It seems that in the United States, much of politics is currently focused around the subject of racism. Many issues are rephrased as racism issues - infrastructure, healthcare, policing...

Now I'm not saying that racism does not play a role in some of these things. My question is: Is this focus on race something that is going on in Western countries in general? Or is this unique to the U.S.A?

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    "... or is it a topic in other Western countries" --> Burt, why limit to "Western countries" and not "other countries" ? Jul 5, 2021 at 17:18
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    If something disproportionately affects a certain demographic, can you ignore that without being ignorant, bigoted or indifferent? Are you basically asking whether other countries also have problems with racism, or whether they're just more ignorant or indifferent? Or are you implying that racism isn't actually a significant problem in the US (because of course "racial arguments" would exist if racism is a problem)? That implication is what I'm reading rather clearly in your question.
    – NotThatGuy
    Jul 5, 2021 at 19:08
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    Many comments deleted. Please don't use comments to debate the question matter or as a way of answering. If you would like to answer, please post a real answer. If you would like to discuss, please use the chat function. Please try to limit these comments to suggesting improvements to the question.
    – JJJ
    Jul 6, 2021 at 17:05

11 Answers 11


The debate is not unique to the United States, but it may be more vocal there than in some other places.

  • I'm writing from Germany. Here, immigrant groups like the 16th century French Huguenots or the 19th century Poles are fully assimilated, and the Turkish minority were recruited in the 20th century. These Gastarbeiter probably have the best cause for complaint, one cannot get workers without getting people and German society was slow to acknowledge that. They are about 4% of the population.
  • African-Americans in the United States are both a larger percentage of the population and they have a different history. Their ancestors were captured and sold. It might be illustrative to compare African-Americans with Hispanics, who mostly came voluntarily and who might have a better chance of passing.
  • The power of "old white men" in the United States is dropping. In prospect theory, they are operating in the domain of loss. This usually leads to a frantic struggle to defend their position.

Combined, a relatively large minority with low chances of assimilation and passing causes demands for equality, which get rejected by some of those who would have to share power more equitably.

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    Regarding the 2nd bullet point: I think it is worth mentioning that the discrimination of people of color in the US did not stop with the end of slavery. Afterwards there was racial segregation up until the mid 20th century. Segregation policies disadvantaged people of color in basically every aspect of life. The debate today is mostly about how strong the after-effects of those policies are on people of color today and if and how those effects should be compensated.
    – Philipp
    Jul 5, 2021 at 7:56
  • Many comments deleted. Please don't use comments to debate the question matter. If you would like to answer, please post a real answer. If you would like to discuss, please use the chat function. Please try to limit these comments to suggesting improvements to the post.
    – JJJ
    Jul 5, 2021 at 17:12
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    Another very apparent one is related to gypsies. They are historically viewed as poor thieves or other low-life people with bad taste (and I must say, not without foundation, as poverty was and is in general significantly more prevalent within them, and statistically they do commit more crime). This results in stereotyping, making it hard for those who do rise above this. As they raise their voice, there emerge very awful racially-charged debates from supporters and right-winged groups. I know for sure this is the case in Hungary and Romania, and maybe France as well.
    – Neinstein
    Jul 6, 2021 at 12:38

Possibly the most distinct aspect of US racism (and perhaps in a few other nations) is the overarching importance of skin colour over other traits, which is understandable considering its history. In Europe, for example, while skin colour is certainly a major factor, there's also plenty of "white on white" racism both historically and currently, between east and west, north and south and so on. Religious affiliation of ethnic groups also matters more, I'd argue in some places in Europe you'd get less discrimination and hate as a black Christian than as a much paler Muslim. Moving on to places like India, you can see discrimination between different castes, and in SE asia and Africa you have tensions between lots of different ethnic groups with all kinds of physical features and cultural practices.

So it's very possible that someone from the US might not see a prevalence of racial issues in other (western or non-western) countries from a superficial perspective, because of their skin colour focused experience of racism at home. But I think if you look at many issues in other countries and compare them to issues within the US, by just substituting groups of people you get striking similarities. So I think it very much is a topic in other countries, it's just not always going to be obvious to an outsider.

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    Also, the US has a rather sharp political division on the subject, which is much rarer in Europe if only because the two-party system is much rarer.
    – MSalters
    Jul 8, 2021 at 17:07

Yes, the way the discussion about racism is handled in the USA absolutely is unique. Topics like Whiteness studies, Critical race theory, and corporate diversity trainings all originated in the US. People becoming millionaires from writing books about racism is unthinkable outside of the US. If I tell you of a massive company that changed their codebase to replace the words "Master" and "Slave" with "Leader" and "Wrker", because the former was deemed offensive, most people will correctly guess that it is a US company.

Some cultural export is taking place, which currently seems to have the most success in the UK.

If I were to speculate why the discussion in the US is so different, I'd point to the far more diverse ethnic composition of the population compared to most other nations. The US does not have a dominant ethnicity, unless we pretend Italian and Irish are the same - and even then caucasian is just barely dominant, and losing ground. Add to that the historical baggage of Segregation, and a two party system with the American "politics is entertainment" style of punditry, and you have a unique situation which explains the unique way to process and progress that situation.

