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From French racisme.



racism (countable and uncountable, plural racisms)

  1. The belief in distinct human races with each having their intrinsic attributes.
  2. The belief that one race or ethnic group is superior or inferior to another race or group of races.
  3. Prejudice or discrimination based upon race or ethnicity.
    Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both spoke out against racism.
    • 2007, Joseph Godson Amamoo, Ghana: 50 years of independence
      For, if racism against non-whites is morally wrong and unjustifiable, then how can racism against whites be morally right and justifiable?
  4. (sociology) A hierarchical system that benefits one race at the expense of all others.

Usage notes

  • Different people define race differently, so, naturally, different people define racism differently.
  • While racism is, per se, usually tied to race, some speakers will (controversially) use the term in other cases as well:
    • 2002, Tom Carter-Smith, Sex – an Apology for Love, NORDISC Music & Text, →ISBN, page 99,
      The reason for this was the general prejudice (read: racism) against gays among “straight” people; the government simply didn't want the public to be appalled by posters and TV adds with “queers”.
  • The term reverse racism has been used to describe racism (in one sense or another) by a group that has traditionally been oppressed, against a traditionally more-empowered group. However, some argue that this distinction does not need to be made, and advocate using simply the term racism; others have argued conversely that the term racism should not be used at all in such cases.
  • For many speakers, the term racism implies conscious belief or behavior, but this distinction is not universally held.


For quotations of use of this term, see Citations:racism.


  • (race discrimination): For semantic relationships of this sense, see racism in the Thesaurus.


  • (race discrimination): For semantic relationships of this sense, see prejudice in the Thesaurus.

Coordinate terms

  • (race discrimination): For semantic relationships of this sense, see prejudice in the Thesaurus.

Derived terms

Related terms


See also