How Do People Become Racists?

Racism is an unfortunate part of life that most people will encounter or participate in sometime in their lives. It's unavoidable in today's society with so much diversity and differences between people, and many of those who think they are not racist actually are.

Most people are racist in one form or another, but when using the word "racist", we're not talking about a person who simply notices racial differences between people of different ethnicities. We're talking about people who have negative attitudes or hatred for people of other races or who mentally discriminate against them.

In one study (published in the January 9th, 2009 'Science' journal, page 276), researchers found that the majority of the participants were not upset and felt that they didn't have to say anything to a person in the same room as them who made obvious racist comments about another person after the person had left the room.

So there's no doubt that there are racists among us in today's world. The real question here is how do all these people become racist in the first place? Well, since racism is a personality trait, there's so many different factors involved that could shape a person's views or feelings and it would be impossible to list every possible reason.

However, there's a few reasons that are much more common than others, so here's probably the top most common ways how people become racist when they previously aren't.

Environment and Upbringing

The most common reason that people become racists is due to their environment or their upbringing. If your parents are racist and they raise you with the same ideals that they have, then feelings of prejudice or racism can be taught or ingrained into you at an early and impressionable age.

It's hard for a child to distinguish the difference between right and wrong when his or her parents are their first role models or people they look up to and learn from when growing up.

The same goes for a person's environment because the people they grow up around or hang out with most of the time will be those who have the greatest influence on their belief system and the way they think.

If you're always hanging out with people who have racist beliefs and you respect or admire these people, it's easier for them to indoctrinate these beliefs into you without question.

A person may be less likely to question their friend's beliefs than a strangers because they may fear that questioning them could lead to arguments or have a negative affect on their relationship with their friend.

They will want to remain "on the same page" as their friends. This is no different than when a child dresses a certain way to fit in with his/her peers even if that style of clothing isn't necessarily something they would wear if they had a different group of friends or lived in a different area.

Low I.Q.

One of the most probable reasons that a person is racist is because they have low intelligence. There have been some major studies that have concluded that people who are racist are, on average, less intelligent than those who are not.

The most recent study from 2011 (Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes, published in Psychological Science in 2012), performed by researchers at Brock University in Ontario, Canada, was an analysis of data from two other studies (The 1958 National Child Development Study and the 1970 British Cohort Study, both of which are ongoing studies which have tracked thousands of children born in those two years and surveyed and tested them over time as they grew into adults.)

All the studies and analysis performed accounted and controlled for education and socioeconomic differences, so that these could be eliminated as reasons for any of the major differences that were found. The researchers from Brock University found that people with lower intelligence as children (or cognitive abilities as they put it) were more likely to have racist or prejudice views as adults.

What's the Connection Between Racism and Low IQ?

As far as why racist people are more likely to have lower than average IQs, the reasons for this are open to interpretation. People with low IQs may be more impressionable and therefore, less open-minded when it comes to changing the way they are taught. As discussed already, their parents or others around them may influence and mold their views when they are growing up and these views may stay the same throughout their lives for this reason.

Some researchers have suggested that since people with low intelligence have a problem dealing with complexity, they tend to mentally simplify things so they are easier to handle.

A person who is racist and who has a low IQ may have an easier time viewing the world and understanding differences between people if they group everybody together based on their race. It's probably much easier for their brain to process things this way than it is to view people as individuals who are all different and complex in their behaviors and personalities.

The correlation between intelligence and racism may also be a result of racists having a different anatomy of the brain than people who are not racist. In one study (Published in Current Biology Vol. 21 page 677), MRI scans of the brain on people who identified themselves as conservatives showed that they had a larger amygdala than liberals.

This is a part of the brain that becomes very active during states of fear. Liberals on the other hand had more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is an area of the brain that is linked to reasoning, understanding, and even empathy.

There was another major study (Hodson and Busseri - 2012) that linked conservative ideals to low intelligence. So there is most likely a link between intelligence and having either a larger amygdala or more gray matter in the other part of the brain mentioned.

So racist people may have larger amygdalas which can cause them to fear, feel indifferent, or feel anxious about people that they view as very different from themselves.

Conservatives often base many of their beliefs and ideals on resisting change and by protecting their country and way of life from perceived threats that come from the outside (illegal aliens, communist invasions, etc.).

Racists may also view things with a similar "inner" perspective, in which they view other races as the outsiders and view their race as those on the inside or the same as them. The reduction in gray matter in the anterior cingular cortex of the brain may play a role, since this may make it harder for racists to comprehend complexities, such as other races and cultures, or even to feel a lack of empathy for those that are different from them.

So it's possible, as mentioned before, that racism is a form of simplyfing things for those who have a problem with complex issues or things that require open-mindedness and understanding and embracing new things.


Being isolated and not familiar with other races might cause a person to be more racist, however this can go both ways depending on the person.

If a person is constantly around another race, they may either be more familiar and embracing of that race, or this may cause them to be racist towards that race if they've had one or more negative experiences with people belonging to that race.

But a person who is isolated and not around another race is probably more likely to have prejudice views against that race than someone who is constantly around that race and who relates more to them. Let's use aliens (from outerspace) as an example, and assume that the aliens we are talking about are friendly.

If you've never met these aliens or been around them, then you'll probably be very cautious of them and less trusting, because you're not aware that they are friendly. Someone who is always around these aliens may understand more that they are not a threat and will be less fearful or hateful towards them.

So some people are probably racists, simply because they view other races in the way that many people would view space aliens. They're never around other races, so they are suspicious of them or fearful of them.

This is also probably related to the low intelligence examples that have already been covered. Someone who is isolated from other races, but who is intelligent and more open-minded and accepting of change, will be more likely to try to embrace other races when they come across them and to not "judge a book by it's cover".

A less intelligent person who has a problem understanding things that they are not familiar with, may be more quick to judge that book by it's cover and to fear or hate that person or other race without ever giving the situation a chance and getting to know the person or to view them as an individual.

Because they are never around people of other races, and because they are not very intelligent, they probably view these other races as outsiders and possibly even as invaders of their culture or way of life.

Bad Experience

Many people who hate races other than their own are that way because they had a bad experience in life that triggered that.

This type of incident could happen at any point in life but once triggered, the negative feelings and hatred could last for the rest of their lives. As an example, I once had a friend who was caucasion like myself.

We both spent our summer days as kids at a Boys and Girls Club in Florida. One day we were walking through the woods taking a shortcut on our way to the Boys and Girls Club when we were approached by a group of African American boys. One of the boys was mad at my friend because he had beaten the boy at a game of pool the prior day and had boasted about it to other boys at the club.

So the boy who lost the game went and got his friends and his bigger brother to come stick up for him because he felt that my friend disrespected him and embarassed him. His bigger brother then punched my friend and we were both terrified since we were just little kids out in these woods and this guy was almost a grown adult, not to mention we were outnumbered five to two. My friend apologized while I tried to get them to leave him alone and they eventually listened and left.

After that day, I saw my friend go through many changes and it became obvious as time went on that he was harboring feelings of hatred towards people who were not caucasian, but specifically towards African Americans.

This one incident completely changed my friend's point of view on other people and also changed the direction his life took. He took up different interests and hobbies after that because he began to hang out with different people who also had these types of negative feelings.

It's easy to see how one incident in a person's life can alter their opinions and viewpoint and cause them to become racist. But not everybody would have reacted mentally in the same way he did.

Some people may have had the intelligence or the reasoning to see that these boys who approached us out in the woods do not represent an entire race and that each individual person in the world is different from every other person.

So the way a person's brain reacts to a specific incident in their life most likely depends on their IQ as well as other unseen factors.

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