Racism is the commonly used term for direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of the perceived race of another person or group of people. Direct discrimination is predicated on the belief in the difference between, and superiority of, one's own perceived racial group over another. Indirect discrimination normally arises from the unthinking acceptance of one's cultural attitudes or practices as "normal", without reference to supposed racial characteristics, as in institutional racism (see below). The belief in racial superiority is usually based on visual or other physical differences in characteristics; since WWII, modern racism is more frequently justified in terms of ethnicity and alleged "cultural incompatibility". A variety of reasons have been put forward attempting to justify racism, including religious beliefs about particular tribes (the Mormon belief that God made those who rebelled against him have red skins is one example, and there are those that emphasize religious ideas within racist movements), beliefs stemming from scientific change such as eugenics and Social Darwinism, and often the use of racism as part of political ideologies to define the Other.
Racism is now widely condemned in Western society, especially since the Nazi race and biological ideology that led to the Holocaust—with explicit racist groups like white nationalists often operating as secret subcultures. This does not mean racism has gone away—many people still think racism has morphed into a more enigmatic form with more use of codewords (the celebration of 'Christian', 'European' or 'Germanic' culture), and through institutional racism, where the structure of institutions like the government, universities and business, result in an institution unconsciously acting in a racist way. An example of this is the criticism levelled at the Metropolitan Police Service in London following the race-motivated stabbing of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Racism in the Metropolitan Police, the British military and other services has led to significant reform, and in these uniformed services, racism is now harshly punished, often with dismissal. A 2003 BBC documentary, The Secret Policeman, uncovered numerous examples of racism that occurs within police training, and even found officers who have engaged in racist discrimination on the job.
Especially since the 9-11 Attacks, Islamophobia has increased, with interesting similarities to antisemitism — some organizations that track antisemitic activities have found it informative to track religious discrimination that may be a proxy for racial discrimination.
In the 2008 United States Presidential election, the issue of racism was significant because of the nomination and subsequent election of Barack Obama, the first non-white American President. During the campaign, a number of pundits and pollsters warned that despite Obama's excellent polling results compared to Republican candidate John McCain, he could suffer from the Bradley effect in the final election - that is, white voters telling pollsters that they would vote for the black candidate but not following through when they vote. Obama's success has led some to suggest that the Bradley effect may be diminishing, and that America is becoming "post-racial". Professor Cornel West of Princeton University stated that America is not becoming post-racial, but Obama's election shows it is becoming less racist.