccurate or illogical, these peoples' resistance to change becomes a problem.
  5. Stereotypes exaggerate group differences. Exaggeration is a part of being inaccurate, but the principal adverse effect is that it facilitates group categorization and all the processes that follow from that. People thereby believe they have less in common than they do, and this does not aid in interpersonal or intergroup relations.
  6. Stereotypes are ethnocentric. That is, we tend to assign and evaluate the traits of others on the basis of our own preferences. A negative stereotype may not only be inaccurate because it is a stereotype, but its specific negativity—which does the major damage—is determined by in-group standards. For example, being loud is negative if we, as a group, prefer quiet. Being materialistic (a trait frequently associated with Americans) is negative if we prefer a contemplative life. However, this trait is often highly valued in a capitalist and individualistic society. Therefore, the ethnocentric bias inherent in stereotypes adds an evaluative dimension to the perception of group differences.
  7. Stereotypes imply genetic origins of group differences. This aspect of stereotypes relates to the idea of biological essentialism—that is, the theory that differences between groups are based on biological qualities that distinguish them from others. Thereby not only are group differences exaggerated, but they are also immutable and, hence, irreconcilable.
  8. Stereotypes underestimate out-group variability. The idea that "they all look alike," captures the exaggerated idea of out-group homogeneity. This flaw in the concept of stereotypes contributes also to the faulty connection of group members who may not go together.
  9. Stereotypes lead people to ignore individual differences. As we saw at the end of Chapter 6, reducing prejudice, in part, involves perceiving and valuing individuality. Reliance on stereotypes works directly against that possibility; hence, adherence to stereotypes stymies efforts to reduce prejudice.
  10. Stereotypes lead to biased perceptions of individuals. This aspect of stereotypes is a variant of the previous problem in that our judgments of an individual may be heavily influenced by what we think about the group to which he or she belongs or to which we assign him or her. This connection can happen explicitly or implicitly, consciously or unconsciously.
  11. Stereotypes create self-fulfilling prophesies. We have already seen how the process of self-fulfilling prophesies works in the Word, Zanna, and Cooper (1974) study documenting this phenomena. If we use stereotypes to guide our expectations or suspicions, we may see in reality what we expected to see before the fact. Even worse, Steele and Aronson (1995) have shown that the targets of stereotypical expectations may behave in ways that fulfill them, even as they are trying mightily to disconfirm the expectations.

How we feel about or evaluate others is intimately connected to how we feel and evaluate ourselves. Therefore, categorizing and judging others is closely associated with feeling good about ourselves. The traits we ascribe to others depend on personal motivational goals served by group status and whether it contributes in a positive or negative way to our psychological well-being.

Minorities and Occupations

Two things stand out from these results. First, the funneling of social groups, for whatever reason, into different occupational niches leads us to infer that such groups communally possess different personality attributes and that the possession of these traits makes this occupational segregation "natural." Second, when asked to explain this covariation, we readily come up with explanations that reinforce the existence of the stereotypes we have drawn.


Historical interest in the content of stereotypes has given way to the processes of stereotyping. The question of primary interest now is; How do the cognitive structures affect the perception of people and the behaviors that follow from that perception? Hamilton, Stroesner, and Driscoll (1994) propose three ways in which stereotypes influence how we process social information, perceive our social world, and behave toward others. Stereotypes affect (1) the social information to which we pay attention, (2) how we interpret that information, and (3) how we process that information. The following section will examine each of these sources of influence.


A predicament is a situation in which a person's psychological well-being is threatened. Prejudice or its potential is a threat to which a person must pay attention and against which he or she must take corrective or evasive action. Our concern here is with those situations that cause predicaments, and those corrective and evasive actions one takes to fix them. Crocker, Major, and Steele (in press) suggest four conditions that pose predicaments for people at risk for being targets of prejudice:

  1. Awareness of the devalued quality of one's social identity. That is, one is aware that one's group is viewed negatively by others, particularly by those in positions of authority or who control valued and needed resources.
  2. Stereotype threat. One is aware of negative stereotypes of one's group that operate in a specific domain (e.g., academic performance) and the potential that, as a group member, one may validate that stereotype by one's behavior .
  3. Experience with prejudice and discrimination. Personal experience with racial, ethnic, or gender bias, or witnessing public examples of such bias raises an ever-present specter of prejudice that will threaten self-worth or, worse, real and important outcomes.
  4. Attributional ambiguity. The threat of prejudice can be compared to objective evaluation or fair treatment, leaving ambiguity as to the motivation behind and, hence, the meaning of the evaluation. For example, is the clerk in bad temper today, or of a generally sour personality, or is he showing disdain for me because I am black?


