Racial Discrimination: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:04 Racial Discrimination
  • 1:08 Race as a Social Construct
  • 2:11 Slavery & Jim Crow Laws
  • 3:30 Japanese Internment
  • 4:13 Modern Examples
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Racial discrimination has been practiced for centuries and has had a profoundly negative impact on the lives of many people. In this video, you'll learn how to define racial discrimination and explore some examples of how it's been used in society.

Racial Discrimination

In recent years, the issue of race and prejudice has dominated the news with reports of police brutality, struggles for civil rights, and demands for equality. Yet, while these demands for equality have come from different groups for different reasons, they are often undertaken to protest the practice of racial discrimination.

In simple terms, racial discrimination is the practice of treating someone differently, or poorly, because of the color of his or her skin. For example, if you were interviewing two equally qualified applicants for the same job (one black and the other white) and you decided to hire the white person because you prefer to work with white people, you would have engaged in racial discrimination.

This example might sound unfair or illegal (it's generally both), but it occurs a lot more than you might think. In some cases, people don't intentionally mean to discriminate and it's just an unconscious reaction, whereas at other times people intentionally discriminate. Regardless of whether it's conscious or unconscious, the best way to combat such an unfair practice is to know what racial discrimination looks like and understand how it works.

Race as Social Construct

Race and racism are far too complex to adequately explain in a single lesson, but the most important thing for you to know is that what we call 'race' (variations in skin color) is not a concrete thing, but a concept. In technical terms, it's one of many social constructs, which are ideas or theories that people create to give certain situations meaning. In this case, the color of a person's skin means absolutely nothing in a social or cultural context, so people have created the concept of race to explain why one person is a different color than another.

The reason it's important to understand this is because the social construct of race is the foundation of racial discrimination. For instance, when white Europeans arrived in what is now the United States, they often justified the taking of land from Native peoples by promoting the idea that because the Indians weren't white, they were inferior and not as deserving of the land as the white people. In fact, there are many examples from American history in which race has been used to justify the poor treatment of non-white peoples and each one will demonstrate the complex and erroneous nature of racial discrimination.

Slavery and Jim Crow Laws

Less than a decade after the establishment of the first British colony in Jamestown, VA (1607), white Europeans brought African slaves to the Southern colonies to tend their crops. This began a long period in which Africans and other non-whites were brought to the United States and forced to work for no money. In the case of slavery, these black men, women, and children were thought of more as property than people, which was based on the belief that their race made them inferior to white people and they were only suited to perform manual labor. In the simplest terms, slaves were treated as less than human because they had a darker skin color.

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