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Aversive Racism: The Hidden Racism of Open Minded Americans

Updated on October 20, 2009

Bob is a decent sort: always supported equal rights for all, opposed segregation, even voted for Barack Obama!  Surely, then, there's no way Bob could ever be racist, right? Wrong.  Aversive racism is a type of racism that effects the subconscious behavior of an individual.  In fact, this hidden racism hides itself from even its perpetrators.   Most individuals who show signs of aversive racism are completely unaware of their own bias's effecting their behavior.

Here, then, are some examples of aversive racism and the theories behind it.  Hopefully, this will help you to better understand your own behavior and what exactly drives the supposedly simple decisions you make.

Aversive Racism: Liberal Racism In Action

Many people with politically conservative beliefs have, fairly or not, gotten a reputation for racism due to their views. Certainly groups such as the Ku Klux Klan are obviously racist. Hate groups and hate speech are what is known as overt racism. However, myself and my left-leaning comrades can't pass the buck. While conservatives might be more likely to commit acts of overt racism, liberals and other open minded individuals are far more likely to find themselves influenced by aversive racism.

A 2005 study performed in part by a professor at my alma mater showed that "liberal" leaning individuals were more likely to provide help to a black man who called the wrong number but in need of urgent help then their conservative peers. However, they were also far more likely than conservatives to hang up on a black person than a white person before hearing their entire side of the conversation.

This study shows that while liberal individuals might be more outwardly friendly towards minorities, they are also more affected by subtle biases they are unaware of. A bias an individual is not aware of is also a bias they are unable to confront and overcome.

Aversive Racism In The Workplace

What, then, happens when someone who has a hidden racist streak is in charge of the hiring process? We've all heard horror stories about prejudiced employers who spew bile about minority groups across the board.  You never hear about nice the nice bank manager who follows the company anti-discrimination policies to the letter being racist, however.

Studies have shown that white, liberal employers will almost always give an open position to a highly qualified black applicant over anyone else.  No racism there, right?  The problem arises when a white candidate and a black candidate are equally qualified for a position.  In almost every instance, a black candidate and a white candidate with the exact same credentials will result in the white person being hired.

To erase the doubt that perhaps the white candidates were simply better speakers, individuals were given resumes and told to choose which would be the best hire.  In candidates with the exact same GPA, extracurricular, and years of work experience, the individual with a typically Anglo-European name were preferred over those with names considered to be traditionally African-American.

This evidence shows that even amongst a population which does not consider itself racist, and in fact often acts in a respectful manner of minorities, racism still exists and can cause serious harm to the livelihood of men and women of color.

Combating Hidden Racism

In almost all cases, aversive racism is caused by subtle bias and ignorance rather than any malicious feelings towards minorities.  Those who regularly interact with minorities as equals (coworkers, friends) rather than on a different level (employee/employer relationships) will find themselves less likely to have hidden prejudices.

For others, simply understanding that aversive racism exists can help.  By examining your own behavior through the lens of aversive racism, it is possible to start really thinking about whether the excuse you gave for not hiring that last employee is really valid or it was just your brain trying to make up for the unconscious racism occurring behind the scenes. Knowledge is power, and like GI Joe taught me, knowing is half the battle.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I do not think you can fight racism. I believe you have to fight policy. The rules of deadly force is the real battle in Ferguson. How many times a year is lethal force applied when a shot in the leg or doing nothing at that moment would have saved a life? Is there a better set of rules that completely removes the opportunity to discriminate when submitting a resume. Most applications are submitted online do you even know if discrimination is taking place? My point is no average person can determine that some rich guy who spent his entire life in an all white community is a racist any more then a poor black person who spent his entire life in a bad neighborhood. Besides the point that most average people would not understand either group, both would probably seem racist to us on the topic but proving it would be impossible and offer no solutions. The only real solutions is to change the policies that allow it to continue in the first place. If the man was unarmed and fleeing if he had only shot him once injuring him that would have been more then enough force if you asked me. If he was fleeing shooting him was probably to much force, when you can arrest him later any way.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Black skin=Protection. Black skin is like a shield. Nobody will mess with you. Black skin would really help the white man in society. Black skin would help white police officers, Teachers, and Bosses do their jobs without dealing with racial politics. I am going to try and bring pigmentation into the white community.PEACE

    • seanorjohn profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting. I wonder if any similar studies have been carried out in the UK. Voted up.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      All liberals love to laugh at racist jokes and watch racially oriented comedy shows like Family Guy and Dave Chappelle while pretending not to be racist. The average liberal makes too big a deal over race and uses stereotypes to attempt to make sense of their world. Liberals have accomplished more racism with their passive means than any conservative has done with overt means.

