Racism is a term that is frequently misunderstood or simplistically defined. It’s a complex concept that involves individual beliefs, social norms, institutions, and systems that divide people into races, then assign value and worth to those races in a hierarchical manner.
The term ‘racist’ or ‘racism’ originates from the ideology of race, which classifies humans into distinct groups based on physical characteristics such as skin color, hair type, facial features, and others. The notion of race as we perceive it today wasn’t prevalent until the late 19th century. It was often employed then to justify political inequalities and discrimination.
At its core, racism is an ideology of racial supremacy, where one race is considered superior to another. That superiority tends to be determined by superficial aspects, such as skin color, but can also include language, nationality, religion, and the like. People adopt racist attitudes or behaviors, consciously or unconsciously, when they believe in the inherent superiority of one race over others.
Racism is more than just personal prejudice or individual discriminatory acts. It also involves institutional and systemic structures that perpetuate racial disparities in wealth, health, education, housing, criminal justice, and other sectors. Such systemic racism involves policies, practices, and procedures that work better for some racial groups than others, and it often stems from unconscious biases from historical practices and roots.
Racism can manifest in various forms. It can be overt, such as hate speech, racial slurs, or acts of violence. Or, it can be subtle or covert, such as microaggressions, colorism, xenophobia, or cultural appropriation. It can also be internalized, wherein individuals within marginalized racial groups internalize racist perceptions of their race.
It’s important to note here that racism is a learned behavior. No one is born a racist. People become racist due to various factors, such as upbringing, environment, media, education, and personal experiences.
In conclusion, understanding racism involves recognizing not just personal acts of discrimination, but also systematic inequalities, both recognized and unrecognized, that persist in society. It’s paramount to confront and challenge not just overt acts of discrimination, but also subtle forms of racism and inequality embedded in language, institutions, and systems. By understanding what racism means, we can better tackle it in its various forms and work towards a more equitable society.