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Author Topic: The Different Definitions of Racism  (Read 1096 times)

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Offline SkynetTopic starter

The Different Definitions of Racism
« on: December 31, 2016, 02:14:07 PM »
So in PROC and in many other places on the Internet, I've seen a common recurring phenomenon where in regards to the discussion of race and ethnicity. Namely that in regards to racism, racial prejudice, etc there is not a universal consensus as to what it means yet many folks assume so. This leads to folks in debates assuming that everyone involved has the same understanding, only to end up talking past each other or express confusion when it turns out that this is not the case.

Disclaimer: I am a US citizen who has lived in the United States my entire life. Although I often read up on the goings-on in other places of the world, that does not necessarily equate to lived experience. For that reason many of my examples are in regards to my own country as well as the wider English-speaking world. "Write what you know" and all that.

Most Common Definitions

1.) making a judgment, positive or negative, based on one's race.
2.) poor treatment and behavior of another based upon their race.
3.) belief in a hierarchy of races, most commonly that certain mental and personality traits are inherited and passed down via racial lines
4.) systemic racism, aka a society set up where one racial group has special privileges and power over those who do not
5.) prejudice + power, or that only members of the dominant social group can be racist. Those who are not part of said group can be only prejudiced.

Who Commonly Uses What?

Most of the United States population uses generally #1 and #2, and #3 generally falls into discussions of #1 and #2.

Social justice advocates use #4 and #5 and tend to act like none others exist.

Many right-wing groups often view #3 is the only legitimate kind.

The alt-right and Neo-Nazis generally use #3, yet claim that it's only minorities who are racist while not using the terms to refer to themselves (more out a desire to avoid the negative social consequences of being viewed as overtly racist than genuine belief that they themselves are not racist).

In some cases this has been used to excuse or overlook personal negative behavior.* Regarding #3, I've seen said right-wing figures use it as a blanket for saying all sorts of deprecating things about other races as long as they stop short of out and out supporting Master Race theories; look at Rush Limbaugh who once said we need to bring back segregated buses but bristled when a caller said he was a Nazi over another issue. #5 is not one I am fond of because all too often I've used it seen to excuse away minority-on-minority bigotry among social justice groups. Or a common sticking point among "model minority" groups with #1, who end up complimented on perceived positive racial traits which are viewed as harmless because it doesn't line up with what we're taught about racism in schools and US history courses. #1 in a positive context can also lead to incredibly high standards and assumptions for those who don't fit the bill.

*aka "how can I be racist? I'm X" or "how is that racist? I was complimenting you!"

As for academia, sociology generally recognizes racism as being tiered, or being two different kinds: one of the systemic level, and one on the individual level. As in you can't be systemically racist against members of the dominant social paradigm, but you can be individually racist towards them.

Although there are many cases where racism easily crosses national boundaries (legacies of anti-Semitism often manifested the same way in different European countries), the fact is that the concept of race is a social construct which can change from culture to culture. Even in the United States and Western World, where skin color has traditionally been the most important factor, this is not always ironclad. Look at Ashkenazi Jews, who share many identical traits of indigenous Europeans due to centuries of intermarriage yet were only started to be viewed as white in the West until around the last 50 years. Another case is that those of sub-Saharan African origin can have different shades of brown but are interchangeably "black" in the United States, but in Africa are often regarded as distinctly different people.

For that reason what may be applicable in one country doesn't always translate to another.

What About the Dictionary?

Human slang and cultural progress tends to go faster than academics. Academics, dictionaries, etc are slower due to the fact that they are dedicated to studying methodically societal change, which prevents instantaneous updates of popular words and phrases. Language is a strange bird: sometimes previously unknown phrases can attain mainstream recognition, or continue being relegated to use among a specific subculture.

In Regards to the Definition of White Privilege

This is a common discussion in left-wing groups and academia institutions in the Western world (can't speak for countries which fall outside this). Privilege does not automatically mean that you have an easy life*; rather that due to one of the traits you have provides you social benefits, in some cases outright enshrined and legal and in some cases unspoken and taboo.

Privilege is not a linear thing, and is not limited solely to race; a black man is less likely to be the victim of sexual harassment on the street, but a white woman is less likely to be viewed as a thief or gangster. On another example, there are many Latinos who are technically Caucasian and have light skin, but due to social perceptions in the US (Latinos are grouped into one racial monolith among mainstream US) many folk will assume them to be immigrants if they have a visible accent or Spanish name.