    • samanthamayer profile image


      8 years ago from New Zealand

      Wow, this is a great hub! I did a hub on racism also, I'll definitely make sure to post a link on it to this one now. We ended with the same punchline - knowledge is power. Voted up, interesting and useful!

    • Len Cannon profile imageAUTHOR

      Len Cannon 

      9 years ago from Brooklyn, NY

      @Bilbo they actually do test the "racism" of African Americans in the studies. There were no significant differences in responses between how African American test subjects treated black and white people in the study so it was not worth discussing in the article.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I enjoyed the hidden racism evident in all of the (probably worthless) "studies" too. Why do all of these studies test the "racism" of white people and not the racism of various other races? You have never seen racism until you have lived around Black people in places like Chicago.

    • profile image

      Phantom Phoenix 

      9 years ago

      I think it is who is talking as to who is racist. There are racist persons of all skin tones. If you want to see it just let someone's daughter want to marry someone of a different race.

      I do think that black men are conditioned to believe that if they don't get the job and a white man does, it can be no other reason than racism. Think it could be qualifications?

      As long as one race is treated with favoritism, they can not be equal.

      Oh, by the way, I am a white female who applied for a job as a state trooper. I am qualified. They hired a black female to "kill two birds with one stone".

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      In 1992 conservative magazine had a full magazine on black and white relations in it stated that 100percent of white people are racist 35percent are passive racist while 35percent are overt racist this came from a study it did

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Let me see if I understand this correctly. Whites must defer to non-Whites at ALL times and concede ANY AND ALL of their OWN interests to Non-Whites at ALL times or they are racist. If they lean to throwing their own a crumb or a bone when all things are equal, they are racist. Of course, it is perfectly all right for NON-Whites to discriminate in favor of their own and advance their OWN interests without being tagged as racists, explicit OR aversive. Because ONLY WHITES are racists. I get it. What a bunch of bullshit.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      What about black, Asian, Native American, and Hispanic liberals? This study is incomplete. Why does everything have to be from a white PoV? Just like interracial marriage statistics. We here about the number of minorities marrying whites, but what about black/Asian or Hispanic/Asian?

    • jman00001 profile image


      10 years ago from Texas

      Interesting hub and commentary on covert racism.

      However in the real world in Texas at BP's main office the REVERSE of your hiring white over black equally qualified candidates happens all the time. I saw it personally 2 times...

      Blacks and non USA born candidates get first dibs on these oil industry $100+k paying jobs over whites most of the time- and have been for at least a decade. That is the real world of uppermiddle income America's corporate world today.

      I have an updated hub that touches on real world racism using the Shirley Sherrod incident and deal as an example.

    • opettye profile image


      10 years ago

      good work please take a look at some of my hubs.

    • John B Badd profile image

      John B Badd 

      10 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      This is a good post but please do not neglect the fact that racism occurs across the board. I have been on open interviews conducted by black people where they took my resume and asked me a few questions without looking at my resume then dismissed me. After I watched them kindly greet and talk to my black counterparts for 3 to 5 minutes each when they went up their. I was also told I was the wrong color to work in a certain neighborhood when I was doing small retail a few years back. I have experienced other forms of racism against myself but I will not go into them.

      Now I am not saying it is ok for either side. I do not condone it for anyone. But you need to know the whole truth. Knowing is half the battle.

      And the person up their with the acronym for RACISM, I hope you know that is some whacked out propaganda you are being fed.

