Anti- Racism Course: Definition, Meaning, History, and Laws

Created by ProProfs Editorial Team
The editorial team at ProProfs Quizzes consists of a select group of subject experts, trivia writers, and quiz masters who have authored over 10,000 quizzes taken by more than 100 million users. This team includes our in-house seasoned quiz moderators and subject matter experts. Our editorial experts, spread across the world, are rigorously trained using our comprehensive guidelines to ensure that you receive the highest quality quizzes.
Learn about Our Editorial Process

Lesson Overview

Learning Objectives

  1. Define and understand the meaning of racism and its different types.
  2. Explore the historical evolution of racism and key events that shaped its impact.
  3. Identify the psychological, emotional, and societal effects of racism on individuals and communities.
  4. Examine the role of cultural norms, laws, and law enforcement in perpetuating or combating racism.
  5. Learn about successful movements, strategies, and educational programs that address and fight against racism.


Racism isn't just a word-it's a force that has shaped societies, broken families, and sparked movements. Envision: A person is denied a job, not because of their skills, but because of the color of their skin. This is the stark reality of racism. By definition, racism is the belief that one race is superior to another, leading to discrimination and prejudice.
Understanding the meaning of racism requires us to delve into its history, where laws and societal norms were crafted to favor one group over others. Throughout this chapter, we will explore the history of racism, how it has influenced laws, and take a racism test to uncover our own biases. As Nelson Mandela once said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin..." This journey aims to equip us with the knowledge and empathy to build a more just and inclusive world.

What Is Racism?

Racism is when people think that some races are better than others. This belief leads to treating people unfairly because of their skin color, background, or culture. Racism can show up in many ways, such as using hurtful words, leaving someone out, or even making laws that give one group more rights than another. It is important to understand that racism is wrong and hurts everyone in society. By learning about racism, we can work together to make the world a fairer place.

How Has Racism Evolved Throughout History?

Racism has a long history. It has changed over time but has always caused harm. In the past, some people used racism to justify enslaving others, taking their land, or treating them badly. For example, during the time of slavery in the United States, African Americans were forced to work without pay and were treated as property. Later, even after slavery ended, laws and rules still kept people of different races apart, such as in schools and restaurants. These were called segregation laws. Over time, many brave people fought against racism and these unfair laws. Because of their efforts, many laws have changed, but racism still exists today. Learning about this history helps us understand why we need to keep working against racism.

Types and Forms of Racism

Racism can look different in various situations. Here are some main types and forms of racism:

  1. Individual Racism: This is when one person acts in a racist way toward another person. For example, if someone refuses to be friends with someone because of their race, that is individual racism.
  2. Institutional Racism: This type of racism happens in organizations like schools, companies, or governments. It means that the rules, policies, or practices of these institutions unfairly disadvantage people from certain races. For instance, if a company hires fewer people from a certain race even though they are qualified, it is institutional racism.
  3. Systemic Racism: This is a broader type of racism that affects a whole society. It includes the ways in which laws, policies, and practices across different institutions interact to create unequal outcomes for different races. For example, if people from certain races have less access to good education, jobs, and healthcare, it is systemic racism.

What Is Overt and Covert Racism?

Overt Racism is obvious and open racism. Examples include racial slurs, hate crimes, and clearly discriminatory laws. Overt racism is also easy to see and recognize.

Covert Racism is hidden or subtle racism. It might include things like assuming a person is less capable because of their race or making decisions that negatively affect certain races without openly saying it is because of their race. Covert racism is harder to spot but can be just as harmful.

How Did Racism Manifest in Different Historical Periods?

It is important to learn how racism gradually took place and heightened with the moving time throughout history. Racism has shown up in many ways and  here are some key periods:

  • Ancient Times: In ancient civilizations like Greece and Rome, people were sometimes treated differently based on their ethnicity or place of birth. However, the concept of race as we understand it today wasn't fully developed yet.
  • Middle Ages: During this time, some groups were discriminated against based on religion and ethnicity. For example, Jewish people faced persecution in Europe.
  • Age of Exploration (1400s-1600s): When European explorers traveled to new lands, they often treated the people they encountered as inferior. This was the beginning of many racist attitudes that justified colonization and slavery.
  • Slavery Era (1600s-1800s): In this period, especially in the Americas, millions of Africans were captured and sold into slavery. They were treated as property and subjected to harsh conditions and severe discrimination.
  • Segregation and Jim Crow Laws (late 1800s-1960s): After slavery ended in the United States, laws were made to keep Black people and white people separate. These laws were called Jim Crow laws and they enforced segregation in schools, buses, and other public places.
  • Civil Rights Movement (1950s-1960s): During this period, many people, including key figures like Martin Luther King Jr., fought for equal rights for all races. They protested against segregation and discrimination, leading to significant changes in laws.