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    To be fair, most massive tech companies are from the US (and very left-wing California to boot) thanks to silicon valley. Jul 6, 2021 at 12:08
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    @tim These are good examples of the cultural export briefly mentioned in this answer.
    – Peter
    Jul 6, 2021 at 15:36
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    I'm not sure if they have written books on the matter but Geert Wilders and Nigel Farrage are two Europeans who have done pretty well for themselves with racism.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:09
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    @Neil Oh, the veiled "dog whistle" type political racism that is usually associated with Nationalism, and figures like Farrage and Wilders, certainly has its equivalents all over Western Europe. But the fierce pro-diversity movement, calls for reparations, the CRT lens which attempts to simplify many social issues down to race, don't really have an comparable equivalent anywhere I know of, because these countries (other than pre-war Germany, which has it's own unique ways of dealing with race/guilt) simply lack the historical context of large scale Segregation that helped spawn them in the US.
    – Peter
    Jul 6, 2021 at 19:46
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    "the CRT lens which attempts to simplify many social issues down to race" - I would argue strongly against this characterization of CRT as "simplifying" anything. CRT suggests that one has to consider critically the role of racism in systems, and highlights that having a law that says explicitly "discrimination is not allowed" does not end racial discrimination by itself, and that having a law that doesn't mention race does not mean that law has differential impacts on people according to their skin color. These are complex issues, not simple at all. Jul 7, 2021 at 19:22

Is this focus on race something that is going on in Western countries in general?

I'm no expert on "all western countries" but racism and discrimination is a general problem that all western countries recognize and only a few select ones do a fair job of addressing.

Or is this unique to the U.S.A?

It certainly has qualities in the US that it does not have in other western countries.

I'll use my home country as a comparison. Every other year or so there are very simple and comprehensive studies where someone sends out CVs to a lot of companies, that are basically carbon copies of each other, one with a native sounding name, one with an obvious foreign sounding name. The native ones are invited to interviews purely based on the exact copy/pasted CV way more often than the foreign names. That is discrimination, plain and simple. It exists.

But compared to the US, it's not so much the government, it's private and corporate life. A crass example is voting rights. One of the most important privileges in a democracy, in my home country can only be denied to someone, if their personal case has been tried in front of the highest court. Imagine "The People vs Stephen J. Brown" in front of the Supreme court if you want to keep him from voting. No case was ever opened in my country. That would be ridiculous. No matter who you are, you have a right to vote. In the US you can just make a local law that deems certain addresses not fit for voter ID because of some made up bureaucratic process, or you can just decide that felons lose their voting rights and voila, you just rigged the election in your favor. And who is interested in prison reform, when the legislature decides that the prison system is fine and everyone who was treated badly by it is deprived of voting rights by order of said legislature?

Another point is the ridiculously small choice people have when voting in the US. There are exactly two parties and every time you vote, you also support all of their agenda, whether you like it or not. In my country we have more parties. There is a party I can vote for, if I like healthcare, but I don't like woke hipsters. There is a party I can vote for if I don't like big government, but I'm not racist. There is a party I can vote for that is absolutely pacifist. There is a party I can vote for if I want climate change addressed. I don't have to buy into all of it as one big bundle. There are always alternatives.

The most obvious point is actual voting though. It has never taken me more than 15 minutes on a Sunday waiting in a well ventilated building sheltered from rain or sun to actually cast my vote. The "line" is maybe 1-3 people per booth. Most of the time there is more staff than voters. When I see that the government in the US can make people wait outside in the sun for hours on a working day to cast their vote, simply by deciding on the locations and staffing of polling stations by local officials, that is a shame. If you can make it physically hard to vote for a certain demographic or region, that is democracy by name only.

So the big difference from my point of view is the fact that the US has little alternatives to elected government officials spewing racist bile on public TV. The governing system is inherently racist or easily enables racists. By allowing them to manipulate it and allowing them to force the rest of the people into decisions that are hard to make (what if you are a gun loving non-racist? Who could you possibly vote for?).

If they had to run their racist agenda in front of an actual majority of people (instead of just the voters they allowed to vote) with a lot of alternatives to vote for, they would be just as much a vocal fringe group as everywhere else.

So yes, the fact that racism is so openly paraded around by government officials and that people discriminated against don't even have a democratic way to remove those officials because they were denied their vote is pretty much a US phenomenon. that makes "race" a political factor. In other western countries, the racism and discrimination is at least kept out of the government. It still exists, it's still bad, but not that openly and blatantly by the government.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JJJ
    Jul 8, 2021 at 16:06

I feel like most answers here have misread the question. It's not "Why does America have race relations problems?" but rather "Why are American problems so often argued from racial perspectives?"

Poverty isn't inherently a racial issue. Neither is crime, education, or healthcare. But it makes a more emotional, and thus more effective argument to frame it about identity. It's a much more emotionally compelling argument when there's an identifiable, empathizable person or group of people to relate to an issue. It makes it more personal, and thus more likely to motivate people to seek change.

Edit: Almost forgot. I suspect this is not a uniquely American phenomenon, and that any democratic society with such a large minority population will experience something similar. I would guess France and Germany will see something similar as a result of the migrant crisis.

