What is racism?

1 viewed last edited 26 days ago
Sangeetha Pulapaka

Theories of racial superiority developed and flourished in earlier centuries and still survive today, but much present day racism is not based on conscious scientific beliefs.The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines racism as

  1. a belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudice based on this.
  2. antagonism towards, or discrimination against other races, esp. as a result of this. 

Racism in general terms consists of conduct or words or practices which disadvantage or advantage people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin. In its more subtle form it is as damaging as in its overt form.

Individual racism often has an element of intent but Institutional Racism (where there is collective failure to deal with people properly) may well be unintentional. It is similar to Systemic Racism where policies, practices and systems that work against certain groups of people become embedded in organisations. For example, deciding to treat everyone in exactly the same way may sound fair, but may disadvantage a group whose needs are not met by that policy.

The Equality Commission NI (ECNI) describes discrimination thus:

‘Discrimination is not simply unfairness. To be discriminated against means to be treated less favourably than others. Race discrimination is less favourable treatment on the grounds of colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin, or on the grounds of belonging to the Irish Traveller community.’

Direct Discrimination is to be treated less favourably because of your racial or ethnic background.

Indirect Discrimination is where a provision, criterion or practice is applied equally but puts someone from a particular race or ethnic background at a disadvantage.

Equality Commission Definition of Racial Harassment: ‘Harassment based on racial grounds occurs when unwanted conduct based on race or ethnic or national origins has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity or creating an environment that is intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive. … Racial harassment can include the making of racist jokes, banter, insults or isolating individuals.’