On the Definition of Racism

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Reading through online discussions and comments about race or racism will reveal that many people are laboring under serious misunderstandings of what constitutes racism. Some commenters claim that the people who “make everything about race” are “the real racists,” meaning that people who talk about racism are somehow more racist than perpetrators of racism. Others have claimed that “‘Racist’ is a hate word used against Whites.”

The muddying of the waters over the meaning of “racism” works to perpetuate racism. The confusion allows those that might feel obligated to challenge racism if they had to confront it in themselves or those they know to simply throw up their hands and claim with exasperation, “Well, who knows what racism is anyway?” If they pretend that the disease of racism cannot be clearly understood or defined, then attempts to eradicate racism can be stalled or abandoned altogether.

Establishing a clear definition of “racism” is essential to attacking racism. Of course, racism is complicated. It can be expressed in a myriad of ways, it can be motivated by many different psychological, economic, and cultural factors, and it can cause a host of different effects in the lives of the racists and the targets of their racism. However, the following definition from A Dictionary of Media and Communication (Oxford UP, 2011) has all the necessary components of a definition of racism, as it expresses both a simple definition and acknowledgement of some of the nuances of defining racism:

Prejudiced attitudes, ideologies, practices, or policies based on an irrational belief in the inherent inferiority of those seen as belonging to other races (see also ethnocentrism; Eurocentrism). It involves ‘othering’ in terms of specific negative stereotypes of racial difference, as well as the exnomination of the definers. It reflects ignorance, dislike, hatred, or fear, and serves to privilege one group while justifying the exclusion, subordination, or exploitation of others. Racism is not a monolithic and unchanging phenomenon and some commentators prefer to refer to racisms (e.g. the different forms it takes in the UK and the USA). It may be overt or covert, conscious or unintentional, individual, cultural, or institutional (see also institutional bias). Racism has been argued to depend less on intentions than on consequences.

This may seem like a lot to take in, but it contains the important components of a clear definition of racism that will be the basis for this blog’s discussions of racism. Expect subsequent blog posts that help to further clarify and explain the definition of racism, posts that help to explain why specific behaviors are or are not racism, and posts on other topics geared toward understanding and dismantling racism.


2 thoughts on “On the Definition of Racism

    quinn said:
    November 22, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Very interesting piece. I wish people would not be so closed off to discussing and learning more about this huge social problem of racism.

    quinn said:
    November 25, 2013 at 6:41 pm

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