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    In the abstract it may not be a racial issue, but any half-assed look at the actual history and facts make it clear that they are, in actual practice in America, deeply racial. There are strong correlations between race and poverty, as well as race and just about anything else "bad", that make minorities, blacks in particular, severely overrepresented in these categories. And it's easily traced to long and still-living histories of racist exploitation and exclusion and the largely unaltered social and governmental systems that were built to maintain and automate them. Jul 6, 2021 at 6:45
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    @zibadawatimmy But the solutions don't need to be. If black people disproportionately suffer from poverty, poor education, poor healthcare, then they will disproportionately benefit from fixing these issues too. And you also help poor white people too. Explicitly helping only minorities will just exacerbate racism.
    – Ryan_L
    Jul 6, 2021 at 16:04
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    – JJJ
    Jul 9, 2021 at 13:56

I suspect that there isn't one country that does not have issues with regard to discrimination. I'll mostly leave the USA out of this discussion; the USA does recognize that it has unresolved issues with regard to discrimination, on multiple fronts. While the USA recognizes these issues, it has not resolved them.

Canada did nearly as good a job of wiping out its indigenous population as did the US. Canada then tried to indoctrinate the remaining few indigenous peoples to think like Europeans. With the recent discovery of multiple mass graves at various boarding schools for indigenous peoples, this has becoming a significant issue in Canada.

Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina did an even better job of wiping out their indigenous populations compared to Canada and the US. Those countries also held slaves. There's a very derogatory term in South and Central America, which I won't repeat, for peoples who are mixed descendants of Europeans, Africans, and Amerindians. Those peoples tend live in slums or reservations and tend to have ridiculously low incomes.

Brazil also has significant problems with regard to discrimination. Brazil did not do as good a job of wiping out their indigenous populations as did Uruguay, Chile, and Argentina. Brazil also used lots of Africans as slaves, a lot more than did the US. Brazil's current president, Jair Bolsonaro, is blatantly racist. And he's very popular (at least amongst the white voters who are allowed to vote).

The African continent has huge problems with discrimination. For example, apartheid ended in South Africa less than 30 years ago. In contrast, slavery ended in the US over 140 years ago, and yet still suffers racial discrimination. Thirty years is not nearly enough time to eliminate discrimination.

I can't think of a single country that does not have issues with regard to discrimination.

With regard to the US, there is a long history of discrimination against various peoples that formerly was sanctioned by law. For example, redlining was a legally sanctioned form of discrimination that started in the mid 1930s and didn't end until very recently. Officially sanctioned redlining by the US government ended in 1968 with titles 8 and 9 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, but redlining by mortgage companies, real estate companies, and insurance companies continued at least to 2015. There were multiple Supreme Court decisions regarding non-governmental redlining in 2015.

With regard to infrastructure, drive the Beltway that encircles the Washington DC. That freeway makes some crazy twists and turns in Virginia and in Maryland's Montgomery County. This was done to avoid splitting rich white enclaves. Where the Beltway is not twisty and turny, the odds are good that the communities involved were poor. You need to be aware of upcoming twists and turns when driving counterclockwise on the Beltway from Maryland's Prince George's County. Get ready for some twists and turns when you see what looks like the Palace of Oz in the distance, and you then see graffiti on a railroad bridge that says "SURRENDER DOROTHY".

Next drive the I5 in the Los Angeles area. It too has twists and turns, but it also has some very nice long straight sections. Some of the twists and turns are because of topology (LA is not flat), but other twists and turns were made to avoid splitting rich white enclaves in two. Where it does follow a nice straight line, it split minority communities in two.

The question doesn't mention grocery stores. These also are problematic, and are a bit out of reach as far as governments are concerned. Poor people often live in food deserts. The food they can buy close by is utterly crapulent. This, too, is infrastructure.

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    I believe the OP asked not about the presence or absence of racist discrimination, but rather about the role of racism in political discourse on seemingly unrelated matters like policing, housing, etc. That is, is the US more likely than others to see things through a racial lens? Your answer is mostly about discrimination and historical genocides.
    – o.m.
    Jul 5, 2021 at 17:32
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    I think the edit does a great job pointing out that "seemingly unrelated" matters like housing policy and the placement of freeways (and in some cities, the provision of mass transit) were often planned explicitly with racial discrimination in mind, and so a political discussion now that doesn't incorporate that information is one that's blind to the racial considerations that created the status quo. Jul 6, 2021 at 8:48
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    Were the placements of freeways because the areas were poor or because they were filled with minorities? If it was because they were poor, it would still affect minorities, but that would be a general power dynamic, not a racial one.
    – JonTheMon
    Jul 6, 2021 at 15:08
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    @o.m. yes, thanks sticking up for my question. It was about the role of racism in other matters. But, thanks David Hammen for explaining how the building of a lot of infrastructure was influenced by race. The thing is that in the present time things are not done in the same way, but it still seems like people can't let go of the past.
    – Burt
    Jul 6, 2021 at 20:57
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    "Food deserts" exists because stores (that sell goods with positive income elasticity of demand) tend to make a rational decision to locate in areas where (a) people can afford their goods, and (b) they're less likely to lose products to theft or vandalism. It's a reaction to existing socioeconomic disparities, rather than a cause.
    – dan04
    Jul 7, 2021 at 6:51

A TLDR of your question, there's lots of bigotry related things that would still apply to Europe, but US race based discrimination is kind of an amorphous thing that doesn't exactly sit the same way in Europe and lots of the racist historical and current baggage the US has just doesn't apply to Europe. Many European governments (or established charters and laws) pre-date the existence of racism itself, white-man's burden, and then white mans vitriol post reconstruction. The US, being a slave owning country where slaves actually resided in mass had laws, institutions, and to a large extent even religious practices that incorporated this black-only-slavery ideology into its construction. This kind of thing just doesn't exist outside of apartheid states and states with extremely clear defacto racial-status ties (ie like many countries in south America, former African colonies).