Take This Quiz

How Did Colonialism Impact Racism in History?

Colonialism is when one country takes control of another country or region, often exploiting its people and resources. Colonialism has greatly contributed to racism in the following ways:

  • Justification for Control: Colonizers often believed they were superior to the people they were colonizing. This belief helped justify their control and exploitation of those lands and people.
  • Spread of Racist Ideas: European colonizers spread racist ideas around the world, which suggested that non-European people were inferior.
  • Division of People: In many colonized regions, colonizers would create divisions among local populations based on race or ethnicity to maintain control. This has left long-lasting racial tensions in many parts of the world.
  • Cultural Suppression: Colonizers often tried to suppress the native cultures, languages, and religions of the people they controlled, further entrenching the idea that the colonizers' culture was superior.

History of Racism in Different Societies

Racism can look different depending on where you are in the world. In some places, racism might be based on skin color, while in others, it could be about ethnicity or religion. Each country and culture has its own history and way of dealing with racism.

  • United States: Racism here has a long history connected to slavery and segregation. African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans often face discrimination in different aspects of life, like education, employment, and law enforcement.
  • South Africa: Under apartheid, the government enforced strict racial segregation between white people and non-white people. This created deep divisions and inequalities that the country is still working to overcome.
  • India: In India, racism can be seen in the caste system, where people are discriminated against based on their caste, a social group they are born into. Although discrimination based on caste is illegal, it still happens.
  • Europe: In many European countries, immigrants, especially those from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, often face racism. They might find it harder to get jobs, housing, or fair treatment in society.

It's normal to wonder why racism took different shapes in different regions. Cultural norms and values play a big role in how racism is expressed and perceived:

  • Cultural Norms: These are the rules that a group of people follows. In some cultures, there might be long-standing beliefs that certain races or ethnicities are better than others. These beliefs can lead to discriminatory practices.
  • Values: These are the principles that a culture holds important. If a society values equality and justice, it might have less tolerance for racism. Conversely, if a society values hierarchy and separation, racism might be more accepted.
  • Traditions: Traditions can sometimes include practices that exclude or discriminate against certain groups. For example, some traditions might prevent people of certain races or ethnicities from participating in certain events or holding certain positions.
  • Media Representation: How different races and ethnicities are portrayed in movies, TV shows, and news can affect public perception. Positive representation can help reduce stereotypes, while negative representation can reinforce them.

What Are the Historical and Contemporary Issues of Racism Within Law Enforcement?

Racism within law enforcement has deep historical roots and continues to present significant challenges today. From slave patrols and segregation enforcement to modern racial profiling and police brutality, systemic discrimination has long impacted minority communities, highlighting the urgent need for reform and accountability in policing practices.

  • Slave Patrols: In the United States, some of the earliest forms of law enforcement were slave patrols. These were groups that captured runaway slaves and maintained control over enslaved people. This history has left a lasting impact on how law enforcement is viewed in Black communities.
  • Disproportionate Arrests: Today, people of color, especially Black and Latino individuals, are arrested at higher rates than white people for similar offenses. This contributes to the overrepresentation of these groups in prisons.
  • Use of Force: Data shows that police are more likely to use force, including deadly force, against people of color. This has led to many high-profile cases of police brutality.
  • Trust and Community Relations: Many minority communities have a lack of trust in law enforcement due to historical and ongoing discrimination. This makes cooperation between police and these communities difficult. 

