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What is racism? There are no straightforward answers to that question, because the concept of "race" is highly controversial. By highlighting racism, we will also need to take a look at prejudice and how it finds an outlet in discrimination based on skin colour and ethnicity.


If you look up racism in dictionaries, you will most likely find a definition that goes like this:

Racism is the beliefs and practices, or systems that politcially or socially treat races,ethnic or national groups differently, i.e. discrimination. This is based upon the presumption that one race might have characteristics or qualities that are considered inferior or superior.


Consider how the following correspond with the definition above (who are/were involved, who were superior/inferior, in what way was discrimination effected?) Is it always the majority who suppresses a minority?

  • The import and use of African slaves to America and the Caribbean
  • The segregation policy in the Southern United States
  • The apartheid policy in South Africa
  • The Holocaust
  • The treatment of Aborigines in Australia
  • The Assad regime in Syria

What is Racism?

Racism is a difficult concept, since scholars neither agree about the meaning of the "race" concept nor about what constitutes discrimination.

For a long time researchers attempted to reason that the race concept was inextricably linked to biology. They measured skulls to scientifically justify discrimination. Even if biology was generally dismissed from the the race concept in the 1930s, the Nazis continued attempting to find biological proof that the Aryan race was superior to Slavs, Jews and Gypsies.

Today, however, scholars agree that there is no scientifc reason to divide people into races. Race is not considered a biological phenomenon, but a social and political construction. Culture, languages and religion commonly constitute a basis for discrimination. Many consider the issue of culture to be the current race concept, and this might have implications for our future definition of racism.


Even if it is difficult to agree upon a common definition of racism, the phenomenon is no doubt founded in prejudice.Do you remember what prejudice is?


An opinion or feeling (often negative) that you form beforehand and which is not based on knowledge or actual experience.

You are prejudiced if you emphasize skin color in your judgment of other persons. Most people are aware of their opinions about other people. However, it is likely that you subconsciously favor one group of people above other groups. American psychologists have developed a test to reveal your hidden prejudices. In order to take this test (10 min.) you have to provide some information about your gender, nationality, age and education. Test about prejudices

Read more here: Where Do Racism and Prejudice Come From?

Sist oppdatert 10.02.2018
Skrevet av Eli M. Huseby


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