Lots of people are not from the US and giving you an awfully bad European perspective on this issue. The history of racism in the US is very complicated. Race issues in the aren't some American fairy tail made up to get right wing Europeans angry. At the same time, the US does not have the same "assimilation" issues that Europeans seem to be exacerbating. This is despite the US often having much higher numbers of those same minorities Europeans complain about. US race issues have nothing to do with "assimilation" nationalist dog-whistles.

The US was also unique in that these people they enslaved were not from the same place and that the slave owning caste were the clear majority of the country and very obvious who they were visually, which differed from Caribbean and some south American slave owning countries.

From the beginning the US was beholden to slave owning states. From the 3/5ths compromise, giving some initial disproportionate power to southern slave owning states, to the way the US even elects its president with the electoral college, a solution that was meant to be temporary until a better compromise could be made, to the restriction of the expansion of the house of representatives until a full standstill in the early 20th century.

However, the most important timelines to follow were just before and everything after the civil war, which despite being the mark of the end of slavery, ended up being a rebirth of racism in the US.

Prior to the civil war, for most non slave owning people, even in the south, those that were racist, were racist in a "white-mans-burden" kind of way. Basically that all the "poor dumb brown people needed the white mans help". The thought was, in some ways, slavery and colonialization actually helped non white people, it was a favor, pity/patronization. Closer to the civil war, the deep south in particular was partial to the "Curse of Ham" justification for black people in particular being slaves. Basically, black people "sinned" in an old testimate story (despite race never being mentioned) represented by Ham, son of Noah, and the father of Canaan, and were cursed:

24 And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

So they used Genesis 9:20->27 as a justification for not only why black people existed, but also that they existed to be slaves of white people biblically.

Now lots of people will try to say it was only Mormons who believed this. This is absolutely false. Mormons used a similar justification, but the curse of cain was used instead, and not really in relation to slavery, more so explaining the existence of black people. But Mormons also initially (very briefly) were anti slavery and were abolitionists before frontiersmen in Missouri started forming mobs and attacking settlements in the city of Independence for being anti-slavery after anti-slavery messages were put up by members of the church. Joseph smith soon announced that Mormons were pro slavery publicly, and told members that abolitionists teachings shouldn't go outside the Mormon community (and during Brigham Young years, Mormon policy was explicitly anti black, but didn't care about slavery). For context, Mormons believed a race of white people who had an advanced civilization lived in the US prior to the European discovery of North America and battled with Native Americans who won, and at some point, Mormons professed that if indigenous peoples believed hard enough they could turn white. So the curse of cain justification wasn't really needed for slavery, just for white exceptionalism.

So racism was very interconnected with religious institutions across the south (and even propped up a whole new sect of Christianity as you can see). This is starkly contrasted, again, with this institutions of Europe, who might have been heavily anti-semetic, but hadn't caught on to this whole "white people are the supreme race and it's justified by scripture" thing.

Immediately after the war, and when black people actually were told they were free black people would have been seen a lot more like ethnic foreign worker racist stereotypes are today ("Hard working poor people!" in a pitying tone) as at least some black Americans were able to relatively quickly start farms form businesses etc... The problem was that all the previous slave owners still existed. And how those people viewed black people, and how the general political elite in the south viewed black people was different than how the lower class white people, who still roughly held on to "white mans burden" kind of thinking. These people viewed them as straight chattle, as exactly equivalent to farm animals, work horses, or even a toaster or car. And felt just as mad if the government told you that you had to give your car the right to do what it wants, and you must pay your car to drive you. This is white mans vitriol, the entitlement to control what black people do and go, and the superiority over black people. These people hated black people and hated more the fact that they couldn't do what they wanted with them anymore, and they wanted to do something about that.

In moves similar to rhetoric around migrant workers today, the former slave owning/slave benefiting aristocracy started pumping out media about black people "stealing jobs" and taking opportunity from a white populace still suffering from very recent post reconstruction damages. I'm simplifying this a lot, but basically coming from white mans burden, these people saw it as unfair that the people who were thought of literally as inferior to themselves were getting jobs and opportunities better than them. This parallels with white mans vitriol is a sort of jealous ignorant analog to it. Vitriol because they think people who don't deserve even as much as they have are getting better than they have. We still kind of see these two different parallel mind-sets exist today, an aristocacal version of explicit racism and a lower class version of explicit racism with different rationales.

