Racism in the United States has existed since the colonial era, when white Americans were given legally or socially sanctioned privileges and rights while these same rights were denied to other races and minorities. European Americans—particularly affluent white Anglo-Saxon Protestants—enjoyed exclusive privileges in matters of education, immigration, voting rights, citizenship, land acquisition, and criminal procedure throughout American history. Non-Protestant immigrants from Europe, particularly Irish people, Poles, and Italians, often suffered xenophobic exclusion and other forms of ethnicity-based discrimination in American society until the late 19th century and early 20th century. In addition, groups like Jews and Arabs have faced continuous discrimination in the United States, and as a result, some people who belong to these groups do not identify as white. East, South, and Southeast Asians have similarly faced racism in America.
Major racially and ethnically structured institutions include slavery, segregation, Native American reservations, Native American boarding schools, immigration and naturalization laws, and internment camps.[note 1] Formal racial discrimination was largely banned in the mid-20th century and it came to be perceived as being socially and morally unacceptable. Racial politics remains a major phenomenon, and racism continues to be reflected in socioeconomic inequality.[note 2] Racial stratification continues to occur in employment, housing, education, lending, and government.
In the view of the United Nations and the U.S. Human Rights Network, "discrimination in the United States permeates all aspects of life and extends to all communities of color." While the nature of the views held by average Americans has changed significantly over the past several decades, surveys by organizations such as ABC News have found that even in modern America, large sections of Americans admit to holding discriminatory viewpoints. For example, a 2007 article by ABC stated that about one in ten admitted to holding prejudices against Hispanic and Latino Americans and about one in four did so regarding Arab-Americans. A 2018 YouGov/Economist poll found that 17% of Americans oppose interracial marriage, with 19% of members of "other" ethnic groups, 18% of blacks, 17% of whites, and 15% of Hispanics opposing it.
Some Americans saw the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, who served as president of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and was the nation's first black president, as a sign that the nation had entered a new, post-racial era. The right-wing populist radio and television host Lou Dobbs claimed in November 2009, "We are now in a 21st-century post-partisan, post-racial society." Two months later, Chris Matthews, an MSNBC host, said that President Obama, "is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour." The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 has been viewed by some commentators as a racist backlash against the election of Barack Obama.
During the 2010s, American society has continued to experience high levels of racism and discrimination. One new phenomenon has been the rise of the "alt-right" movement: a white nationalist coalition that seeks the expulsion of sexual and racial minorities from the United States. In August 2017, these groups attended a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, intended to unify various white nationalist factions. During the rally, a white supremacist demonstrator drove his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing one person and injuring 19. Since the mid-2010s, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have considered white supremacist violence to be the leading threat of domestic terrorism in the United States.
Racism is a systematized form of oppression by one race against another. Prejudicial attitudes existed between races for thousands of years, but systematized racial oppression first arose in the 1600s along with capitalism. Before this, slaves in various cultures were taken without racism as the basis – slaves were usually taken as a result of military conquest. But when European traders found that their superior technology in sailing ships and firearms gave them a tremendous advantage in Africa, they began plundering Africa's wealth and taking slaves. Slavers and slave owners tried to convince themselves that their African slaves had no previous culture, that they had been living as savages, which was false. White European Americans involved in the slave industry tried to justify their economic exploitation of black people by creating a "scientific" theory of white superiority and black inferiority. One such slave owner was Thomas Jefferson, and it was his call for science to determine the obvious “inferiority” of blacks that is regarded as “an extremely important stage in the evolution of scientific racism." This was the start of systematized racism in the United States.