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What is Racism?

Lack of educational opportunity has been an historic consequence of racism in the United States.
Prejudice based on a person's race is known as racism.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 21 June 2014
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A race is a group of people that come from a common background, and that group is generally determined based on skin color. Commonly, but not always, people are categorized into one of five races: White, Black, Latino or Hispanic, Asian, and Indigenous or Native. Racism then, is the discrimination or prejudice of a person or group based on the racial group she or they belong to, although it's not always that simple.

This term is actually used in many ways. Some refer to it as white supremacism, the belief that the Caucasian race is superior to all other races. Others define racism as discrimination against a particular race’s culture, beliefs or traditions. The word might refer to the idea that a single race is somehow purer than other races, or that one race genetically exhibits dominance over others. Some believe that race can be a way to determine behavior and performance.

Racism can be used to refer to prejudice based on race against one person or a group of people; it can be expressed either overtly or subtly. Overt expressions are perhaps the easiest to identify; it is fairly simple to see that the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, for example, are racist. They openly proclaim superiority of the white race and inferiority of non-white races.

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Subtle racism is a much stickier topic, and much harder to identify. Cultures that contain multiple races often defer to the race that feels it is being attacked in order to define what constitutes this type. For example, the standardized tests that are generally required in applying to a United States college, such as the SAT or ACT, are sometimes argued to be subtly racist because they say non-Caucasians who come from backgrounds steeped in poverty generally don't score as well. The lack of good schools, good books, and stable home environments may adversely affect the test results for those students.

While many problems can be cited in reference to racism, one results from the overgeneralizations that are made in race grouping. The Asian group, for example, includes Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai. The failure to understand the distinctions between the cultural values of Koreans generally and Vietnamese generally, for example, can be characterized as subtly racist. There is an inherent assumption that all Asians must be the same, and little recognition that people in this vague grouping come from hugely diverse countries and cultures. The same holds true for Hispanics, a group that shares European ancestry with the various Latin Native Americans. Assuming that an Asian person is Chinese or that a Hispanic person is Mexican may be characterized as racist.

Racism is not exclusively the province of the Caucasian race, and discrimination between different racial groups is quite prevalent in areas where two groups of different races exist. For example, the rivalry between Asian and Black street gangs in urban America can be tied to racial tensions that have existed for many decades.

What may be interesting in this fount of tensions between groups is that most people still feel the need to define themselves by race. A United States birth certificate, for example, requires a statement of race, and one cannot write "human." Some of this definition continues because different cultural groups wish to preserve and respect their ancestry, but often, such distinctions, from a genetic standpoint, are relatively unnecessary. Significant scientific research on the DNA that makes up all humans shows virtually no significant genetic advantages or difference between racial groups. Some medical conditions, for example, are more prevalent in certain races over others.

Some argue that the practice of race classifying may further divide people more than it helps as it may lead to stereotypes about a group.

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Discuss this Article

jessiwan
Post 43

Look at all the crying and whining. I am ______(insert race) and __________ happened to me, which broke my little non-white heart.

All of you just be quiet and move away from white people if you are that sensitive. For as long as there are different races, there will be racism. And no, it is not desirable for all white people to disappear through inter-mixing with you. That would be a tragedy.

Hey, I have a better idea that will rid the world of racism, all while preserving white traits like blonde/red hair and blue/green eyes, and that is for the non-white population to have fewer and fewer children with each successive generation.

I am so sick of the whining of the non-white people.

anon288228
Post 40

Racism is such a broad term that it is almost meaningless.

anon275324
Post 39

Whoever wrote this is either misled or reaching at best. The Black, Latino, Mexican or Asian gangs as you put it were not modeled strictly on race. More so like the gangs of New York. The carved out a territory and then defended it based on drug wars and prostitution. The racism part came when Japanese were placed in concentration camps during World War II, because they were 'assumed' to be loyal to Japan. No German Americans were treated that way. That's a better example. It was systematic and accepted at all levels in society.

anon275282
Post 38

I was at at convenience store about 10 years ago. I'm of mixed race. I have a First Nations mom and dad and a Caucasian grandfather. Anyway, I remember this guy, a Caucasian dude, verbally abusing this east Indian guy, telling him he should get back on the that banana boat he got off of and go back to where ever he came from.