This was only the start of the "rebirth" of racism in the US however. Soon after, due to the lack of Union oversight in the south, and the lack of will of northern politicians who, despite just freeing black people, still weren't not racist, black people would, en masse, find themselves illegally jailed. While slavery was illegal in the US, you could still make prisoners perform slave work with even less regulation. States, using police institutions which started out as slave catching institutions, would arrest black people on bogus charges, or if they could get away with it, just straight up jail with no charges and send them to prison camps. In an age of increasing demand for electricity these black workers would often find themselves in coal mines, except, because they were now expendable prisoners, they went in with virtually no protective equipment, and often worked in even worse conditions than what they may have had to deal with in agricultural slavery, and whose wardens were often former slave owners. States would then make millions in 19th and 20th century dollars, encouraging states much further north than the union, confederate divide to partake in similar exercises. This practice didn't really end until the world war I and had a double effect. It broke up families constantly, and associated black people with crime almost explicitly, as 80% of arrests in some states were from black people alone, who even in the states with the most black populations would not make near that of the entire population. This used to be called Slavery 2.0, but some Unionizing movement has started using the phrase, so I'm not sure if it still historically described as such, but this excerpt in wikipedia describes a bit of the practice.

This system also was used to eliminate the black voting populace, along side lynchings. After the Union won the Civil war, Lincoln republicans were hoping that lots more republican representation would come from the south, now that all former slaves could vote, reducing former separatist political power. Instead of this the south continued to kill black people, but also employed some of the first usages of gerrymandering, poll taxes, poll tests, voter ID, and a plethora of other voter restriction laws that still exist today in many southern states (and some which were re-introduced literally in the last couple of years). However it gets worse. Not only were black people effectively blocked from being able to vote for almost another 100 years, remember that 3/5ths compromise we talked about earlier? Well that was gone, which meant that each black person counted as a full person in the south for representation purposes. The power of the south grew politically post reconstruction because of this, and as almost a direct result, much of what Lincoln republicans were trying to accomplish was stamped out by future president elects.

In addition, at the time, your vice president had to be from the opposite party, so when Lincoln was assassinated, Andrew Johnson became president a reconstruction Democrat, who opposed black protections in the south and hugely contributed to the voter suppression issues there and stopping Lincoln republicans from signing laws that would have stopped such practices, and with the growing power of southern states now that black people counted for full representation and also couldn't vote, basically guaranteed it would take a long time before such laws could ever be enacted.

After this the first Jim crow laws were created, which lasted until the civil rights bills were passed cerca 1965, but jim crow laws and segregation didn't fully get eradicated for public schooling until 1971, and then not fully eradicated for private schooling until 1978 (which we will get through later) and for some areas effectively didn't need to happen at all (again another topic). During this era, particularly during the 20th century well after the end of the civil war, confederate statues were erected, in direct contrast to modern right wing gaslighting, these statues were erected specifically because of reverence to racism, not to actually honor confederate leaders (though there are a scant few exceptions, and those often pre-date the civil war, and they are in the minority), black people could not occupy certain jobs, black people could not enter entire towns, black people were segregated. In addition lynchings are continuing especially during the early 20th century, as well as state sponsored genocides like the tulsa race massacre in 1921.

During this period of time, we also see white flight as black people headed to cities for jobs, white people fled the city, and made sure black people couldn't follow, not just defacto, but legally explicitly couldn't live in the same areas as banks wouldn't give loans or relators wouldn't sell to them. Because of white flight, some major cities, especially northern ones who didn't have media spotlight on them, and were the locations to move to during the great migration, didn't really... desegregate. This left some cities, like St. Louis in odd situations, where virtually no white people, to this day, live in the city, and virtually all the wealth in concentrated in the surrounding metropolitan area, and because of historical decisions, St. Louis, unlike Chicago, Kansas City, New York, and other major US cities separated itself economically from the county, meaning none of the county tax revenue hits the city, leaving it with a tonne of expenses and no tax base. This caused St. Louis school districts to fail and become perpetually horrible places for education, as only teachers who have no other options or are on government grants to teach there temporarily actually teach there, and destitution is highly concentrated. This pattern can be seen across the country and the best solution come up so far is to simply let the students go to other schools if their parents want it. In Missouri this program exists for students to simply go to better school districts if those school districts allow it. Some schools must accept students on accreditation failure of that students school district. But not all parents in those school districts to this day are okay with this. This came to a head fairly recently when one school district lost its accreditation, and parents eventually forced these poor kids back to the school district that received a basically free accreditation for doing nothing to fix the problems. In fact this problem is so bad, public transportation in some cities literally isn't allowed to head into white flight areas, such as, again, St. Louis, because many suburban white people are afraid of black people and block such measures.

Getting back on track chronologically, after the civil rights act, things get even more complicated, and efforts to subvert and oppress the black population get even more convoluted, if a tad bit less personal as the entitlement of the actual control of what black people did in particular started to fade. First, for the European audience, post reconstruction, to simplify, the Democrats were still basically the "racist party". It wasn't until Lyndon Johnson that basically changed (voting rights act) and Lyndon Johnson himself was a bit complicated (he was initially a lot more racist but became sympathetic to some black issues as he realized his own upbringing paralleled with the black experience). But after the voting rights act Democrats basically compassed both the republican demographic and the democrat demographic politically, putting republicans in a bit of a squeeze in terms of their own relevance. Political strategists of Richard Nixons time used the voting rights act as an opportunity to swap the political alignment of political racists and racist demographics towards the republicans, using something called the "Southern Strategy", swinging them back into relevance. In addition Nixon utilized the war on drugs to dismantle the black communities (via raids) who now were aligned against the Republican Party, something continued by Reagan later who via drug usage demographic sentencing disparities (ie crack cocaine penalties being order of magnitude more than powder cocaine penalties) disproportionately harshly sentenced black people, in addition mandatory minimum sentencing.

