What is racism?

I know that a title like that is just begging for trouble.

In todays climate, it is a really effective way to piss off pretty much everyone. The thing is, in order to make progress in any space, it is imperative that we engage in some uncomfortable thoughts and discussions.

This one came up because of a social media conversation. The long and short of the conversation was someone saying that a person of color cannot be racist in America because they don’t have any power.

Because I think language is important, I disagreed.

Not with the power thing, there can be no doubt that people of color…and that is any shade darker than a light olive… are treated as second class citizens and marginalized in this country. Sure things have improved in that space over the years, but we are still a long way from our people and our systems treating all people equally regardless of race.

No my disagreement has to do with what racism means, and who can be racist.

As I frequently do, I would like to start out with a definition.

Racism¬†noun¬†prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. (google search)

Merriam Webster defines racism as: : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.

You will notice that neither of those definitions require any power or authority for racism to exist.

Being racist just boils down to thinking one race is better than the other.

It is that simple.

I think that the confusion comes in, because in English we don’t have a great word to describe the systemic racism that is used to oppress minorities…so the word racism ends up being redefined. The obvious problem there being that it is needed to prevent the creation of ridiculous phrases like reverse racism, which means absolutely nothing.

We could always extend Jim Crow to define the systemic racism, but that would minimize the much more severe living conditions African Americans faced during the period between Reconstruction (1870’s) to the Civil Rights Movement’s start in the 50’s. With the lessons that should be learned there, we definitely don’t want to do that.

Apartheid is a better fit, but like Jim Crow the words origins denote a time and place where conditions were much more severe…and the word deserves to not be watered down.

I guess the only real answer is to use qualifiers. Phrases like systemic racism, and racial oppression.

Long term I think this needs its own word though. Giving something a name gives us a better chance of fighting it off…even if the optimist in me hopes that by he time we give it a good name it wont be needed any more.



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About Robb

A husband, Dad to 5, and Grandpa to 9. US Navy Vet. 18 Year Postal Employee turned full time Realtor. I enjoy a wide variety of things, but you will find that here I mostly write about Indianapolis, government/politics, recent news, and whatever book I am reading or have just finished at the moment.
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