I was standing nearby and I said excuse me. I was slightly offended. I said that guy should get back on that potato boat his ancestors came over on and go back to where ever he came from. I mean, the nerve of European descendants actually thinking they were originally from this land. To me that's not racist; that's the truth.

We have been putting up with the racial stereotyping for the last 100 years or so, of the drunk Indian, but whatever. I don t know any drunk Indians, personally, and when I do see a few, which is rarely, I'm not judgmental towards that guy. I mean he could be a descendant of a residential school family, and may have endured brutal sexual, physical, mental abuse at the hands of the Canadian feds. That was an assimilation program that ran for like, 60 to 80 years. My grandmother, father, and mother attended during their childhoods, also.

I don't drink or do drugs. I think honestly, the majority of whites in Canada are ignorant, actually. It depends on where you are, more so these days, compared to 20 years ago. In general, I think a lot of white Canadians are actually cool people. On occasion, an idiot will pop up as a racist, of course, and me getting ticked off would categorize the white race as losers, or whatever else, when I know that's not actually true. So I think there's racism everywhere and everybody does it, an me being mixed race/ I don't actually know where racism ends, really.

anon274532
Post 37

I am white of mixed euro background. I grew up and had friends of all backgrounds. I never recall asking any of them, "Are you christian, is your family catholic," etc. It did not matter to me.

Each family that came to canada became canadian and blended into the canadian culture. But for the last 25 years, a lot of cultures very different from the canadian culture have been arriving. Some have become canadian but a lot do not change at all. They keep their old ways and narrow minded thinking.

I feel multiculturalism is in itself a very racist policy and pits each culture against the other. When this happens, no one is happy and no one feels they belong. I also do not understand how these cultures were discriminated against when they did not even live in canada!

I see big-time discrimination in Muslim countries against anyone who is not Muslim, even a visitor. In Japan you cannot use the same bathroom as a Japanese citizen. How racist is that?

anon242274
Post 35

If a black guy makes monkey noises at another black guy, is that racist?

anon241918
Post 34

"A race is a group of people who come from a common background."

So that makes all people who grew up in new york a race?

This article is crap. The author has no clue what he is talking about.

anon232378
Post 33

Why can 50 cent say white chick but Eminem not black chick? This is not an actual piece of evidence, but imagine if either rapper used the corresponding term. What would the consequences be? I think sometimes, people actually overreact.

anon157033
Post 30

i feel so sad about reality but still looking forward to be a part of the changes - i am.

anon153280
Post 29

The terms that you are looking for are: Caucasian, Negroid, Mongoloid and Aborigine.

These terms are no longer used, but they are the correct terms if you want to classify someone based on race. These terms went out of favor in the 1950s and 1960s as anthropologists discovered more and more about the differences and similarities of people in different parts of the world. Ironically, they were originally based on racism, as Victorian Europeans felt superior to others around the world, thus tried to classify them based on their degree of "culture." Study Bronislaw Molinowski and Franz Boas before you try to write anything like this again.

Going back to the original idea for this comment, "Indigenous" people, as you put it, are actually Mongoloids. Latinos (which no one outside of the Americas would understand) are Mongoloids, Caucasians, or a combination of the two (mestizo).

There are actually no categories based on what continent you come from, as there is no actual definition for a continent. Some people have said in these comments that India is part of Asia, but if you ask someone from India where they live, they will tell you the Indian sub-continent, not Asia.

Everyone has their own idea of what a continent is. Don't believe me? Try to find out what continent Turkey belongs to. You can't do it, because there is no actual way to determine this. It is all relative to were you live. Most geography professors now teach that there are continents and sub-continents.

As we gain a more worldly view, we start to learn that our classifications are not only incorrect, but as insulting to the people from the area in question as racism is to those being looked down upon.

Oh, and by the away, the definition of racism is feeling that one race is superior to another due to genetics. This does not have to be your own race. If you are black and you feel that Asians are genetically superior to whites, you are racist.

anon146961
Post 28

"Some believe that race can be a way to determine behavior and performance."

So that is racist? Then I guess I'm a racist. When a short white guy walks briskly into the starter blocks on a race track and fails to stretch before (behaviour) and a tall slim but muscular man of color, ambles up, stretches for a few minutes (behaviour) then gets in the blocks and proceeds to blow the doors off (performance)the white guy and I'm thinking before the gun fires, that the colored athlete will win, then I'm a racist, by definition? Wow!