In every state within the US besides Hawaii, white people are the numerical majority. Given my nation's history, the culture, values, legal systems, and languages derive from Western European traditions. Notably the legacies of the British Empire. America does have century's worth of Native American, African American, and Latino history, yet in the US such groups have been pushed to the sidelines and their own culture, values, languages, etc did not gain mainstream recognition except when white people adopted the things they liked from them (rock and roll is a pertinent musical example). Being seen as "the norm" does indeed create a different set of circumstances.


So what does white privilege give a person in the United States? Well this is a short list of the more common observations by those affected by the lack of it, as well as being borne out in political policies and sometimes out and out laws:

not as likely to get stopped and frisk without a warrant by police;
not as likely to have folks assume "you're not really born here;"
not as likely to have banks and realtors jack up interest rates and engage in predatory lending via "ghetto loans;"
not as likely for right-wing politicians to insinuate that your ethnicity's existence is a threat to the nation's values;
not as likely to be referred to as "one of the good ones" when you don't live up to negative stereotypes;
not as likely to have people complain about "political correctness run amok" or "cultural Marxism" when a movie, show, video game, etc features a member of your ethnicity in a role not part of a common cultural and media narrative
not as likely to get called a honky/cracker/caucasian racial slur in anger in online gaming with random people or when you show your face on webcam, etc.


*Although there are many folks who do indeed treat it as a linear thing, or automatic assumption that someone who is white/straight/etc has an easy life, that is more a warping of the term for folk who try to change the definition to win an argument than that it is meant to mean in both traditional academic thought and left-wing politics. Akin to how "trigger warning" is IMO still a legitimate phrase for the concerns of people suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, even if some idiots appropriated it to mean "things that annoy me." Or how people shouldn't automatically assume that "freedom of speech" should now mean "freedom to say and do whatever I want and be immune to negative social consequences and criticism" because some folks hope to use a prominent treatise on human rights as a get-out-of-jail free card.



In Conclusion

Keep in mind that not all of these definitions are mutually exclusive; indeed the belief in a hierarchy of races can and does lead to poor and preferential treatment and eventually outright violence and ethnic cleansing. But not all people treat them as interrelated or springing from similar origins.

So in future discussions on racism, people should come upon a shared definition and/or mention what kind they are talking about if it's not clear. Otherwise everyone talks over each other and all sides assume everyone else is using the same definition. Although it's inevitable that discussion on topics of this nature can easily lead to heated feelings and folks feeling personally vilified, it is my hope that at least the understanding of this common point of confusion can at least help see where other people are coming from, be you liberal, conservative, or another ideological bent.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2016, 08:01:18 PM by Skynet »

Offline Lustful Bride

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2016, 06:24:43 PM »
I think this is a good thing and can  help clear up some confusion and lead to easier communication and good discussions.

I like that you put it into a classification system as it makes it easy to make clear what you mean when discussing the topic. I think this thread can only further help us. :)

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Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2016, 06:47:30 PM »
I wish people in the media, and in politics, were more careful about what sense of racism they are using from time to time, but obviously it's sometimes their party trick not to bother about this. Claiming that somebody is racist in the classical sense (bigotry and active personal mistreatment of other people based on the colour of their skin, or their ethnicity) is a whole different thing than saying "X is racist" and really meaning that X belongs to a class of people ("white men" etc) who are supposed to all share a position of power and control and some of whom have been prejudiced -> all white men are essentially racists vs others unless the individual guy atones for it. Those two rw often get pulled together in one and the same chain of thought and in my eyes that's plainly a form of quack rethoric, pure dishonesty. You can easily use "Racism (P+P)" to say that anyone is a racist irrespective of whatever they have done or said, as long as you manage to drop them into the right group.

Offline Hemingway

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2017, 11:59:16 AM »
In my experience, it's usually not the case that people talk past each other because they're confused. It more often seems the case that people try to create one large equivocation where they use definitions 4 and 5 in the above list, to imply that people hold attitudes 2 & 3. Which, to me, seems like a blatant abuse of language. I personally find definition 5 to be useless for anything but that type of exercise. In fact, it may be racist. But that's hardly the point here.