Speaking of Reagan and going back to the 60s for a bit, the Black Panthers had just started out in California (where Reagan was governor). The Black Panthers actually have a muddy kind of short history, which have since been gaslit in some US schools as the black equivalent to the KKK (the "new black panthers" are not a positive group, are explicitly rejected by living original black panther members and messed up the legacy), but were not an anti white group but instead started out as a group trying to protect themselves against police violence. In fact, even initial anti gun legislation can be tied back to racism in the US, with Reagan, who also later came out in support of the assault weapons ban. The black panthers had basically started displaying fire arms in order to dissuade police attacks on black people. Police then complained to higher ups and then it came to Reagans desk, where he restricted gun rights to allow police to take more violent action (and restrictive policies remain in place to this day in california), effectively because black people were brandishing guns. After that the black panthers engaged into community efforts, but then the FBI got involved because of anti-communist and anti-black reasons and J Edgar Hoover basically dismantled the group with arrests and various police raids and shoot outs causing the hierarchy of the group to be dismantled.

Next we roll into back into the 1970s, where we see that even abortion is a race issue in the united states. While it might come to a surprise to many Europeans, who are used to a mostly catholic, or protestant-that-models-catholic-denomination, where "life begins at conception" is common theological mantra, in the US such justifications for being against abortion are not native to the majority of at least the evangelical protestant population in Christianity. In fact in 1974, 76 the southern Baptist convention affirmed that women should have access to abortion, and experts say evangelicals largely saw abortion as a catholic issue at the time. After the civil rights act some towns in the south evaded de-segragation by simply going to private all white schools, until 1971. In Coit v. Green, the supreme court ruled that any organization which practiced racial discrimination could not be tax exempt. Mormons responded to this by simply saying "Black people are okay now" in their scripture (and if you know Mormon history, they basically always do this kind of thing, change the whole ruleset if they need to adapt to new conditions). The leaders of these evangelical schools instead got really angry, and started trying to push back politically by organizing the evangelical base. They formed something called the "moral majority" poking evangelicals with various issues until they could find one that struck a chord with a enough elbow grease. That big issues they found was abortion. Decades after Row V wade, and only a couple of years since the SBC had basically said abortion was a-okay, Ronald Reagan a candidate explicitly against abortion as part of their platform was being pushed as their candidate (who wouldn't you know also didn't like black people and did other things to them as we saw earlier).

During this whole time, voter suppression, black criminalization, continued to persist (and still does). Those police institutions that were formed during the reconstruction era to basically re-slave black people? They might not have been able to force them to work in mines anymore, but they were still putting them in jail and exercising their right to basically do what ever they wanted, though at this point how much racism was actually involved highly varied (in the cities it was usually just straight up abuse, but in places like Ferguson, the police officers regularly made fun of black people and used the N word), and resulted in numerous incidents that we see everyday of disproportionate violence.

I'm missing major parts and events I'm sure, but basically it should be clear that race, and in particular racism against black people is tightly knit with US politics, religion, ideology, housing, and institutions, and that it isn't simple, and still effects the US to this day. It isn't a globally orienting philosophy however, the way black people in the US in particular have been and are treated is pretty unique to the US. Though that doesn't absolve other countries of racism, its just that they have a different type of problem than the US has, east asian racism against black people comes from a different place than US racism for example, and is not really black specific.

  • This answer does provide a lot of useful exposition about history in America. Though the end of the answer seems off in claiming that the phenomena in America isn't the same as elsewhere. I mean, granted, the story varies across times/places/cultures, but it doesn't follow that there's not a unifying narrative to be found. The principal effect of the claim that these phenomena are different is an excuse for social-theories to not apply in other contexts, leaving them unfalsifiable and thus outside of scientific scrutiny. This is one of the darker elements of social-science practice.
    – Nat
    Jul 8, 2021 at 2:40
  • 3
    My suggestion would be to refocus the answer primarily on what information can be given. Hypotheses about things being different in other contexts would require their own explanation or else be unsupported claims.
    – Nat
    Jul 8, 2021 at 2:44

There is racism present in every nation that was a European colony or colonial power; colonialism was built on and driven by the implicit and pervasive assertion of racial inequity. However, the issue is particularly pronounced in the US, since slavery was a defining political issue from the inception of the nation.

