Racism…What It Is…What It Is Not
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Racism…What It Is…What It Is Not
Stephen A. Peterson
Since the late 1980’s, the loose, indiscriminant use of “racism” to describe certain interracially perceived or actual adverse actions or conflicts is nothing less than appalling. For the most part, what is said to be racist/racism is not. The purposes of this short commentary are to define racism, explain what it is and what it is not utilizing information that has been utilized in the fields of physical anthropology or human biological sciences for more than 80 years.
Racism is the belief that there are innate biological difference in people’s behaviors and intellectual capacities which are superior or inferior to persons of other racial groups (Merriam-Webster, 2005). This superiority or inferiority is due entirely to their race and justified those people being treated differently both socially and legally. In order words, racism is the belief racial actions, behaviors, intellect and thought is: (1) biologically based; (2) unchangeable; and (3) may be observed in all members of an entire racial population (if you see one, you’ve seen them all).
To label a person a racist and their behavior/thought racism, her/his attitude and/or beliefs must be identified. To call a person a racist without knowledge of their attitude or belief about another race or races is not justified of condemnation. Actions or behaviors are not racism/racist in and of themselves. The statement, “that’s racist’, “that’s a racist act” has no basis for labeling a person a racist or their action/behavior, racism.
In the popular culture, many accept the notion that members of the Caucasoid race may only racists. Others have even implied that Caucasians are born that way. Such attitudes and beliefs are racist. Yet they would deny the racist label. Racism may be identified in every racial and ethnic group. Racism has no basis in whether the group is expressing a racist attitude has social or economic power. It is not an expression of racism to disagree with the social or political policies of members of another racial group. It is not racism to dislike a person of another racial group. It is not racism to celebrate one’s racial contributions to society or culture over that of another or to disavow the contributions of another’s race. It may be arrogant, insensitive and unwise but it is not an expression of racism.
Why do many revert to labeling another a racist? It is generally employed:
1. To avenge real or perceived past/present racial injustice(s).
2. To quash discussion.
3. To incite racial conflict and discontent.
4. To appear sympathic.
5. As a handy word to describe racial/ethnic conflict.
6. When a person did not obtain something desired/wanted.
Careful and judicious usage of racism/racist is a must. Labeling people racist and their
actions/behaviors as racism in a loose and casual manner serve no practical purpose. To do so inhibits dialog nor is it justified.
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.). (2005). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.
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