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wundayatta's avatar

What is racism to you?

Asked by wundayatta (58326 points ) February 20th, 2009

I was reading the question asking whether racism is dead, and I began to wonder what people meant by “racism.” There are many acts and thoughts that various people might consider to be racist. Some are over, some are more subtle, and some might even be projections.

What does racism mean to you? Please try to be as specific as possible, by giving examples of acts and words and thoughts. I hope this will cover the territory from overt acts to things that are very subtle. Thanks.

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18 Answers

Harp's avatar

Fundamentally, racism is making assumptions, positive or negative, about a person’s abilities or character based upon their race rather than upon evidence. That might include expectations regarding the intelligence of someone, their work ethic, personal hygiene, morals, or violent intent.

Those expectations can be revealed in very subtle ways. If I’m surprised to hear an African-American man speak with a flat mid-western accent, then this reveals that I had expectations about how African-Americans speak. While that may not imply a value judgment on my part, it does show that I have a cluster of stereotypes that lead me to lump together individuals of a certain race.

I suppose that a mind that’s free of racism (if such a thing exists) would treat each new encounter as a blank slate, drawing any conclusions about a person solely from one’s own direct experience with that individual.

Darwin's avatar

Calling someone a name based on their race. “You _________!” or “Hey, _________!”

Refusing to allow them to associate with you or yours solely because of their race. An example is not inviting a child to a birthday party because she is black, Hispanic, arab, etc. Another is not allowing members of certain racial groups to join your club, come into your house, work at your company, or sit at your table. This can be outright as in signs that say “No ___________ allowed” or it can be subtle “Sorry, that seat’s taken.”

Denying someone an opportunity because of their race. “We have too many ____________ in our school already so we can’t admit you.” is the overt form. The subtle form is claiming another candidate is more qualified in order not to hire someone because of their race.

Assuming someone has a personality characteristic solely because of their race. “Of course he’s _________; he’s _________.” “All __________ are __________.” “I thought all _______________ liked _____________.”

All of this can happen to various degrees. Folks can flat out say something or do something, they can make excuses so they aren’t exposed to a different sort of person, or they can feel uneasy simply because another person has a different skin color or hair type.

People can also be surprised by something such as an accent associated in their mind with one racial group coming out of the mouth of someone of another. There was a comedian I enjoyed who played on this heavily – his parents were from Korea and he was born and raised in Tennessee. He often started his act by coming on stage and saying in his broadest Tennessee twang “What’s wrong with this picture?” This is racism, too, but not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the reasons that racism is hard to root out is that there is a hard-to-discern line between honest personal preference and believing in a stereotype based on one fact about a person or a group of people. It is also a very personal experience. If someone calls me a name I tend to ignore it (unless they have a gun in their hand at the time), but my son gets much more worked up about it. If someone denies me something because of my ancestry I tend to figure out a way around it, joke about it, or sometimes prove them wrong and get it anyway. Then someone like that comedian makes his living by poking fun at such misconceptions.

In reference to the cartoon in the Post, Al Sharpton’s response was to yell in public about it, but that is what he does – it is his role in life. My son’s response was “Huh? I don’t get it.” Mine was “I wonder if they meant that or not. The meaning of this piece is really unclear. The editor wasn’t thinking when he/she approved that.”

elijah's avatar

Racism to me is when people are judged by their skin tone or heritage such as all black people are lazy, all Chinese people can’t drive, all white people have it easy, all Mexicans are illegal immigrants, etc.
Racism is looking at someone and automatically thinking they are a specific thing. Yes some of these stereotypes might be true for a small percentage of these people, but they can also be true for any race. I know a lot of lazy white people ;-)
also there are racist remarks like all Asians are smart or all Italians are good cooks that people don’t think are negative but are not true.

tellelefler's avatar

racism is ignorance and fear of something different than yourself.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Racism to me is the phenomena of prejudices that lead to biased behavior towards a person based on that person’s race.

BTW, Sean Delonas is well-known in NYC for his anti-POC, anti-gay cartoons in the Post. This is only the first time he’s been called out nationally for his shenanigans.

Harp's avatar

Just an addendum to my earlier answer

In addition to the form of racism I described – expectations about individuals based on their race – the reverse process is also racism, namely using the behavior of individuals to draw conclusions about their race.

So, I guess that it would be more accurate to say that racism is the broader notion that there is a connection between race and character or ability.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

There is a fine line between prejudice and racism. Basically, prejudice is a decision made because of a lack of knowledge. Racism is like faith, in a way, because it is a decision based on knowing that deep down inside, what you believe isn’t true, but you refuse to admit it.

