Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Racism Re-Defined

One of the worst things a person can be called during the span of their life is a racist. The terms racist and racism have been used to describe many people although based on how it's been defined by the user. There are times when something such as prejudice or discrimination is considered racist. The idea behind this paper is to discuss and define racism on its own while not mixing it in with prejudice and discrimination, The reason racism should be defined on its own, is because as mentioned earlier to label someone or something as racist can be very harsh. So harsh in fact being labeled a racist or being party to racism can cost a person their job and it can change the general public perception of that person. The label of racist is not an easy one to escape either. So for that reason racism needs to be defined not as something that can be thrown around so easily. Some of the definitions used within this paper can be viewed as legitimate from many different sources. Including but not limited to the sociological definition of racism, the psychological definition of racism, and the "official"widely accepted definition of racism. The idea being to show the many differences in how racism is defined by the many different fields of study and in the general public. Some may agree and some may disagree but racism is not a term that should fit into this small box. The power that some words have is great and they should be defined with the power of those words in mind. The idea that it's just another word that can be tossed around haphazardly is wrong. The word should be used with the idea that when something or someone is racist or is involved with racism it or they should be called as such while not diminishing the term with overuse.

The universally accepted and often used definition of racism can be found in dictionaries and on basic definition websites like dictionary.com. That definition as quoted from dictionary.com is: "The belief or doctrine that inherent differences among various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that ones own race is superior and has the right to rule others." There are good things and bad things about this definition. The good things in this definition are that racists do often behave as if their race is superior to others. Racists also usually feel that their culture is culturally superior to others. Some of those are usually stating other cultures are or were more primitive or less developed than their own. There are even racists that believe their race was put on Earth to rule others. These types of racists are often more scarce or silent in this belief. Now for the negatives of this definition. First the belief portion is really hard to prove, sense knowing someones beliefs is somewhat crucial to this definition. This implies that you would have to know them in-depth and or they would have to share with you their beliefs. The problem with that is in 2008 getting a person to admit to being a racist is definitely a death knell to both their credibility and integrity and they are aware of that so the chances of getting an admission of this are minimal. As mentioned earlier it is also difficult to find racists that feel that their race was meant to rule others. It was also discussed that one can keep that belief or ideal to themselves and it would be difficult to prove they actually believe that. So after dissecting this definition one can find that this definition is a bit too vague. It requires a lot of intricate knowledge of the person some of the information you would have a hard time acquiring especially sense as mentioned before the label of racist is not a good one. The good points are it gives you an idea of how racists behave and what they could believe. Perhaps a more focused definition is necessary. If the universal definition is too vague maybe one should look elsewhere for a more suitable definition.

One could look to a specific field of study to find a more proper definition. Sociology is the study of society. Surely people who study society can come with a suitable more in-depth definition. Sociologist John J. Macionis in his collegiate study book Social Problems defines racism as: "The assertion that people of one race are less worthy than or even biologically inferior to others" (p76). This definition touches on a different angle the universal definition doesn't and that's assertion" the act of enforcing their beliefs. It makes a lot more sense that a racist would enforce his beliefs without necessarily putting them into words. Also the biological inferiority is interesting angle sociology puts on racism. Especially in situations regarding stereotypes and stereotyping. Stereotyping is based off prejudice and is not always bad but it is rarely good. One such situation involving stereotyping can be saying that Asian males are not good at basketball because stereotypically Asian males are small and fragile. While Black and White American males are usually what some would consider the average basketball players height and have the average basketball player's toughness. An example of that would be NBA player Yao Ming (Chinese) while physically large enough (he's 7ft 3in) was seen as not "physical"or tough enough to play in the NBA. Were the fans and commentators who made this assumption racist against Asian males? No it was a prejudice a prejudgment based on the knowledge they had or believed about Asian males. While still improper to prejudge no one considered them racists. So in the above example it can be proven that a biologically inferior argument doesn't necessarily mean racist. But what about the assertion? Various people would agree that an assertion that a race is inferior cannot really be defended. If someone out to prove Yao's a typical physically weak Asian man by bullying him (on court or off) that can be considered an act of racism. It would imply a level of harassment specifically aimed at making Yao look inferior. This by far one the most detailed definitions one may find on racism. Dr. Feinburg excellently points out specific situations where racism has been viewed and in some areas run rampant. He also accurately points the purpose of racism and what racism has been known for doing. However there is a specific detail that poses a problem. And that is Racism serves to discriminate against ethnic minorities and to maintain advantages and benefits for White Americans. That particular portion of the definition is unfair. This would mean only White people can be racist and only minorities can be victims. While historically speaking racism has been used for this exact reason the definition he uses obviously needs a bit of updating . However Dr. Feinburg's definition is hard to top because of its great detail and the ethos of the author. After dissecting the definitions of specific fields of study and the universal definition of racism if one were asked to define it for they how would it be defined? It would be hard to define a term that's been around for years and has been defined so well by so many. However by reading how different fields of study define it one can see that a proper definition has to be more specific as well as fair. So what would such a definition look like?

Let's try this as a definition of racism: Racism is the systematic assertion of power used to specifically disadvantage, disenfranchise, physically or mentally harm others of different ethnic or racial backgrounds other than their own. Looking at this definition one can see that power is a pre-requisite. Why? Many people hold personal prejudices not necessarily race specific or even if it is one cannot do much about it outside of keeping their prejudices to themselves. But people in power tend to put their prejudices into action. As was proven by Dr. Feinburg's definition. Purposefully disadvantaging other races is a sign of racism within this definition as well. It is because by putting extra roadblocks in the way of other people you are asserting. Of course some would disagree with this definition because it lacks the belief or idea of hatred within a racist these people would probably prefer the universal definition. One could feel it's implied if you are going to disadvantage people or physically harm them you would have to harbor a hatred or dislike of those people. Some would say you don't need to posses any "powers" to be a racist these types of people would favor the sociological definition. Well racists historically put themselves in positions of authority or power in order to oppress those they disliked. If one preferred Dr.Feinburg's definition that racism is found mostly within institutions, it can be agreed that institutions can be racist. However this above definition can also be applied to singular persons. Racism has come a long way. Many different important people have defined it, many more experienced it. The purpose of this paper was to successfully update the term and to separate it from the closely related prejudice and discrimination. One can find that both discrimination and prejudice are parts of racism and racism cannot exist without both of them. However racism has been updated in a way that is specific and if one is charged or labeled as a racist people have a way to prove it was done intentionally. And that was the ultimate goal to show a racists intent.


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