Take This Quiz

Key Events

  • Transatlantic Slave Trade: This was a major event where millions of Africans were forcibly taken to the Americas to work as slaves. This trade had a long-lasting impact on attitudes towards race.
  • Abolition of Slavery (1865): The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended slavery in the United States. This was a significant step towards racial equality.
  • The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804): The events in Haiti from 1791 to 1804 mark the only successful rebellion by enslaved people in history. Haiti, known then as Saint-Domingue, was a French colony and the wealthiest source of sugar in the Caribbean. Enslaved people, led by figures like Toussaint L'Ouverture, rose against the oppressive system, ultimately achieving independence and abolishing slavery. This revolution demonstrated the power and determination of enslaved individuals to fight for their freedom and inspired other anti-slavery movements worldwide.
  • The Abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain (1807): In 1807, the British Parliament passed a landmark law abolishing the slave trade. This decision came after years of persistent rebellion and resistance by enslaved people, who fought tirelessly against their inhumane treatment. While this law did not end slavery itself, it was a significant step towards abolition and highlighted the crucial role of enslaved individuals in advocating for their rights and freedom.
  • Race Riots in the UK (1919): Following the end of World War I in 1919, several port cities in the UK experienced race riots. These riots were not instigated by Black communities but were acts of violence against them. The unrest was fueled by economic competition and racial tensions, as returning soldiers faced job scarcity and housing issues. These riots are a reminder of the racial animosities that existed and how they erupted into violence. The centenary of these riots in 2019 brought attention to these often-overlooked events, highlighting the need to remember and learn from history.
  • The Bristol Bus Boycott (1963): In 1963, the Bristol Omnibus Company refused to hire Black or Asian workers, leading to a public outcry and a four-month boycott organized by the West Indian community. Inspired by Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Alabama in 1955, the boycott drew national attention to racial discrimination in employment. This protest played a significant role in the establishment of the Race Relations Act of 1965 in the UK, which made racial discrimination illegal in public places and employment.
  • The Aftermath of Martin Luther King's Death (1968): Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent civil rights leader known for his non-violent approach to protest. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King played a key role in significant events like the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. His assassination in 1968 was a devastating blow to the civil rights movement and led to widespread riots across the United States. The violence that erupted highlighted the immense anger and frustration within the Black community and underscored the urgent need for racial justice and equality.
  • The Killing of Emmett Till (1955): In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till from Chicago visited family in Mississippi, where he was brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. This horrific event drew national attention and became a catalyst for the civil rights movement. The murder of Emmett Till exposed the deep-seated racism and violence faced by Black individuals in the South and galvanized activists to push for change.
  • Malcolm X Visits Birmingham (1965): In 1965, civil rights leader Malcolm X visited Smethwick in Birmingham, UK, just nine days before his assassination. Invited by the Indian Workers' Association, Malcolm X addressed the racial tensions in the area. His visit occurred during a time of significant racial strife, with the local MP having won an election using a racist slogan. Malcolm X's presence and speech highlighted the global nature of the fight against racism and the interconnectedness of struggles for racial equality.

Key Figures

  • Daisy Bates (1914-1999)
    Daisy Bates was a civil rights activist and journalist best known for her role in the Little Rock Integration Crisis of 1957. As the president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP, she played a critical part in guiding and supporting the "Little Rock Nine," a group of nine African American students who were the first to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Despite facing threats and harassment, Bates remained steadfast in her commitment to ending segregation and promoting equal rights in education.
  • Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)
    Fannie Lou Hamer was a tireless advocate for voting rights and racial equality. Born to a family of sharecroppers in Mississippi, she experienced firsthand the brutal realities of racism and poverty. Hamer became a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement, particularly known for her powerful speeches and efforts to secure voting rights for African Americans. She co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the all-white delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, bringing national attention to the struggles of Black voters in the South.
  • Bell Hooks (1952-2021)
    Bell hooks, born Gloria Jean Watkins, was an influential cultural critic, feminist theorist, and author. Her work focused on the intersections of race, gender, and class, challenging mainstream feminist and social theories. Through her books, such as "Ain't I a Woman?" and "All About Love," hooks addressed the impact of systemic racism and patriarchy, advocating for a more inclusive and just society. Her contributions to academic and popular discourse have left a lasting legacy on how we understand and address issues of race and gender.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)
    Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a central figure in the American Civil Rights Movement. Known for his philosophy of nonviolent protest, King led numerous campaigns to end racial segregation and promote civil rights, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington. His "I Have a Dream" speech remains one of the most iconic moments in the fight for racial equality. King's efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His assassination in 1968 was a profound loss, but his legacy continues to inspire movements for justice worldwide.
  • Audre Lorde (1934-1992)
    Audre Lorde was a writer, poet, and activist whose work addressed issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia. As a Black lesbian feminist, Lorde's writings, including "Sister Outsider" and "The Cancer Journals," provided a unique and powerful voice in the fight against multiple forms of oppression. She advocated for the recognition and celebration of differences and the importance of intersectionality in social justice work. Lorde's contributions to literature and activism have made her an enduring figure in the struggle for equality.
  • Clara Luper (1923-2011)
    Clara Luper was a pioneering civil rights leader and educator who played a significant role in the desegregation of public spaces in Oklahoma. In 1958, Luper led a group of young students in a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Oklahoma City, sparking a movement that led to the desegregation of numerous establishments. Her commitment to nonviolent protest and education helped inspire future generations of activists and contributed to the broader civil rights movement.
  • Toni Morrison (1931-2019)
    Toni Morrison was a Nobel Prize-winning author whose novels explored the complexities of African American life and history. Her works, including "Beloved," "Song of Solomon," and "The Bluest Eye," delve into themes of identity, community, and the legacy of slavery. Morrison's powerful storytelling and rich, lyrical prose brought the experiences of Black Americans to the forefront of literature, earning her critical acclaim and a lasting place in American cultural history.
  • Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
    Bayard Rustin was a key strategist and organizer in the Civil Rights Movement, known for his expertise in nonviolent protest. Rustin played a crucial role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Despite facing discrimination for his sexuality as an openly gay man, Rustin's contributions to civil rights and social justice were invaluable, advocating for equality across various dimensions of identity.
  • Malcolm X (1925-1965)
    Malcolm X, born Malcolm Little, was a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement known for his advocacy for Black empowerment and self-defense. As a member of the Nation of Islam, he spoke out against the systemic oppression of African Americans and called for racial pride and autonomy. Later in his life, after a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm X embraced a more inclusive approach to racial justice. His powerful oratory and unyielding stance against racism made him a controversial yet highly influential leader. His assassination in 1965 cut short a life dedicated to the fight for equality and justice.

