African-American university student Vivian Malone entering the University of Alabama in the U.S. to register for classes as one of the first non-white students to attend the institution. Until 1963, the university was racially segregated and non-white students were not allowed to attend.
Racism is the belief that groups of humans possess different behavioral traits corresponding to physical appearance and can be divided based on the superiority of one race over another. It may also mean prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against other people because they are of a different race or ethnicity. Modern variants of racism are often based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples. These views can take the form of social actions, practices or beliefs, or political systems in which different races are ranked as inherently superior or inferior to each other, based on presumed shared inheritable traits, abilities, or qualities.
In terms of political systems (e.g., apartheid) that support the expression of prejudice or aversion in discriminatory practices or laws, racist ideology may include associated social aspects such as nativism, xenophobia, otherness, segregation, hierarchical ranking, and supremacism.
While the concepts of race and ethnicity are considered to be separate in contemporary social science, the two terms have a long history of equivalence in popular usage and older social science literature. „Ethnicity“ is often used in a sense close to one traditionally attributed to „race“: the division of human groups based on qualities assumed to be essential or innate to the group (e.g. shared ancestry or shared behavior). Therefore, racism and racial discrimination are often used to describe discrimination on an ethnic or cultural basis, independent of whether these differences are described as racial. According to a United Nations convention on racial discrimination, there is no distinction between the terms „racial“ and „ethnic“ discrimination. The UN Convention further concludes that superiority based on racial differentiation is scientifically false, morally condemnable, socially unjust and dangerous. The Convention also declared that there is no justification for racial discrimination, anywhere, in theory or in practice.
Racism is a relatively modern concept, arising in the European age of imperialism, the subsequent growth of capitalism, and especially the Atlantic slave trade, of which it was a major driving force. It was also a major force behind racial segregation especially in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and South Africa under apartheid; 19th and 20th century racism in Western culture is particularly well documented and constitutes a reference point in studies and discourses about racism. Racism has played a role in genocides such as the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, and the genocide of Serbs, as well as colonial projects including the European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Asia as well as the Soviet deportations of indigenous minorities. Indigenous peoples have been—and are—often subject to racist attitudes.
An early use of the word „racism“ by Richard Henry Pratt in 1902: „Association of races and classes is necessary to destroy racism and classism.„
In the 19th century, many scientists subscribed to the belief that the human population can be divided into races. The term racism is a noun describing the state of being racist, i.e., subscribing to the belief that the human population can or should be classified into races with differential abilities and dispositions, which in turn may motivate a political ideology in which rights and privileges are differentially distributed based on racial categories. The origin of the root word „race“ is not clear. Linguists generally agree that it came to the English language from Middle French, but there is no such agreement on how it generally came into Latin-based languages. A recent proposal is that it derives from the Arabic ra’s, which means „head, beginning, origin“ or the Hebrew rosh, which has a similar meaning. Early race theorists generally held the view that some races were inferior to others and they consequently believed that the differential treatment of races was fully justified. These early theories guided pseudo-scientific research assumptions; the collective endeavors to adequately define and form hypotheses about racial differences are generally termed scientific racism, though this term is a misnomer, due to the lack of any actual science backing the claims.
Today, most biologists, anthropologists, and sociologists reject a taxonomy of races in favor of more specific and/or empirically verifiable criteria, such as geography, ethnicity, or a history of endogamy. To date, there is little evidence in human genome research which indicates that race can be defined in such a way as to be useful in determining a genetic classification of humans.
An entry in the Oxford English Dictionary 2008 defines racialism as „an earlier term than racism, but now largely superseded by it“, and cites the term „racialism“ in a 1902 quote. The revised Oxford English Dictionary cites the shortened term „racism“ in a quote from the following year, 1903. It was first defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition, 1989) as „the theory that distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race“; the same dictionary termed racism a synonym of racialism: „belief in the superiority of a particular race“. By the end of World War II, racism had acquired the same supremacist connotations formerly associated with racialism: racism now implied racial discrimination, racial supremacism, and a harmful intent. (The term „race hatred“ had also been used by sociologist Frederick Hertz in the late 1920s.)
As its history indicates, the popular use of the word racism is relatively recent. The word came into widespread usage in the Western world in the 1930s, when it was used to describe the social and political ideology of Nazism, which treated „race“ as a naturally given political unit. It is commonly agreed that racism existed before the coinage of the word, but there is not a wide agreement on a single definition of what racism is and what it is not. Today, some scholars of racism prefer to use the concept in the plural racisms, in order to emphasize its many different forms that do not easily fall under a single definition. They also argue that different forms of racism have characterized different historical periods and geographical areas.
Though many countries around the globe have passed laws related to race and discrimination, the first significant international human rights instrument developed by the United Nations (UN) was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The UDHR recognizes that if people are to be treated with dignity, they require economic rights, social rightsincluding education, and the rights to cultural and political participation and civil liberty. It further states that everyone is entitled to these rights „without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status“.
The UN does not define „racism“; however, it does define „racial discrimination“. According to the 1965 UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination,
The term „racial discrimination“ shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.
In their 1978 United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (Article 1), the UN states, „All human beings belong to a single species and are descended from a common stock. They are born equal in dignity and rights and all form an integral part of humanity.“
The UN definition of racial discrimination does not make any distinction between discrimination based on ethnicity and race, in part because the distinction between the two has been a matter of debate among academics, including anthropologists. Similarly, in British law, the phrase racial group means „any group of people who are defined by reference to their race, colour, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origin“.
