Semantics: racism vs. prejudice … and curiosity vs. defensiveness

“There is a difference between being hurt by prejudice and discrimination, and being oppressed by racism. Prejudice and discrimination are carried out by individuals; racism is carried out by institutions (courts, schools, businesses, etc.) that reflect the dominant culture … Reverse racism is a misnomer because it presumes that racism is the same as prejudice and discrimination.” From The Anti-Racist Cookbook

It gets confusing. When someone calls me a racist, I need to understand that to mean that I’m acting in some ways that support racism, even if I’m not yet aware of that consequence. If someone I trust calls me racist, I need to pay attention, to examine whether it’s true, without becoming defensive. Defensiveness has no place in an honest discussion about racism.

Indeed, curiosity would be a much better/healthier reaction, since race oppression exists because it is fed and watered by white-dominated systems–by white people. White liberals generally think we have excellent motives, but our motives may be just a superficial frosting on top of the status-quo. 

When I don’t challenge systems that are racist, then no, I’m not technically a racist–since I’m an individual–but I’m SUPPORTINIG racism, SUPPORTING oppression, the effects of which are just as harmful.


3 Responses

  1. This is very true, especially that defensive / curious idea.

    Most of us get defensive if we feel we are being accused of racism and that closes down discussion. If instead we can learn to read “you are a racist” as “what you are doing supports racism and race oppression” then we can learn not to run away, shout or get upset but to ask – why? – then good things might start happening.

    Also, the explanation of why “reverse racism” is a misnomer is really helpful. Thanks for posting it 🙂

  2. Racism is a hatred or discrimination based purely on race and/or skin color.

    Prejudice is hatred or discrimination based on the appearance of another human. This could be how they are dressed, how they talk, or how they carry themselves.

    I believe that “racism” is an overused word in America today. I believe that it still exists but prejudice is much more prevalent in todays American society.

  3. Some recent incidents provoked me into this very simplistic analysis of the root cause of racism here: I would be honored if you could refine, or even comment on it.

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