Racism Defined

Definitions are important. Without an agreed upon understanding of what words mean we cannot communicate effectively. Ibram X Kindi sets out clear definitions in “How to be an Antiracist” (2019):

“Racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas. . . . A racist idea is any idea that suggests one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.”

Anti-racist ideas hold that racial groups are equals and that all of their apparent differences and inequities are caused by racist policies. A policy is any law, rule, procedure, process, regulation, or guideline, written or unwritten that governs people.

A racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial inequity between racial groups.

An anti-racist policy is any measure that produces or sustains racial equity between racial groups.

Racial inequities are caused by racist policies, some current and some historical: among them are slavery and Jim Crow as well as our failure as a nation to address these disparities. Disparities which have not been eliminated increase through successive generations.

There is no such thing as a non-racist or race-neutral policy. Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity between racial groups.

[So,] if racial discrimination is defined as treating, considering, or making a distinction in favor or against an individual based on that person’s race, then racial discrimination is not inherently racist. The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or is creating or maintaining inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is anti-racist. If discrimination is creating or maintaining inequity, then it is racist. Someone reproducing inequity through permanently assisting an overrepresented racial group into wealth and power is entirely different than someone challenging that inequity by temporarily assisting an underrepresented racial group into relative wealth and power until equity is reached.

The only remedy to racist discrimination is anti-racist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.

[A] racist is one who supports a racist policy through their action or inaction or by expressing a racist idea”. . . .To the extent that one supports racist ideas and policies, one is a racist and to the extent that one actively opposes racist ideas and policies, one is an anti-racist.
Thee is no scientific or factual basis for believing the racist idea that one race is inferior or superior to any other. Race is a social construct. It is no more predictive of human behavior, ability or character than is hair color or eye color. Left unchallenged, Racism grows. Silence and the absence of opposition denotes acceptance, which in turn perpetuates racist ideas and supports racist policies. Racism spreads when there is no opposition and shrinks in the face of challenge.

So, we work to identify racist ideas and racist policies and work to end them. In our society, racist ideas and racist policies exist and inevitably influence everyone. We all make mistakes. That is human. If I am criticized for having done or said something that is racist, and someone has told me that my conduct or my words were hurtful, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t know or that I did not intend to cause harm. The tone of voice or an angry manner of conveying the information is not relevant, because, if I do not want to act or talk in a racist manner, what is important is the information. The appropriate response is to say “thank you, I will think about that and do better in the future.” We are capable of changing our ideas and we can control our conduct. So, little by little we will live up to the promise of our ideals.