  • The US is one of the few nations in which chattel slavery was an enforceable legal institution, not a mere social custom
  • The political balance between slave and non-slave states was one of the most contentious issues in the creation of the Articles of Confederation and the subsequent US Constitution
  • The issue of slavery was hotly contested within territories that were considering statehood, leading to organized violence like the 'Bleeding Kansas' border war
  • The US is the only nation which fought a protracted civil war between factions of whites over the use of slavery
  • Racial animus was perpetuated for a hundred years after the abolition of slavery through the use of Jim Crow and segregationist laws, and the violence of organized groups like the KKK

Slavery was a source of prosperity and economic power for a sizable proportion of the US White population from the 17th century to the mid 19th, and segregationism preserved a measure of that economic power all through the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. Many southern whites still carry a diffuse sense of being 'cheated' which traces back (whether they know it or not) to the loss of economic standing the South experienced when it was deprived of access to slave labor. Had American blacks freed themselves without the help of Northern whites, racial tensions might have eased more quickly, but because much of southern racial animus is focused on other whites the politics of race is more deeply entrenched.

  • 15
    Racism exists in every country. Not just former European colonies.
    – PC Luddite
    Jul 6, 2021 at 0:29
  • 14
    "The US is one of the few nations in which chattel slavery was an enforceable legal institution, not a mere social custom" I find that difficult to believe. Jul 6, 2021 at 0:41
  • 1
    @PCLuddite: true, but mainly beside the point for the purposes of this discussion Jul 6, 2021 at 0:54
  • 14
    One of the issues that frequently inflames the US debate about racism is the implication that "whites" are somehow inherently racist and thus worse people than other races - ironically a thoroughly racist accusation. While I don't think that was your intention, by implying that only colonial/white nations are racist, you are invoking that same trope, and receiving the same reactions.
    – Peter
    Jul 6, 2021 at 16:54
  • 5
    Perhaps you would benefit from looking at the Korean/Chinese viewpoint on Japanese activities from 1890-1945? Or perhaps consider the Hutu viewpoint on Tutsi institutions - a viewpoint which does not absolve the Rwanda genocide in the least - institutions which predated, even if they were boosted by, Belgian colonialism. Look at India's treatment of castes and Muslims. Yes, in countries where Europeans are in charge, European racism has certainly been the dominant form, no question. Elsewhere? Well, it certainly fits some narratives. @PCLuddite - not every country is racist. Jul 6, 2021 at 23:00

There are already numerous answers, but I would like to add the effect of Notoriety, Exceptionalism and Expectations to compare the US to other Western countries.


Most of the users of this site can read English and if they try to follow international news in something else than their native language they would, on average be more exposed to English language newsites, often covering the US in great detail.

At 300+ million the US is the largest rich-country Western/democracy around, including Japan and Korea in that group, but excluding India. I'll call those Peer Countries for short. With that and its considerable cultural influence, the US is often outsizedly present in political debates.

So, for many non-US people, the US will the foreign country they most know about. When not looking at their own racial issues, they will likely see a lot coverage of US racial issues.


A favorite US word, that. Let's look at the OPs question: Many issues are rephrased as racism issues - infrastructure, healthcare, policing

  • healthcare. The US healthcare system is, by the standards of most of its democratic peers, rather laughable. It most certainly discriminates heavily against poor people. Many of which happen to be minorities. Poor minorities happen in other peer countries too, but those countries provide universal health care...
  • policing. Aside from straight out racism by its police, the US is also exceptional in the volume and lethality of its gun crime and corresponding police trigger happiness. So while minorities in a country like say France may find their police racist, they are much less likely to be killed by cops.
  • infrastructure. The US is rather disdainful of public transport and a host of public services. The lack of those is most likely to affet the poor, who in turn are likelier to be minorities. Peer countries may have better infrastructure thus penalizing poverty less.

Large, visible, thoroughly quantified minority groups.

Large and visible matters. Countries with few minorities, who aren't immediately identifiable, will have less obvious racially-motivated political conflicts. Japan for example will seeem harmonious (though Korean-Japanese, Okinawans or Ainu might differ). Not that Europeans aren't adept at discriminating despite superficial resemblance, ask Jewish people about that. In any case, the US has lots of visible minorities.

Some of those groups have bad histories with mainstream American society:

  • Slavery is an obvious one. The US maintained chattel slavery until 1865, on its present territories. Many European countries also had chattel slavery until the early 1800s, but the descendants of those slaves are, conveniently, tucked away in former colonies in the Caribbean or Latin America. So they aren't in USA's peer countries, complaining about their slave heritage. When they do complain, like for the Windrush mess in the UK, it's often not that much better than what the US does.

  • Mexico. Not sure how much that figures in this, but Mexico's relationship with the US hasn't always been good, as seen from the Mexican side.

  • Quantification, statistics and prominence. US peer countries often, perhaps for good intentions, don't count their minorities. So any problem isn't very quantifiable. For the most part, their minorities are 1st-3rd generation immigrants, making it easier to claim that they "need to integrate" (a favorite French claim, that). An exception to that notion of long term residence would be indigenous people in Canada, but, as a Canadian, I figure they deserve their own paragraph.

  • Free speech. The US has passed very robust laws defending free speech. That is certainly a good thing, but it also enables speech that would be classified as hate speech in many other countries.


It's easy to look at the US and see the glass as half-empty, no make that pretty damn empty. But that's neglecting a number of aspects:

  • politically it is far more common to see minority or Black elected politicians in the US than it is in its peers. France? Let's look at representation in the national assembly, 2017. Contrast that to the 23% of the current US congress. Bundesrat? My Google-fu did not stretch to finding any stats there.

