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From French racisme. See race, -ism for more. This etymology is incomplete. You can help Wiktionary by elaborating on the origins of this term.



racism (countable and uncountable, plural racisms)

  1. Belief that there are distinct human races with inherent differences which determine their abilities, and generally that some are superior and others inferior.
    • 1932 October 21, Huddleston, Sisley, “Europe Painted in Fascist Colors”, in Christian Science Monitor[1], ISSN 0882-7729, page 8:
      It is altogether inaccurate to suggest that Europe is being indoctrinated with Fascism or Racism.
    • 2011, Jane H. Hill, The Everyday Language of White Racism (→ISBN), page 1987:
      But other kinds of talk and text that are not visible, so called covert racist discourse, may be just as important in reproducing the culturally shared ideas that underpin racism.
  2. The policy, practice or (e.g. government or political) system or program of promoting this belief or promoting the dominance of one or more races over others.
    Malcolm X and Martin Luther King both spoke out against racism.
    • 1993 September 24, Wellman, David T., Portraits of White Racism, Second edition, Cambridge University Press, →ISBN, OL 14727671M, page 210:
      In part, the answer is that racism extends considerably beyond prejudiced beliefs. The essential feature of racism is not hostility or misperception, but rather the defense of a system from which advantage is derived on the basis of race. The manner in which the defense is articulated – either with hostility or subtlety – is not nearly as important as the fact that it insures the continuation of a privileged relationship. Thus it is necessary to broaden the definition of racism beyond prejudice to include sentiments that in their consequence, if not in their intent, support the racial status quo.
    • 2013, Tyler T. Schmidt, Desegregating Desire (→ISBN):
      In “Crazy for This Democracy” (1945), Hurston critiques the US government's racism at home and abroad, including its silence on the anticolonial movements in Africa.
  3. Prejudice or discrimination based upon race or ethnicity; (countable) an action of such discrimination.
    • 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?
    • 2016, Bernard Guerin, How to Rethink Human Behavior (→ISBN):
      This was partly true, but the biggest thing stopping him was that he had tried going to a college in Adelaide before and grew tired of the little racisms and discrimination that he got there.

Usage notes

  • Some speakers use the term racism loosely to refer to prejudice or discrimination based not upon race but upon other factors; this is nonstandard:
  • The term reverse racism has been used to denote personal racial prejudice by a group that is or has been oppressed/disempowered, against a more powerful group. Some argue this distinction does not need to be made and advocate term that simply racism, while others argue that the term racism should not be used at all in such cases, as racism is distinguished from racial prejudice by being supported by institutions and social structures.
  • For many speakers, the term racism implies conscious belief or behavior, but this is not always the case.



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Further reading