A white man and a native are lost in the forest. See where this is going? The white man builds a huge fire and sits far away, not really warming. The native builds a small fire and sits close, warming himself. Well if I had picked which one would survive better in the forest, yup, then I am a racist. So am I really that bad?

anon144525
Post 27

RE: "The Asian group, for example, includes Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai."

No! It's more like Asian means all of Asia, unless you were to divide Asia into sub regions like North, South, East and West, and then you can say, "Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Thai."

But when you say this includes only these people when you are being specific and then you are wrong!

East Asian is what you're talking about, in general, for the most part and you're missing the Philippines and more. Also, Indian people fall under that category of "Asian" Where are they in this "wiseGeek" answer of yours?

Be more specific when listing the Asian countries. State which regions you're referring to and who they are. Anyway, this was good -- sort of.

anon143314
Post 26

There are no races. There are cultures. Cultural discrimination is widespread and some of it is acceptable (i.e. criticism of Arab hate crimes against non-muslims) and other forms are not acceptable (denying a job to someone because they're not the same colour as you).

anon143313
Post 25

I'm white. I live in Canada. I am regularly the victim of Indian and Muslim supremacist racism. Yes, in Canada where Indians and Muslims (a.k.a. mixed groups because the Arab faith has conquered so many peoples) are a minority, they have the guts to confront and occasionally violently assault white men, women, and even children.

I'm tired of this. The last time it happened I told the man that his racial intolerance was unacceptable, and I would report it to his boss, the authorities, and the local media (it was published in the letters to the editor). The man laughed at me. Of course, he was a Hindu, what else would he do to a white woman in public? His boss, an Indian but slightly more rational, said he would take care of the matter. The following week in the letters to the editor there was overwhelming sympathy.

Our Immigration program is a farce. Vancouver is the crime capital of North American as a result of Indian/Muslim crime and hate. I've had enough.

anon129054
Post 24

The five classic races are Black (African), Brown (Arab, Indian, Polynesian), Red (American), White (European) and Yellow (East-Asian). Latino is only recognised in the USA. Everywhere else they are either Europeans, Native American or mixed. Most people forget Arabs, South-Asians and Australasians and when using the term Asian forget that Asia is more than China, Japan and Korea.

All of these divisions are generalisations based on skin colour not any true biology.

anon121831
Post 23

People believe that saying offensive words like Black, white, Asian or Native is a nice word that will not hurt anyone's feelings. well guess what? it hurts everyone in some way.

anon120075
Post 22

I also disagree with affirmative action. But, it is a way to protect 95 percent of the work force from being opened up to other groups.

anon115359
Post 20

I am torn between issues with my family, I do not think of myself as a true racist, as defined.

I have no problem living, working, socializing among other races. But I do believe that races are supposed to stay together. It has no bearing on one being less or more than the other. So does this make me a racist?

anon111654
Post 19

I work with a white doctor and each time I say good morning to her, she does not respond. If we come across each other in the hall way she actually runs away. the problem is sometimes she runs to where I will be going and normally she says I don't know why I was running. In team meetings, if I raise a point she simply talks over me and changes the topic. Sometimes she asks if i can be excused out of the meeting.

i am the only black staff and its affecting me. i am not sure if its racism or just dislike. I've never experienced racism before.

anon90271
Post 18

I grew up in a town that had very few blacks, a fair number of asians, mostly chinese, many italians, and predominantly white.

I grew up watching TV shows with many different races. I never once thought of anyone of the people I knew as inferior or superior.

However, when you see families, and communities of people banding together, saying things like you shouldn't date someone of a different race, that offends me. And you see it everywhere.

I would date someone of any race if I was attracted to them. For example, I generally am not attracted to black guys, but I do find some attractive and would date them. One of the few black guys I grew up with is very attractive.

Stereotyping, racial profiling, biases, segregation, etc. are the negative results of racism. They are based on ignorance. And these concepts aren't just based on race differences, but those of religion, sexual orientation, gender, and any other differences that people find to categorize.