Bicultural Adaptation

Very often, the superculture controls important resources and opportunities. People must therefore function within specific rules in order to gain access to these benefits. The patterns of behavior, reward structures, values, and adaptational challenges that exist within a subculture may be different from those existing in the superculture. These differences can be a source of strain for people who live a bicultural life. One illustration of this strain is offered by the contrast of being a person of color in the white majority superculture of the United States and the reactions (often negative) it may elicit. Bicultural (or multicultural) people are frequently derisively labeled with the supercultural label of " white on the inside," and their indigenous or birth culture is referred to as the "outer shell." They may be termed, therefore, "black" on the outside and "white" on the inside ("Oreo cookie"); yellow on the outside makes one a "banana"; red on the outside makes one an "apple"; and brown on the outside makes one a "coconut." One's loyalty, commitment, and identity are challenged by this culturally perceived dualism.

Because prejudice and racism have created a cumulative mistrust of whites, and of white institutions, values, and beliefs on the part of nonwhites, a tension is created for people in marginalized groups. If one embraces the superculture, one may be suspected of "sleeping with the enemy," "acting white," or "going Anglo," for example. If one rejects the superculture, refusing to engage in meaningful interaction, one is at risk of limiting one's access to, possibilities with in, and opportunities to achieve and advance in the broader society. The central challenge of bicultural adaptation is to maintain loyalty and connection to one's culture of origin, while also participating in a personally meaningful way in the broader so ciety.

Prejudice Reduction

As we have seen in this chapter, there are a number of promising paths to prejudice reduction. None of these courses of action is easy, and we often find that an action that ought to work theoretically doesn't have the desired effects in practice. This list is not definitive, but it does suggest directions in which efforts to ameliorate interpersonal and intergroup biases may turn.

  1. Beginning with the work of Sherif (1966), and continuing with that of Pettigrew (1996), Gaertner, et al. (1993) and others, there is evidence that creating conditions in which individuals cannot reach desirable goals as easily on their own as they can in joint cooperation with others may reduce prejudice. Similarly, attainment of superordinate goals requires that groups work together rather than compete. As a society, we value competition and individuality. Therefore, in the United States, it is not a societal instinct to create conditions that pave the way for a reduction of prejudice.
  2. Conditions that spawn positive affect and make interpersonal intimacy possible are most likely to make intergroup contact a successful avenue to the reduction of intergroup hostility. We should acknowledge that intergroup hostility is probably too strong a term. For the most part, groups stay away from each other; people prefer to be with their own kind. Sports teams come to mind as a context in which superordinate goals combine with strong positive affect and opportunities for intimacy to create the most fertile possibilities for intergroup harmony. Although there are surely racial antagonisms within sports generally, and on specific teams, there are also many examples of strong, positive, interracial friendships that have been forged in these arenas of competition, among teammates and adversaries alike.
  3. There is also evidence that if we have direct experience with what it is like to be stigmatized, we are more likely to avoid treating others in a stigmatizing fashion. The Eye of the Storm video portrays this dramatically. We have the ability to experimentally put other people "in our shoes," as the Storms (1973) study showed.
  4. Interpersonal bias can be reduced by individuating people as a means of reducing the boundaries between groups. There are a variety of ways to do this. Among these are (a) making individual traits or qualities salient, (b) demonstrating multiple group membership, (c) subgrouping within a social category, and (d) reducing the level of cognitive stimulation or complexity so that one has cognitive resources to pay attention to individual qualities. All of these strategies help to limit the human tendency to treat individuals on the basis of their group membership.
  5. Expanding group boundaries to include a wider variety of others can reduce prejudice and its consequences. This is the principle of diversity. According to the diversity approach, the more diverse the people under the group tent are, the less likely it is that differences between individuals will serve as a basis for biased negative treatment.
  6. Adopting a transactional approach to intergroup relations will ensure that whatever gains are made will encompass the perspectives and needs of all parties. Such an approach is harder to implement, to be sure, but any progress will be real and genuine, not cosmetic and transitory. The essential features of the transactional approach are listed below:

Taken together, these conditions foster a positive basis for intergroup relations. But trust and a desire to control prejudice reactions and to seek common ground are also essential ingredients.