Despite the de jure equality achieved in the second half of the 20th century, racial discrimination and racist political movements persist. This has encouraged the orthodoxy that a ‘new racism’ serves as an ideological basis of contemporary white investment in racial inequality in Western Europe, North America and Australasia. It is argued that this ‘new racism’ is shown in more subtle and indirect formal expressions, such as a denial of societal discrimination, rather than the once popular expressions of ‘old-fashioned’ genetic inferiority and segregationism. In opposition to this conceptualization, I review quantitative and qualitative studies from social psychology, sociology and political science, as well as historical analyses, to show that the ‘old-fashioned’ formal expression of racism was not especially popular before de jure racial equality and is not especially unpopular now. I also show that there is nothing new about formal expressions that criticize cultural difference or deny societal discrimination. Thus, there is greater historical continuity in racism than the notion of a ‘new racism’ allows. This suggests that the first task of a critical social psychology of racism is a proper conceptualization of racism itself. Copyright © 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.