2022 Equity Challenge Day 5: Levels of Racism

The function of racism … is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. … None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

Toni Morrison

feminist, novelist, essayist, and critical race scholar

It is critical to remember that racism exists in multiple levels: internalized, interpersonal, institutional and structural.  

Internalized Racism: A set of privately held beliefs, prejudices and ideas about the superiority of whites and the inferiority of people of color. Among people of color, it manifests as internalized oppression. Among whites, it manifests as internalized racial superiority. 

Interpersonal Racism (between people): The expression of racism between individuals. It occurs when individuals interact, and their private beliefs affect their interactions. 

Institutional Racism: Discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and practices, and inequitable opportunities and impacts within organizations and institutions, all based on race, that routinely produce racially inequitable outcomes for people of color and advantages for white people. Individuals within institutions inherit the power of that institution when they reinforce racial inequities. 

Structural Racism: A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations and other norms work to perpetuate or reinforce racial group inequality. It is racial bias among institutions and across society. It involves the cumulative, compounding effects of societal factors, including the history, culture, ideology and interactions of institutions and policies that systematically privilege white people and disadvantage people of color. 

Often when racism is discussed, it is done so at an interpersonal level. Only acknowledging racism in this way hinders us from addressing the myriad factors keeping the system of racism in place. 



  • Read this article describing “5 Examples of Institutional Racism in the United States” (6 minutes). 
  • Read this post for an overview of the four levels of racism and the need for a systemic approach to seeing and addressing opportunities (4 minutes). 


Reflect And Share

  1. How did today’s challenge make you feel? What is something you learned today? 
  2. What have you learned about the different levels of racism? 
  3. What distinct types of racism have you observed? Can you recall an incident on one or more levels? 
  4. How does understanding the various types of racism help us build equity-focused solutions?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hastag #EquityChallenge or #TakeTheEC22