Racism takes many forms, including at individual, institutional, systemic, and structural levels. Individual racism or person-to-person racism occurs in many forms, including through microaggressions. The field of sociology also offers many theories to explain the continuance of racism on levels beyond just individuals. One theory explains how racism permeates the inner workings of institutions as institutional racism. Systemic racism also is an important term to capture the multiple dynamics of racism, especially everyday offenses, anti-black attitudes, and social inequalities. Structural racism shows how multiple institutional forms of racism interact and amplify inequalities in both the present and the past and across various locations. Wealth inequalities are one example of structural racism.

Racial formation theory also helps us understand racism and race-centered projects that shift over time and place. Bonilla-Silva is a scholar who argues the existence of “racialized social systems” in which groups are pigeon-holed into a racial hierarchy. Oliver and Shapiro examine how structures work together to perpetuate inequalities. For example, they point out that black wealth inequities stem from the combination of the following historical inequalities: emancipation from slavery without economic resources to build from, the suburbs being built for whites while the neglected inner city served as a mainly black living area, and a constant pattern of racial discrimination in lending and real estate.

The theory of racial formation is very influential to show how race survives through racial projects that can shift and change, but still race continues as a key social dynamic. Some scholars critique racial formation theory for three shortcomings that include (i) evading how whites benefit from racial hierarchies, (ii) ignoring the deep social structural basis of race and racism, and (iii) being too optimistic about the rate of improvement in regard to race. Distinct groups still face their own forms of racism and oppression. For example, racial insults, white supremacy, and settler colonialism are still part of the everyday lives of Native Americans. Intersectionality is another important net or web to explain how gender, race, and class together shape oppression and opportunity gaps.