What Are the Signs of Racial Discrimination?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Racial discrimination occurs when a person or institution alters its actions or behaviors based on race. Discrimination can include both preferential treatment for people of a certain race, and disdain or negative treatment for those of other races. Some signs of racial discrimination are overt, such as using racist terminology or threatening a person because of his or her race, while others, such as discriminatory hiring or leasing policies, are more indirect. Understanding the signs of racial discrimination can help identify situations where racism may affecting outcomes or results.

Racial discrimination might occur among people of the same ethnicity.
Racial discrimination might occur among people of the same ethnicity.

Signs of racial discrimination can be surprisingly overt in some cases. People who openly announce their agreement with racial generalizations, such as “All Asian people are bad drivers,” are engaging in overt racism. Calling a person or a group by a derogatory name that denotes race may be another clear sign of a racial problem.

Bullying may be racially motivated.
Bullying may be racially motivated.

More often, racial discrimination occurs in indirect or subtle ways. Modern workplace, education, and business laws often make it illegal to have an overtly racist policy, but this certainly does not eliminate the presence of racial discrimination in any of these situations. The indirect signs of racism can be more difficult to track or notice, and may sometimes be distinguished by patterns of behavior rather than over signs of a racial problem.

A common sign of indirect discrimination is an alteration of hiring, promotion, or work assignment patterns based on the race of a worker. Discrimination may be present if a boss demands more evidence of qualifications from applicants of one race, or checks references more carefully if an applicant has a particular racial background. If there is a large pool of entry-level workers of one race, but no managerial or upper-level staff of the same race, that may be a sign of discrimination. In sales or customer service businesses, discrimination may be present if workers of a certain race are kept away from front desk jobs or those that require a lot of contact with the customer.

Racial discrimination in housing is often illegal, and may be just as subtle in application as workplace-based discrimination. Refusing to rent to people of a certain race may be an overt sign of this type of discrimination, but demanding higher deposits, more references, or increased rent from those of certain racial backgrounds can also be discriminatory. Housing discrimination is often illegal, but may be difficult to prove without a clear pattern of behavior showing consistently discriminatory actions.

It is important to remember that signs of racial discrimination can be preferential instead of derogatory. Racism can also be a characteristic of any person of any race, and may be directed toward any other person or race. False accusations of discrimination can be greatly harmful to a person's reputation and career, so it is important to make an accusation or file a discrimination lawsuit conscientiously and based on clear evidence. If there is evidence of either direct or indirect racism in a workplace, school, or business, the affected party should contact a lawyer to find out about possible legal action.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


"Then what "race" are Arabs, Native Americans, Aborigines, etc., etc., etc.: white, black or Asian?"

These are mixtures of varying amounts and degrees of the three primary races. Some people might also call them mongrels. This is an out-dated and derogatory term, which is nevertheless very accurate. Also, the Germans are most definitely not the same as the Chinese or even the Italians.

Yes, I learned that there are three primary races when I was a child. This is what I will always believe in. And I don't blindly believe in what I was told, either. I observe things when my own eyes and the conclusion that I have reached is that indeed there are these three primary races.


Prejudice based on the darkness of skin is absurd and should be outlawed. Your discussion of race is divisive and dangerous, encouraging false categories, there is no race.

Did you learn and still believe in three races: Caucasian, Negroid and Mongoloid? Then what "race" are Arabs, Native Americans, Aborigines, etc., etc., etc.: white, black or Asian?

A cause of World War I was the Austrian distrust of the "slavic race." In World War II, the German "race" didn't like Jewish "race." Ridiculous. Germans are the same "race" as Italians, Africans, Chinese. Cut out this race nonsense.

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