Overt Racism vs Covert Racism – Understand Meanings and implications

What is Overt Racism? What is Covert racism? See examples and definition.


Behaviour is the actions we use to adjust to the environment around us. Our behavior is the product of our experiences and perspectives.

It’s how we act or conduct ourselves, especially toward others. It’s our computed response system to different types of stimuli. This system can be in the forms of external or internal, subconscious or conscious, overtly or covertly, and also involuntary and voluntary.

Defining Overt vs Covert Behavior

Overt and covert describe the different forms of observable phenomenon. Overt behaviour refers to obvious and apparent behaviour, while covert refers to behaviour that’s not openly displayed.

Overt or observable behaviours are often physical actions we can observe such as talking, laughing, and facial expressions, etc.

Covert behaviour or unobservable actions, on the other hand, can only be surmised by the individual.

Overt behavior is due to the unobservable mental processes that take place in our brain. These cognitive processes can manifest into responses in which how we respond to stimuli.

Covert behavior is the cause of observable actions where our mental processes create certain responses.

Observations and studies of overt behaviour help psychologists understand a person’s inner feelings overtly. Covert behaviour such as thinking and reasoning are hidden covertly and not easily observed, but this impacts how a person behaves.

Overt Racism Definition

Racism is any form of prejudice or discrimination directed toward a person due to his or her race.

Racism doesn’t develop in one person or one group without any cause or reason. Racism stemmed from the history of our laws and how people of color have been marginalized because of this. They’re marginalized in a social construct hierarchy that usually benefits only one race.

Overt racism is the most evident type of racism and the easiest to spot. This is deliberate and intentional prejudice or discriminative actions directed towards someone from a different race. These actions include but are not limited to attitude, hateful speech, gestures, and stereotyping.

Overt Racism examples

Unfortunately, overt racism is still quite common today. Even though many countries amend their laws and constitutions to be fairer and more equal to all its citizens, the repercussions of previous laws still resonate.

Overt racism can come in many forms and can happen in any situation.

For example, a racist attitude can happen to someone of a different race at a workplace. The actions can either be prejudice or discriminatory. Racial bias at the workplace can be prejudiced such as name bias in which a person of colour is judged based on his or her name alone.

Racist attitudes can also happen in schools. For example, reports of racial discrimination of students from minority groups are, unfortunately, quite common in schools. These victims experience harassment or abuse from other students because of their skin color, accent, or hair.

Another type of overt racism that’s quite common is hateful speech. Insults and derogatory remarks directed towards people of color with the intention to scare, intimidate, and terrorize.

Other examples of overt racism can be refusing to provide housing for people of a particular color, deliberately treating people from minority groups unjustly, or favoring people of one race, which give them privilege over others.

What is Covert Racism

Compared to overt racism, covert racism is subtler and often difficult to observe.

It’s often hidden in the fabric of society, where racist actions are either passive or ambiguous. Those who commit this act of racism rationalized these with reasons that society is more willing to believe.

These subtle actions usually favor the suppressors while systemically restrict the rights of the oppressed.

Covert racism examples

Covert racism is often disguised as a justification for certain actions or decisions. For instance, any acts that limit the rights of minority groups from having any access to benefits or privilege is a form of covert racism.

In contrast with overt racism, covert racism manifests itself in social structures and processes that it’s often hard to identify. This is because covert racism tends to subtly manipulate the victims, making them think that the action or decision is in their favor.

There’s an example of covert racism in supermarkets or grocery stores. These examples may not seem like an issue by some, and they might dismiss them as being oversensitive. However, in some minority groups’ perspective, it is discrimination.

In the instance of supermarkets or grocery stores, mega brands that cater to the white community tend to be placed at the front of the store while products that are more suited for people of color are placed further back.

Another example is how store employees can subconsciously be suspicious of people of color and try to tail them.

Covert racism can also manifest in the form of supposed admiration.

For instance, a Black woman often gets unsolicited comments about their hair. In worse scenarios, non-Black people feel they can simply touch a Black person’s hair because the texture is “unique and interesting.” Non-Black people may not think of this gesture as racist and that a Black person should take it as a compliment.

Dangers of Overt Racism and Covert racism

For a person who has never had to experience racism, it can be quite challenging to understand how the victims of racism feel. And more importantly, if a person has never had to experience racism, it’s inconsiderate to dismiss how the victims feel.

Racism is harmful in many ways. Systemic racism, both overt and covert, can limit a person’s potential in life. When a person is a victim of racism, he or she may not be able to experience the rights that can enhance and empower their lives.

Furthermore, racism can lead to violence through mob mentality.

When enough people are driven by blind discrimination and unfounded hate toward a race, they can subconsciously display this prejudice toward that race. This prejudice can lead to harassment or physical violence, which makes the environment dangerous to minority groups.

Not only that, but there are also several studies conducted to learn the effects of racism on a person’s physical and mental health. Racism can stress and anxiety in the victims, and this in turn can increase the victims’ blood pressure and weaken their immune system.

Additionally, racism has been known to cause victims to commit suicide. The torment and abuse of racism can cause the victims depression, driving them into isolation and loneliness. When one group feels they’re simply tormenting someone, the victims are physically and mentally tortured.


Racism is not just an act of injustice or cruel treatment, but it can affect the victims’ physical and mental health.

Even though many people are working towards dismantling racism, a lot of societies still have a long way to go in eradicating it. One of the ways to ensure overt and covert racism doesn’t happen is to be aware of biases, both conscious or subconscious.

Since racism has a long history in our laws and cultures, it can be quite challenging to even acknowledge that we’re doing it without us realizing it. What’s important is that we’re aware of the potential biases and try to see the situation from other’s points of view.

It’s not someone’s fault if he or she grew up in an environment where overt or covert racism is the norm. But it should be the person’s responsibility to educate him or herself about racism and try their best to stamp it out. One way to reduce bias or racism is to increase the diversity of thoughts in both workplaces and in society.

For example, a Chief Diversity officer can help an organization to hire for diversity and improve returns in diversity hiring.

What is Overt Racism?

Overt racism is the most evident type of racism and the easiest to spot. This is deliberate and intentional prejudice or discriminative actions directed towards someone from a different race.

What is Covert Racism?

Covert racism is subtler and often difficult to observe.





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About the author

Jess Man

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief and Senior Diversity Advisor at Diversity Social. Jessica has over 10 years of working with and advising employers to be more diverse and create an inclusive working environment.
Jessica's experience spans private and non-profit sectors in multiple industries.
Jessica's expertise experience is beyond Diversity & Inclusion, she is also a certified professional IT recruiter in Data & Analytics, Database administration, Artificial Intelligence area.

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