I do agree that people need to agree on what terms mean before they talk, instead of trying to bludgeon each other with the words they use. To that end, I wish the people who insist on using definitions like 5 would come up with a term to distinguish it from the type of racism most people will think of when they hear the word.

Online Silk

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2017, 02:47:03 PM »
I'm happy to stick to the dictionary definition of Racism, because although academia might be a bit slow on the uptake to make the change, it's by far our best method for keeping on track. When things like the dictionary change it's definition its a sign that it's common usage has changed to become such. Until then I could call a hot dog a burger because it's a piece of meat between two bits of bread, but that doesn't mean people then have to accept my definition and have all mentions of hot dogs changed to Burgers.

Offline Nimbuscloud

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2017, 04:01:45 AM »
When I say racism, I mean prejudice based on race.  When I say prejudice, I mean treating someone a certain way, usually negatively, because of something about them, so I guess I'm a 1...

I think that's more or less what most people mean.  I hear people call something that is prejudice "racist" all the time, however, and I know what they mean based on the context of what they're talking about.  The idea that minorities cannot be racist has always been strange to me.  Racism is prejudice based on race, I don't think I'll ever wrap my head around why a race being a majority means they can't be treated poorly for it.  It seems like an argument based entirely around semantics to me.  If someone wants to insist they aren't capable of racism objectively, not based on any of their behaviors... they can tell themselves whatever they want, but the fact is arguing about the meaning of words isn't solving anything, the fact that people are butting heads so hard about something that is so trivial at the end of the day does not bode well, and I think discussions like that would be more beneficial if people addressed actual points, and took care to explain exactly what they mean, rather than hijacking the definition of an already established word.  Calling 4 systemic racism, rather than just racism, is much more useful.  I still thing it's basically the same thing, but with that word I know specifically what facets of racism you're talking about, in a general sense at least.  I want to say a similar distinction would be useful for 5... but it wouldn't because it contradicts with others, you can't have 1 and 5 both being factual at the same time.  Either racism applies to everyone equally, or one particular group, whichever happens to be the largest...  There's an irony in that, no?  I've always wondered, according to that definition, does that mean minorities can't be racist against each other?  Does it go a step down, the third most populous people can't be racist toward the second?  Does it change from region to region?  Inuits can say anything about anybody anytime!  Inuits can say %$@# my ()(#@#-@$$^@$# you #$# #$#$#!

I was briefly confused by the third definition, but I think I see what you're talking about when you expanded... though I fail to see how that's different than the first or second, they just have an order on which they judge people.  For that matter, the second should fall within the first.  The second is the first, with a qualifier that it's bad specifically... which I would argue by definition it isn't, even though that seems moot.  Racism shouldn't describe that order by which they judge though, the word "hierarchy" you used to describe it... should describe it.  I guess you could call it hierarchical racism?

I think white privilege is insidious.  Not the concept, but the label.  I think part of the danger lies with the confusion surrounding the label,  I think that confusion is sometimes stumbled into and sometimes used intentionally in debate, and I think that kind of wordplay is dishonest.  I also hate the term because it is inherently divisive.  I've heard about all sorts of privilege. Thin privilege, male privilege.  People are going to have different experiences in life because of their physical appearance and social status.  You're going to have an easier life if your parents planned to have you, than if they get married because they were randy highschoolers, and their parents didn't teach them about condoms.  You don't hear me crying about Responsible-Parent Privilege.  If there is such a thing as white privilege, then there is such a thing as black or latino or asian privilege.  It is tempting to make a string of racist jokes here, listing examples but I'm afraid I'd lose the larger point, which is by definition there are things it is easier for those groups to do than others.

I think it is extremely easy to get swept up in the sensationalism of the news, but in most places the stats are improving, and I think it'd be a lot easier for everyone to get along if we stopped focusing so much on everyone's differences.  I wish white people in America could "appreciate" and "contribute to" other races cultures, rather than "appropriate" them.  I think if one lives in America one's culture should be "American" regardless of race, and I think one should try and if not welcome their neighbors and their own customs, at least quietly and politely avoid them... (bit of an unrelated rant there, sorry.)

Offline Noisekick

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2017, 01:11:38 PM »
To me racism is when you treat someone differently based on the color of skin. I also believe accusations of color-blindness is also racist as someone expects you to treat people differently based on race instead of treating them equally.