In Norway, the word „race“ has been removed from national laws concerning discrimination because the use of the phrase is considered problematic and unethical. The Norwegian Anti-Discrimination Act bans discrimination based on ethnicity, national origin, descent, and skin color.
The ideology underlying racism can manifest in many aspects of social life. Such aspects are described in this section, although the list is not exhaustive.
Aversive racism is a form of implicit racism, in which a person’s unconscious negative evaluations of racial or ethnic minorities are realized by a persistent avoidance of interaction with other racial and ethnic groups. As opposed to traditional, overt racism, which is characterized by overt hatred for and explicit discrimination against racial/ethnic minorities, aversive racism is characterized by more complex, ambivalent expressions and attitudes. Aversive racism is similar in implications to the concept of symbolic or modern racism (described below), which is also a form of implicit, unconscious, or covert attitude which results in unconscious forms of discrimination.
The term was coined by Joel Kovel to describe the subtle racial behaviors of any ethnic or racial group who rationalize their aversion to a particular group by appeal to rules or stereotypes. People who behave in an aversively racial way may profess egalitarian beliefs, and will often deny their racially motivated behavior; nevertheless they change their behavior when dealing with a member of another race or ethnic group than the one they belong to. The motivation for the change is thought to be implicit or subconscious. Experiments have provided empirical support for the existence of aversive racism. Aversive racism has been shown to have potentially serious implications for decision making in employment, in legal decisions and in helping behavior.
Recent research has shown that individuals who consciously claim to reject racism may still exhibit race-based subconscious biases in their decision-making processes. While such „subconscious racial biases“ do not fully fit the definition of racism, their impact can be similar, though typically less pronounced, not being explicit, conscious or deliberate.
In relation to racism, color blindness is the disregard of racial characteristics in social interaction, for example in the rejection of affirmative action, as a way to address the results of past patterns of discrimination. Critics of this attitude argue that by refusing to attend to racial disparities, racial color blindness in fact unconsciously perpetuates the patterns that produce racial inequality.
Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues that color blind racism arises from an „abstract liberalism, biologization of culture, naturalization of racial matters, and minimization of racism“. Color blind practices are „subtle, institutional, and apparently nonracial“ because race is explicitly ignored in decision-making. If race is disregarded in predominantly white populations, for example, whiteness becomes the normative standard, whereas people of color are othered, and the racism these individuals experience may be minimized or erased. At an individual level, people with „color blind prejudice“ reject racist ideology, but also reject systemic policies intended to fix institutional racism.
Cultural racism manifests as societal beliefs and customs that promote the assumption that the products of a given culture, including the language and traditions of that culture, are superior to those of other cultures. It shares a great deal with xenophobia, which is often characterised by fear of, or aggression toward, members of an outgroup by members of an ingroup. In that sense it is also similar to communalism as used in South Asia.
Cultural racism exists when there is a widespread acceptance of stereotypes concerning different ethnic or population groups. Whereas racism can be characterised by the belief that one race is inherently superior to another, cultural racism can be characterised by the belief that one culture is inherently superior to another.
Centuries of European colonialism in the Americas, Africa and Asia were often justified by white supremacistattitudes.
During the early 20th century, the phrase „The White Man’s Burden“ was widely used to justify an imperialistpolicy as a noble enterprise. A justification for the policy of conquest and subjugation of Native Americansemanated from the stereotyped perceptions of the indigenous people as „merciless Indian savages“, as they are described in the United States Declaration of Independence. Sam Wolfson of The Guardian writes that „the declaration’s passage has often been cited as an encapsulation of the dehumanizing attitude toward indigenous Americans that the US was founded on. „In an 1890 article about colonial expansion onto Native American land, author L. Frank Baum wrote: „The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. „Attitudes of black supremacy, Arab supremacy, and East Asian supremacy also exist.
To many countries, racism towards black people has long been considered something that happens in the US or Europe, not in Africa or other countries. But when the death of George Floyd in the US sparked a wave of protests demanding that Black Lives Matter, peopel in deferent parts oft he world joined in too.
The protests and marches in major cities pushed a debate about racism in the country, and whether enough was being done to confront and change things.
A rally against school integration in Little Rock, Arkansas, 1959
Some scholars argue that in the US, earlier violent and aggressive forms of racism have evolved into a more subtle form of prejudice in the late 20th century. This new form of racism is sometimes referred to as „modern racism“ and it is characterized by outwardly acting unprejudiced while inwardly maintaining prejudiced attitudes, displaying subtle prejudiced behaviors such as actions informed by attributing qualities to others based on racial stereotypes, and evaluating the same behavior differently based on the race of the person being evaluated. This view is based on studies of prejudice and discriminatory behavior, where some people will act ambivalently towards black people, with positive reactions in certain, more public contexts, but more negative views and expressions in more private contexts. This ambivalence may also be visible for example in hiring decisions where job candidates that are otherwise positively evaluated may be unconsciously disfavored by employers in the final decision because of their race. Some scholars consider modern racism to be characterized by an explicit rejection of stereotypes, combined with resistance to changing structures of discrimination for reasons that are ostensibly non-racial, an ideology that considers opportunity at a purely individual basis denying the relevance of race in determining individual opportunities and the exhibition of indirect forms of micro-aggression toward and/or avoidance of people of other races.