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Archive for September 16th, 2005

So What is Racism, Anyway?

The exchange between Daniel and me below testifies to the range of phenomena which may be grouped under the broad term of "racism." Here’s the entry from Dictionary.com :

  1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
  2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

That helps a lot, huh? These definitions seem plain enough, but they would place a statement such as "The people of northern Europe tend to be more reserved than those of southern Europe" in the category of racism–it meets the first half of definition 1 (at least if you’re willing to think of those two groups as having a racial difference) and is certainly a prejudice as in definition 2. Neither of these really touch on the question of hostility or ill will, which to me is the essence of the idea of racism as something invidious.

I may regret opening this can of worms, but it seems like our official and accepted doctrines about race are extremely confused. Group characteristics do exist (whether they’re the product of genetics or culture is irrelevant), but we’ve put ourselves in the position of pretending they don’t at some times, while insisting on them at other times, indeed requiring that they be acted upon. In general, it’s permissible to notice group characteristics if they’re positive, but not if they’re negative, with an exception for groups generally regarded as oppressors.

I have no tolerance whatsoever for race-based hostility, and was on the anti-segregation side growing up in the civil-rights era South. But it seems that we now have a hyper-sensitivity that’s actually exacerbating things. No real point here, I’m really just wondering aloud, as one can do on a blog. Would be interested in what other people have to say. Someday I may write at length on this topic.

Maclin Horton

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