How Do Policing Practices and Policies Contribute To Racial Disparities?

  • Stop and Frisk: Policies like stop and frisk allow police to stop, question, and search individuals they suspect of wrongdoing. Studies have shown that these practices disproportionately target people of color, even when they are less likely to find contraband compared to when white individuals are stopped.
  • Sentencing Disparities: Law enforcement practices can influence sentencing. For example, people of color are often charged with more severe crimes for the same actions compared to white individuals, leading to harsher sentences.
  • Neighborhood Policing: Police often patrol minority neighborhoods more heavily. This increased presence can lead to higher arrest rates for minor offenses, creating a cycle of criminalization in these communities.
  • Bias in Policing: Implicit bias among police officers can influence their decisions. For instance, officers might perceive people of color as more threatening, leading to more frequent stops, searches, and use of force.

Effects of Racism

The effects of racism can be minor to severe, but the impact is always negative. It can impact individuals, communities and can also hamper the economy of a society.

Impact Of Racism On Individuals 

Racism has long played a significant role in hampering a person's mental health. Its deep-rooted nature of discrimination has created hurdles for individuals. Here's how it has impacted individuals- 

  • Stress and Anxiety: Constantly facing discrimination can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. People may feel unsafe or worried about being treated unfairly.
  • Low Self-Esteem: Being treated as less important or capable because of one's race can make people feel bad about themselves. This can lower their confidence and self-worth.
  • Depression: Racism can cause feelings of sadness and hopelessness. People who face racism might feel isolated and alone, leading to depression.
  • Anger and Frustration: Experiencing unfair treatment can make people feel angry and frustrated. They might feel like no matter how hard they try, they can't escape discrimination.
  • Trauma: Serious acts of racism, like hate crimes, can cause long-lasting trauma. This can affect a person's ability to feel safe and trust others.

Impact of Racism on Communities and Societies

Racism doesn't just hurt individuals; it affects entire communities and societies as well, here's how:

  • Division and Conflict: Racism creates divisions between different groups of people. This can lead to conflicts, distrust, and even violence between communities.
  • Reduced Social Cohesion: When people are divided by racism, it's harder for communities to work together. This weakens the social bonds that hold a society together.
  • Health Disparities: Racism can lead to differences in health outcomes. For example, communities that face discrimination might have less access to good healthcare, leading to higher rates of illness and lower life expectancy.
  • Education Inequality: Racism can result in unequal educational opportunities. Schools in areas with mostly minority students might get less funding, leading to poorer education and fewer opportunities for those students.
  • Justice System Inequality: Racism can affect how people are treated by the police and the justice system. People from certain races might be more likely to be stopped by the police, arrested, and given harsher sentences.

Economic and Social Consequences of Racism

Racism also has significant economic and social impacts:

  • Job Discrimination: People who face racism might find it harder to get good jobs. This can lead to higher unemployment rates and lower incomes for certain racial groups.
  • Income Inequality: Racism can cause income gaps between different racial groups. People from discriminated groups might earn less money than others, even when they do the same work.
  • Limited Economic Growth: When a society doesn't use all its members' talents and skills because of racism, it limits its own economic growth. Everyone loses out when people are not given equal opportunities to contribute.
  • Social Services Strain: Racism can increase the need for social services like healthcare, education, and housing assistance. Discrimination creates additional challenges that require more support and resources.

Take this Quiz

Racism Laws in the US

Racism laws in the US have evolved to combat discrimination and promote equality. From abolishing slavery to enacting civil rights legislation, these laws address systemic racism and protect individuals from racial discrimination in various areas, including education, employment, and housing.