Idgaf about people's skin color because it doesn't tell me anything about their character. By the way, benevolent racism is also a thing (treating people better than others because you assume they are disadvantaged).

Offline elone

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2017, 10:15:21 PM »
My definition is much simpler. If you look at someone and your first thought is of their skin color or ethnicity, if different from your own, then you are racist. It does not matter if you are black, white, or any other ethnic group.

If you look the same person and think, "nice shirt", then maybe you are not racist.

Only when race is completely invisible can someone claim to be not racist.

Maybe that is too simple, but think about it.

Offline Nimbuscloud

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2017, 10:34:41 PM »
My definition is much simpler. If you look at someone and your first thought is of their skin color or ethnicity, if different from your own, then you are racist. It does not matter if you are black, white, or any other ethnic group.

If you look the same person and think, "nice shirt", then maybe you are not racist.

Only when race is completely invisible can someone claim to be not racist.

Maybe that is too simple, but think about it.

I think you're right, by the strictest definition... but so what?

If I don't like Filipino people, if I just cannot stand them for whatever reason... but I treat all of the ones I meet the same way as I treat everyone else, am I racist?  By that definition yes.  By my definition, also yes.  But does it really matter? 

It didn't effect anyone, the bearer sees it as a problem and is trying to correct it.  It's not even conscious, can you really fault someone for that?  If we're going to start attaching prefixes to everything, I'd call that benign racism.

Also, why do you need the qualifier, "if different from your own?"  you can't be racist toward your own race?  What if someone's skin color is really, really dark, the kind of person who almost looks blue(you know what I'm talking about), and you don't usually notice blackness, but it's obvious there?

Offline Nimbuscloud

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2017, 02:47:25 AM »
I hope my bluntness isn't too abrasive.  I apologize if it seems like I was picking on you, I just want to share my ideas.  I don't mean to offend you when I challenge yours, I just think that's the interesting part of the discussion.

All in all, I'm somewhat comforted and oddly a little disappointed at how little controversy there seems to be about this controversial topic here.

Offline DelightfullyMAD

Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2017, 08:15:18 PM »
Feel like I should weigh in on this, since this sort of word play is one of the things that sort of annoys me about the world today.

Fact of the matter is, simplification is usually a good thing, especially when it comes to things such as this.  Trying to define something like racism in such a way as to coyly allow certain groups of people to exempt themselves from moral and ethical accountability is staggeringly unhelpful, yet it seems to be all the rage these days.

Simply put, a simple, easy, unambiguous definition is definitely what is needed, one that does not exclude anyone, which, interestingly enough, is what this is all about on a more meta level, right?  So, why can't people just agree that hating and disdaining others based on race, regardless of what race you happen to be, is probably not a good idea.  People should be held equally accountable, not given special privileges to be more horrible based upon their 'Victim Points', which in turn just allows such groups to behave in more horrible ways since they feel justified.  Reversing the roles does not actually solve the problem, after all, rather holding everyone equally accountable is the only real way to solve this.

This, of course, goes for many of the other forms of prejudice as well; Sexism, Religion, etc.  Give any group the sort of social power that the new, deliberately exclusive definitions of these words provide, and they will almost certainly abuse it.

It seems as though we are living in an age where fewer and fewer people wish to be held accountable for their actions, and we are bending and twisting the very language itself in an effort to try and escape that accountability by convincing ourselves that "Well, I CAN'T be racist, because I belong to victim group #246 that let's me be racist while not technically being racist, so it's okay."

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Re: The Different Definitions of Racism
« Reply #11 on: April 25, 2017, 09:01:35 AM »
I concur with what DelightfullyMAD has stated.

Simple is best. I find these other definitions of racism which are basically scape goats for people who belong to races that have, in the past and continuing in the present day, been subject to great deals of racism by others, to justify their own racism, typically towards those who are perceived or believed to have perpetrated the racism against said group in the past and present.

IE, y group is beset by racism in the past and present by x group, so y group now tries to justify their racism towards x group by attempting to alter the definition of racism.

In my experience, it's mostly college students over the last few years being taught this "new" definition of racism. And sadly, a lot of them believe it and defend it against people rightfully pointing out what it really is (as per above).

Pure and simple - racism is hatred by one person against another person, based on the color of their skin, or where they're from, or both. This can even include racial groups hating those of the same group. And when I say hatred, that includes bigotry, discrimination, violence, so on and so forth.