Racism is hate for hate’s sake. I can disparage a person of my own race and nobody blinks twice. Let me disparage someone of another race (even with just cause) and I get labeled a racist. That is the part that pisses me off. White guilt is another thing that pisses me off, but that’s fodder for another post.

If I was a racist, then the discussions I have with Efrain at work would not occur. I found out recently from Efrain that there are different dialects of Spanish depending on what part of Mexico you are from. I never realized that, and was happy to learn it.

So I guess to define your question, Racism is believing that all blacks are lazy and no-account, that all Mexicans are illegal aliens, and that all asians know kung fu.

mrswho's avatar

Any statement beginning with “Not to be racist but…” or
“I saw this (eyes dart around) black girl the other day and…”

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

Racism is moron.

steelmarket's avatar

I remember just a few years ago, I pulled off the highway and into an old-style gas station to ask for directions. When I asked the two guys sitting for inside for directions, they just took a long look at me and replied, “Buy a map”.

chucklmiller's avatar

Simple definition: non-tolerance

dannyc's avatar

I love this question because it defines one’s belief system. It is something that we bring in its bare essence, a way of viewing the planet. Racism is about tribal, inefficient or weaker minds creating simplistic solutions to their dealings with difference. I oppose but am victim to the social pressure, at times, inherent in our racist views. I fight and mostly win, because I have learned what a detrimental and unproductive vision that racism encompasses.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

These days? A ploy to give ‘monorities’ an unfair advantage.

CugelTheClueless's avatar

I would say that racism goes beyond prejudice. Prejudice has to do with expectations that are based on stereotypes or overgeneralizations. Racism has to do with behavior. I’d say racism has at least two degrees: there is the lesser degree of acting or judging on the basis of racial prejudice, and there is the more serious degree in which there is an ideology of racial supremacy or separateness, not just mere prejudice, that underlies the action or judgments of the racist.

One can have prejudices without being a racist, though one might slip up and behave in a racist way, or inadvertently participate in a racist status quo. But this is essentially a kind of ignorance, and people of good faith can grow out of this. The ideological racism is harder to overcome, because it involves self-delusion and bad faith.

On another thread, I said I was post judiced. That’s partly humorous, but not entirely. I’m white, and I have certain expectations concerning African-Americans that will influence how I act and what I say when I meet an African-American. I think I’ve had enough interactions with African-Americans over the years to generate expectations that are reasonable. It’s naive to suppose that no generalizations will apply to members of a group. My expectations (some positive, some negative, but mostly neutral) are based on experience and information, not stereotypes. Hence, I am “postjudiced”, not prejudiced.

By comparison, I probably am prejudiced toward white bikers. When I see a fat white guy with a ZZ Top-style beard and ratty Harley-Davidson denim & leather gear, I feel certain a certain negative reaction. This negative reaction is based on stereotypes. I have had very little actual interaction with these guys, and I haven’t done any serious reading about them or heard what much of what they have to say about themselves. So I cannot say that my negative reaction is justified. That’s prejudice.

dreamer31's avatar

Any negative judgement towards a person because of thier color is wrong and is what I consider racism/predjudice, no matter what color the person is that’s making the judgement. This point is often looked over in society. Too many people walk around with a “block of assumptions” on thier shoulders” about other races. People of all colors carry “the way they grew up” with them all of thier lives without realizing they are being more ignorant than they think. I do agree there are too many people that use racism to thier advantage.
What counts is who a person really is.. despite color, assuming nothing. Having no prior assumptions about people of a different race is a learned skill especailly if you grew up with racism and can lead to fascinating/wonderful people that otherwise, you would never know.
Everyone has thoughts that cross thier mind that can sterotype people based on many other things than color, it depends on how you react and what you do with these thoughts.

To put it simply, color does not matter: it is who a person truelly is and how they treat oothers, no matter what color either party may be.

However, I do not believe that simply describing a person by thier color without negativity is either racist or predjudice. ex: “The thin black lady with glasses was my waitress this time.”

JenniferP's avatar

I think racism is when you judge someone based on their race or color and expect them to have certain behaviors just because some others you have met do. But I also think reverse discrimination exists. I don’t think comedians should get away with joking about white people and I don’t think other races should use words like honky just as they would have the right not to be called certain words by us. My husband (who I am divorcing) is very racist and I got sick of hearing his hate day in and day out. I judge people by how they treat me not by their race or background.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

A tool used to attempt to gain unfair advantage by some races.

The gravy train that feeds race hustlers such as Sharpton and Jackson.

The true motivation of politicians such as Attorney General Eric Holder.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

THE definition:

Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another, nothing less, nothing more.

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