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: This important law made it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965: This law aimed to overcome barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote. It banned literacy tests and other practices that were used to keep Black people from voting.
  • Fair Housing Act of 1968: This law made it illegal to discriminate in buying, renting, or financing a home based on race, religion, national origin, or sex. It helps ensure that everyone has a fair chance to live where they choose.
  • Equal Employment Opportunity: There are laws that protect people from discrimination at work. Employers cannot treat employees unfairly because of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. This is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
  • Hate Crimes Prevention Act: Passed in 2009, this law makes it a federal crime to attack someone because of their race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. It provides extra protection for people who are targets of hate.
  • Education Amendments (Title IX): Although Title IX is best known for addressing gender discrimination, it also helps protect against racial discrimination in education. Schools must provide equal opportunities to all students regardless of their race.

Successful Movements and Campaigns Against Racism

Successful movements and campaigns against racism have significantly shaped history, promoting equality and justice. Here's some major movements that have been effective in combating racism - 

  • Black Lives Matter (BLM): Started in 2013, BLM is a global movement that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards Black people. It gained international attention after the deaths of individuals like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and George Floyd. BLM organizes protests, education campaigns, and policy advocacy.
  • Anti-Apartheid Movement: In South Africa, this movement fought against apartheid, a system of racial segregation and discrimination. Key figures like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu played crucial roles. The movement led to the end of apartheid in 1994 and the establishment of a democratic government.
  • #MeToo Movement: While primarily focused on combating sexual harassment and assault, the #MeToo movement also addresses issues of racism, as women of color often face intersecting forms of discrimination. The movement has raised awareness about the need for inclusive and safe environments for all.
  • Stop AAPI Hate: In response to a rise in anti-Asian violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, this campaign was launched to address racism and discrimination against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. It provides resources, collects data on incidents, and advocates for policy changes.
  • Campaign for Indigenous Rights: Various movements worldwide advocate for the rights of Indigenous peoples, such as Idle No More in Canada. These movements work to protect Indigenous lands, cultures, and rights, fighting against centuries of colonization and racism.

Effective Strategies for Combating Racism on an Individual Level

Effective strategies for combating racism on an individual level begin with self-awareness. Here are major ways to combat racism on an individual level– 

  • Educate Yourself: Learn about the history and impact of racism. Read books, watch documentaries, and listen to the experiences of people from different racial backgrounds.
  • Reflect on Your Biases: Everyone has biases. Take a racism test or implicit bias test to understand your own prejudices. Reflect on how these biases affect your behavior and work to change them.
  • Speak Up: If you see or hear something racist, say something. Challenge racist jokes, comments, and actions, even if they are from friends or family.
  • Support Victims: Stand by those who are targets of racism. Offer them support and help them feel safe and heard.
  • Promote Diversity: Support businesses, artists, and leaders from different racial backgrounds. Encourage diversity in your workplace, school, and community.

What Are Some Educational Programs and Curricula That Address Racism?

Educational programs and curricula that address racism are essential for fostering an inclusive and informed society. Here's how education institutions are  actively addressing the issue of racism to promote a more inclusive future

  • Anti-Racism Curriculum: Many schools have developed specific curricula focused on teaching about racism, diversity, and inclusion. These lessons cover the history of racism, significant events in civil rights, and strategies for combating racism.
  • Social Justice Education: Programs that focus on social justice include lessons on equity, human rights, and the fight against discrimination. These programs often involve discussions, projects, and activities that promote understanding and activism.
  • Cultural Competency Training: These programs teach students about different cultures and encourage respect for diversity. They help students understand and appreciate cultural differences, reducing stereotypes and biases.
  • Peer Education Programs: Some schools use peer education to address racism. Older students or trained peer leaders facilitate discussions and activities about racism and inclusion with younger students. This peer-to-peer approach can be very effective.
  • Historical Programs: Programs that focus on historical events related to racism, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the Holocaust, help students understand the profound impacts of racism. Learning about these events fosters a deeper understanding of the importance of combating racism.

Take this Quiz


Understanding racism is key to making the world a fair place for everyone. We've learned about the racism definition and its meaning, seen how racism has shaped history, and explored how racism laws have changed over time. By taking a racism test, we can reflect on our own biases and work to improve. As we move forward, remember this quote from Nelson Mandela: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." Together, we can make a difference by learning, speaking up, and standing against racism. Let's use our knowledge to build a future where everyone is treated equally and with respect.

Back to Top Back to top

Here's an interesting quiz for you.

We have other quizzes matching your interest.