Systemic racism: individuals and interactions, institutions and society

Mahzarin R. Banaji, Susan T. Fiske, Douglas S. Massey

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Systemic racism is a scientifically tractable phenomenon, urgent for cognitive scientists to address. This tutorial reviews the built-in systems that undermine life opportunities and outcomes by racial category, with a focus on challenges to Black Americans. From American colonial history, explicit practices and policies reinforced disadvantage across all domains of life, beginning with slavery, and continuing with vastly subordinated status. Racially segregated housing creates racial isolation, with disproportionate costs to Black Americans’ opportunities, networks, education, wealth, health, and legal treatment. These institutional and societal systems build-in individual bias and racialized interactions, resulting in systemic racism. Unconscious inferences, empirically established from perceptions onward, demonstrate non-Black Americans’ inbuilt associations: pairing Black Americans with negative valences, criminal stereotypes, and low status, including animal rather than human. Implicit racial biases (improving only slightly over time) imbed within non-Black individuals’ systems of racialized beliefs, judgments, and affect that predict racialized behavior. Interracial interactions likewise convey disrespect and distrust. These systematic individual and interpersonal patterns continue partly due to non-Black people’s inexperience with Black Americans and reliance on societal caricatures. Despite systemic challenges, Black Americans are more diverse now than ever, due to resilience (many succeeding against the odds), immigration (producing varied backgrounds), and intermarriage (increasing the multiracial proportion of the population). Intergroup contact can foreground Black diversity, resisting systemic racism, but White advantages persist in all economic, political, and social domains. Cognitive science has an opportunity: to include in its study of the mind the distortions of reality about individual humans and their social groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number82
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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