Is subtle racism more damaging than overt racism?

We’ve all heard about numerous instances of blatant discrimination in the news lately. Some of this discrimination involves obvious pay discrepancies at work and even stories of employees giving nooses to black coworkers. These examples of clear and obvious racism and discrimination deserve lots of scrutiny and swift action on the part of employers to stop the abuse.

Subtle and under the radar discrimination, however, is also extremely damaging. In some ways, it’s even more damaging because it’s more difficult to identify and stop.

Three reasons why subtle discrimination is more damaging

In a recent article from Harvard Business Review, researchers illuminated several reasons why subtle discrimination can be so destructive:

Employees don’t even know they’re being discriminated against: Imagine an employer told you that you didn’t get the job because you have a Latin-sounding name. In this case, you’d know exactly why you didn’t get the job. Instead, with subtle racism, the reason isn’t clear.

It can hurt employees’ self-confidence: Imagine the hiring manager said to the Latin employee, for example, that he or she isn’t ready to take on that level of responsibility — when, actually, the employee didn’t get the job because of racism. The employee is then left to feel unconfident and, when things like this happen again and again, it could seriously hinder the employee’s career, but he or she will never know it was actually because of racial discrimination.

Subtle discrimination happens more frequently than overt racism: Another problem with subtle racism relates to how often these instances occur. Some employees may encounter subtle hints of racism on a weekly basis, from the fact that that they don’t get invited out with the rest of the group during happy hour to the pay discrepancies that they never knew existed because they’re not supposed to ask their coworkers about how much they’re being paid.

It’s more difficult to prove in court: Last but not least, victims of subtle racism have a very difficult time proving that it happened, so they might not have a lot of recourse. Cases that seek to prove subtle racism has occurred can be much more difficult to prove.

Have you been victimized by subtle racism?

If you’ve lost your job or lost an important opportunity — or suffered another kind of ill effect — because of subtle discrimination, you might be able to stand up for your rights in court. Whatever you do, don’t stand idly by as your career suffers as a result of unfair and discriminatory treatment.

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