Racism Violence, Morality, and Responsibility Research Paper

Pages: 7 (1858 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Race


Violence, Morality, and Responsibility

An examination of institutionalized racism and its ethical consequences.

The presence of institutionalized racism is often hard to deny in many circumstances. However, the solutions to prohibiting this type of violence are far from clear. Much of the debate that surrounds this issue deals with the level of the individual and the motivations for personal choices. For example, a person might display racist institutional behavior even though they justify by other motives and thus hide their true intentions. Furthermore, it could also be the case that the individual might not even fully understand their true intentions. Therefore, even though a person might be basing their behavior on racist sentiments, they might not fully understand their own internal processes for doing so.

Thus it can actually be the case that a person is acting in a racist way without even fully being aware of their motives for this behavior. The debate therefore revolves around what responsibilities should an individual have towards racist behavior on an individual level, as well as the individual responsibilities that are also present when people views these types of behavior in others. This analysis will take an ethical stance on matters of institutionalized racism at the level of the individual and argue that an individual does have the responsibility to curtail and racist behaviors, from them or others, if they are aware that these are taking place. Awareness of the issue should be the critical factor.

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Definition of Racism

Research Paper on Racism Violence, Morality, and Responsibility Assignment

Before arguing that people have a responsibility to address racial biases, it is important to develop a working definition of racism. Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others; racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns[footnoteRef:1]. People can be discriminated against because of their color, background, name, or other superficial differences. [1: (Shah)]

However, based on our understanding of science, these differences are truly superficial. There are virtually no differences in the biology or capabilities that are inherent in any of the superficial differences that are readily viewable. It is easy to understand why these differences can serve the basis for discrimination since they are readily apparent however these difference are only marginal difference that have evolved in humans for superficial reasons such as geographic factors. There is not one race of individuals that is prohibited from breeding with any other race. Despite what differences may appear on the outside, humans in general are so biologically similar that there stands no scientific basis for superficial differences serving as the basis for discrimination of any kind.

Psychological Violence

Some have argued that racism is a form of psychological violence. Physical violence, and the threat of such violence, has the consequence of creating fear or discomfort in its victims and this violence can weaken the confidence levels of those who are threatened by it[footnoteRef:2]. The same, however, can be said about psychological violence. While the outcomes of physical violence are more easily detected, psychological violence causes similar, if not worse, outcomes in its victims. Some cases of domestic violence, even when there is physical violence present, consist of the victim incurring the most harm with psychological violence [2: (McGary)]

However, not all instances of psychological violence are easily detectable. If someone is the victim of racial discrimination for example, then the discrimination that they incur can be justified by different intentions. For example, an African-American may have a smaller statistical chance at being awarded a job even though the decision will almost definitely be based on other criteria. The decision maker may not even identify the basis of their decision themselves. While they might state their decision based on some other factor than race, the racial prejudice might be subconsciously biasing their decision. Thus, even though psychological violence might have the same types of physical violence or the threat of physical violence, it can be difficult to detect and sometimes even harder to prove.


Although most of the major forms of racism have been addressed by modern societies, it has been argued that the more subtle forms of racism are still present. For example, one author has argued that that even though middle- and upper-class African-Americans have a degree of material comfort in our society, they are frustrated and enraged because they still experience subtle but harmful forms of racism and racial prejudice; in a similar vein, Ronald Jackson and Rex Crawley (2003) argue that white college students are more critical and distrustful of African-American male professors and they act accordingly[footnoteRef:3]. Therefore the types of racism that are still present are more subtle and involve cases of prejudice that also can be thought of as psychological violence. [3: (McGary)]

There are different methods for arguing that racism is either unethical or immoral. One set of arguments is that it is irrational and based on false assumptions. Other arguments treat racism as more of an individual's character flaw, while another set assumes that racism is an unjust practice inherently. While most philosophers tend to agree that racism is either irrational or unethical, there is a wider range of opinions about how to react to instances of racism that are being witnessed. For example, if a person feels that racism is unethical and attempts to avoid making any decisions for themselves that are racially biased, then what obligations do such people have towards other individuals that have not come to the same conclusions?

Let's say that an office worker believes that discrimination of any kind is unethical. They have never practiced any sort of discrimination themselves and they even volunteer at an organization that provides education on discrimination. However, this individual's boss seems to be hiring based on discriminatory practices. At what point would the employee who believes that decimation of any form is unethical have the responsibility to speak up for themselves? At a hunch, when it is apparent but hard to prove, or when it is no longer deniable whatsoever? Or does the person have any obligation at all even when it is no longer difficult to prove such cases of discrimination? Certainly if someone speaks up about a supervisor's unethical behaviors then they could be putting their jobs on the line to some extent. Furthermore, there could also be a number of external considerations. For example, say the employee has six children and though they do not approve of the boss's behavior they are unwilling to risk any job security and the ability to provide for their family due to unethical practices at their workplace.

Such considerations become incredibly complex and different ethical perspectives will have completely different outcomes. One of the strongest stances against any kind of intervention for unethical racist practices would come from a libertarian perspective. One author defines a libertarian as someone who is concerned with issues such as:[footnoteRef:4] [4: (Postow)]

have a good reason rooted in their own moral self-interest to speak out . . . [That reason is that they] need evidence that they are not engaged in self-deception when they say that they don't condone racism. It is often difficult to sort out our real motives for our acts and omissions, especially when we stand to benefit by our deception. A very good way to provide oneself with such evidence is to disassociate from racist behavior.

Thus the libertarian perspective may make provisions for their own behavior yet be more conservative in regards to the way they might intervene when they witness unethical behaviors in others.


I would personally argue against the libertarian perspective with some provisions. It would be entirely understandable to witness a questionable unethical act and not speak out. In the hypothetical example provided earlier, the employee had different option based on their perception of the discrimination that occurred. It is often easy to rush to judgment and one should always question their own assumptions in a critical manner. Therefore, when there is any question to the presumption of unethical behavior, then I believe that additional steps should be taken to ensure that the actions are unethical.

However, at the same time, if there is a possibility that unethical situations are unfolding, I believe that this should prompt an ethical individual to explore the issues more and more comprehensively. There are many different ways to open discussion to find out more information. These topics can be brought up in polite conversation and there are different questions that can be asked to help tease out the root of the decisions that occurred. There are many methods that can be used to find out information and the information that was used to make the decision. Any blatant discrimination would certainly qualify, to an ethical person, to be the subject of some kind of confrontation.

The Government Accountability Project defines a whistleblower, based on U.S.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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