    Gathering demographic data based on ethnicity is forbidden in France, so official statistics on minority populations do not exist. ... The 35 minority deputies mark an undeniable progression compared to the outgoing legislature, which included only 10 (and less than 2 percent of total seats) (my note: out of 577)

  • The US has had a Black President and may yet redo that with Kamala Harris who was after all elected to be VP. Yes, I certainly applaud Ireland for having elected a gay ethnic-Indian PM (if not PC as term, pls make suggestions), but how many other peer countries can really make that type of claim?

  • How many visible minority professionals do you find in each country? Sure, the US often has Latinos and Blacks lagging. But perhaps other countries can also look at their own white collar professions and carry out a bit of introspection. Take Blacks and natives out of the equation and it seems to me that the US melting pot works commendably well compared to its peers. For example, Muslim extremism, especially considering US foreign policy, is less pronounced than European events would lead us to expect.

  • anti-discrimination laws. Hah, you say, what about all those racial profiling where non-Whites get stopped? Well, at least it's supposed to be illegal and can be challenged in court. Now, guessing game: out of a 25 yr old Maghrebin or a 25 yr old Caucasian, who's going to be getting themselves a Controle d'identite, Monsieur in Paris? Big difference though: in the US a minority encounter with the police can quickly turn deadly.

What's is everyone else up to?

Well, I could go on about my country of origin, France. But my knowledge is admittedly somewhat outdated, even if I doubt things have improved that much. The banlieues surrounding Paris are likely still poor and likely still quite non-Caucasian. RN, under Le Pen, a party expressly founded to "keep French for the French" and with little else on offer in its manifesto, went to the 2nd round in 2 recent Presidential elections. In contrast, the Republican party, whatever its faults, isn't primarily being marketed as intending to suppress minorities.

Let's segue to Canada instead, a proud bastion of multiculturalism, shall we? Everybody gets along, not much racism. Errr... have you watched the news lately? Those mass graves at schools are pretty repulsive. Reading CBC, our cloyingly left-leaning national broadcaster, when it comes to First Nations coverage, you'll find many commenters whose racism would make Fox News diehards blush. To the point where they've had to stop comment-posting on any First Nation news coverage. On non-indigenous news items? Any number of keywords possibly referencing First Nations refer your post immediately to a hide-until-vetted moderator queue, in order to weed out the bigots. If you've followed the fire emergency in Lytton, BC you likely know this lovely village of 250 was wiped out. Thing is: 1000 people fled those fires, the extra 750 are from the neighboring reserves and... CBC really hasn't bothered giving us any updates about their houses. What we do know?: not the greatest Canadian multiculturalism, no.

Granted, this is just Canada. But is everyone else squeaky clean? Rather doubt it.

(True, if you take out the racism towards indigenous people, Canada is an otherwise enviable melting pot for the most part. Not perfect, but not bad)

Glass half full, possibly?

In Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?. In it, the author makes the claim that, historically, times of power transition bring the greatest risk for conflict. The party whose power is on the wane is desperate to hang on to it and the one who is making the gains can often be resentful that their status hasn't yet been recognized.

Rather than looking at the US as just a hopelessly racist country where a white majority oppresses others much more than elsewhere, maybe it's a sign that US minorities are gradually gaining political power, are being more vocal in asking recognition as equals, are backed by a growing proportion of whites, and that the proportion of white Americans who are very vocally pushing back in the political arena give the impression that whites are a monolithic anti-minority block.

Taken that way, perhaps the lack of political conflict elsewhere isn't necessarily a good sign - I know I don't consider the lack of political integration and prominence of indigenous Canadians a positive, even if it mostly seems like we have less conflict and it took recent events to wake us up.

Yes, despite the US's uniquely distasteful slavery past (keeping in mind that 400K Union soldiers died booting the Confederacy, out of 22M Northerners) and the equally disgraceful ongoing addiction to electoral manipulation and gerrymandering by the Republican leadership.

So maybe we non-US Westerners shouldn't be congratulating ourselves quite that much, eh?

(p.s. for those who'd want to argue that I am addicted to white mea culpa and self-flagellation, check out my comment on Ted's post.)


Racial arguments are not unique to the US, but it is special in the sense that it is more vocal there. US headlines are more likely to insert race, e.g. "Police officer kills unarmed man" in other countries might very well become "white police officer kills unarmed black man" in the US. On the other hand, race certainly shows up in other countries as well.

You can see this from the international distribution of Black Lives Matter protests. Wiki does not list every Western country, but it's easy enough to Google. I checked three Western countries: there have been protests in Norway, Spain, and Iceland, making it probable that they were present in all of them.


This is a very good question as it touches on the 'cause and effect' issues or a kind of 'indirect racism'. This is not unique to the USA but, I think recent events in the USA have exported the discussion elsewhere.

In my country the issues of race now come up in policy and political discussion in almost all areas from public health to the price of houses.

An example would be if a local council increased bus prices that might be 'racist' because many people of a certain 'minority' race might use the bus more therefore are more effected by the policy change. This isn't directly racist as the company isn't checking people at the door and charging different prices per race but it certainly is adding to the complexity of decision makers here.

There isn't a simple solution to this and it can make for frustrating political debate. I personally think that more talk needs to be about the causes of these racial divides instead of only the symptoms of it.

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