    • SpanStar profile image


      10 years ago

      Thank you for keeping people focused on those things which can make a big difference in people's lives. It seems to be so rare that one outside the Black race is willing to say the kinds of truths most people don't won't to hear, thanks again.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      all you morons are arrogant

      A. racialist = a person who has pride of their heritage

      B. racism is racialist against communist international social movement

      C. for all you arses believe in this aversive crap. you all are mistaken as . we all know that today's society a white cop may also bully a white teen, but on the other hand a black officer may defend this teen , infront of a white cop.

      ironically this happens quite often.

      thus reverse racism begins

      where as your theory is biased and contradictive

      and all you say "it doesn't matter what color skin you have?"

      of course it does as dna and geographical location

      you f'ing idiot get me 10 different fuktards on the phone i can easily name them off 1 by 1


      their accent and their speech /vocabulary and distant understanding of proper usage on the use of language and

      grammar .

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      lol really? i cant believe this. i know i am not racist. if i was in a position in the work place, id give it to whoever needed the job more, white black mexican chinese it don't matter. if that don't work id flip a coin. and for the phone part, if they are being rediculus, ill hang up no matter what color they are, hell how do you even know thru the phone???

      all i am saying is not everyone is an adverse racist, and its a good thing they arent

    • terced ojos profile image

      terced ojos 

      10 years ago from

      Excellent Hub and inkeeping with Joe Barnett; as a black man I can tell you that we are so accustomed to aversive racism. We can spot people with aversive prejudices very quickly. They always have the same body language. Everything about their body language screams "I'm not comfortable with the color of your skin."

      In addition racially aversive people speak with you in a very different way than they do their white peers.

      My wife and I often joke that these white people approach us or look at us as if we're mangy dogs and they don't know if we're going to bite them.

      When they open their mouths to speak to us their cadence is slow and measured as if we were Martians and had some speech impediment or autistic barrier that might keep us from understanding what they are saying to us. It's really annoying and it happens far too often.

      Many whites put blacks through "the test" as my wife and I like to call it everyday. It's repugnant and racist and insulting.

      In the work place a black man can be the better leader and more intelligent efficient employee but many white men do not want to work for him because he's black.

      I have been that man on more than one occasion.

      Many more black men have had this experience as well.

      The white supervisor can come in and ream these white guys and the white men will say "he's a stand up guy, a straight shooter."

      A black supervisor can come in and say the exact thing and white men will whine and complain; you will not here the end of the H.R. complaints from these white men.

      Then typically H.R. will say the patented white racists excuse..."maybe it's your presentation"..that's white male racists code for "they just won't work for a nigger boss."

      Welcome to Amerikkka.

    • Right Black profile image

      Right Black 

      10 years ago from Huntington Beach, California

      Len, I think you have been mis-educated about a couple of things. You lumped today's social and fiscal conservatives in with yesterday's racial conservatives. Just because you have the term conservative doesn't make you a racial conservative. Today's social and fiscal conservatives are much less likely to be racial conservatives. Most people can't seem to figure this one out. White Democrats are historically racists and most are just in denial about it. I have had the unfortunate opportunity to see this frequently. You get the racial stereotypes thrown at you and then they make it seem okay by saying they voted for Obama. (Of course, every single black in America did, right?) Meaning of course, I surely can't be a racist, ha, ha, ha. They didn't vote for Obama they voted Democrat. They believe he's just doing what he's told to do anyway.

    • pmccray profile image


      10 years ago from Utah

      That's it! My Lord what an insightful hub. I have seen and felt this type of racism and could not put my finger on it. I also feel the the younger generation of whites are unaware of America's civil rights history, and therefore are in danger of repeating it. I thoughly enjoyed reading your hub. Thanks so much for such an interesting take on an active social problem.

    • JOE BARNETT profile image


      10 years ago

      very thoughtful len. the funny thing is that the african american has tested it for a lifetime and can spot it even before the implementer does ha ha ha . what i thought always was funny was watching them deny it. bets would be made as to what excuses would be used. keep it up!

    • sukhera143 profile image


      11 years ago from Home


    • Ivorwen profile image


      11 years ago from Hither and Yonder

      I had never heard of aversive racism before, but have seen it in action more than once.


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