Groups of people who choose to be labeled often do so to protect themselves, often for political reasons. Gays, for example, do this. History has taught minority groups that if they don't band together, the majority will rule against them. This hasn't changed. And likely never will as people are, inherently, sinful creatures.

anon71745
Post 16

Racism is the belief that human races exist and these races possess different abilities and characteristics and that some races are better at some things than others. Racists do not want to live in multi-racial societies, rather they want to live amongst their own kind.

It is a popular and ignorant belief that racist implies hatred. It doesn't. Of course often the two things go together but by definition, racism involves no violence.

anon65466
Post 15

Why is it wrong to claim that peoples from different races are not all the same? The fact that one race of human beings has different attributes to another cannot be wrong. Wild animals of the same species vary as do human beings. This does not say that one race of human is superior, it's just that they are different.

anon53544
Post 14

Everyone should understand that racism is a reality, but we have no one to blame but ourselves and that is because racism is socially constructed.

We as individuals look at other people as different if they are not the same color skin, do not speak the same language or have the same religious beliefs.

Yesm white hate groups are racist, but what about the rest of us? We should not be quick to judge, but instead learn from one another.

anon51173
Post 13

racism is wrong and completely moronic. also, i want to say that even though it is great that the US is making progress, i think that there is such a thing as over doing it? i disagree with affirmative action. people should be hired solely based on their qualifications, not their race. we're all just people.

anon50574
Post 12

Ive got no problem with any body's color but people need to date their own color. It is disgusting when you see black, hispanics and whites with one another.

anon39197
Post 11

Racism is not right. this is such a big issue and yet no one has taken any action i think countries should come together and discuss what action should be taken about racism today.

xiaohui06
Post 9

what are some examples of a racist?

i'm doing a project on racism and i can't really find examples over the internet.

i came here and found out that i can ask. :)

i hope to have some answers.

anon18659
Post 8

The question is not what is racism. The question is why do people practice racism, religion, education, science, or other systems. It's to be better off. People fear those of other races or groups who invade, kill, steal, and lie about it. There are double standards for racist behaviors.

When Germans kill Hebrews to steal their stuff it is an evil, heinous, holocaust and Satanic crime against humanity. When Hebrews kill Arabs to steal their stuff it's a God given, freedom fighting, liberation of a Holy Land and manifest destiny. Why the double standards? That is racism. Okay for me, not for you.

Only rule of law, social justice, and loving kindness can conquer the double standards racists promote for being better off. Then again, who doesn't want to be better off and fear being worse off? It seems racism is logical when families practice racism to take care of their own in racist loving kindness. What to do?

anon16077
Post 7

racism is a big deal because it affects people everyday. i may only be a 14 year old and you may think what does she know? but trust me, i know. racism can lead to physical situations. racism is widely spread, and is present in all countries or societies in the world. racism is often expressed through distrust or differences between groups, such as cultural character, or just based on different backgrounds. it’s a natural reaction for a person to get suspicious about things which are strange to them. sometimes suspicion can lead to anger, frustration, or fear. a child is not born racist. if not exposed to racism in one's environment, there is no reason for one to become racist. a person cannot be characterized by the skin color or cultural background. everybody should be treated fairly and with respect.

anon12535
Post 6

people that are racist are really dumb and need to go get a life!!

anon9029
Post 4

to me, racism is a big deal because people have to face racist people every day no matter what!

it doesn't seem as though the world will ever change

...martin luther king had set it so that we would each be united but there's always that one person that thinks differently

....signed

a person who thinkz racism just isn't right!

anon6508
Post 3

well we can kind of try and stop racism as the future of tomorrow. we can't allow parents or adults to put the racism into our heads. when an act of racism is committed, act against it. counter it. we can make rallies, petitions ect. you are 120% correct. racism isn't right. it must be stopped. it hurts too much people. me included, speaking personally and i have seen before my eyes people being penalized for being a certain race.

anon3984
Post 2

I don't think that racism is right, its wrong a has to stop right now. No-one should be racist to people who you think has a different race, sex, religion. I am get education at some high school. I go to a multicultural school that has a variety of cultures like asian, hispanic, caucausian, African descent, middle easterns, east Indians and those people have religions too. I am 100% non-religious and I make friends to people of a variety of cultures....

anon2117
Post 1

What action should be taken for subtle racism?

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