Racism isn’t that easy to define.  There are two competing meanings and the new, more specific one, is quite controversial once examined.

The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse Carlos Hoyt Jr.


“We do our students (white and not white) a disservice by indoctrinating them into a belief system that charges white people with being de facto racists (by virtue of being the beneficiaries of historic and present institutional race-based oppression) while providing an exemption to black people from being held accountable for racist beliefs (racism) or practices (race-based oppression). One of our basic charges as social workers is to affirm that discrimination and oppression based on the accident of one’s condition (whether the condition is one’s appearance (lookism), physical ability (ableism), sex (sexism), sexual orientation (heterosexism), place of origin (xenophobia/ethnocentrism), or socioeconomic status (classism) are patently and intolerably unjust.

In defining and describing the types of social bias and injustice we confront and aim to dispel, we are obliged to observe nuance when it is relevant to a thorough understanding of a phenomenon under consideration. The minute that one human being is treated unequally by another, without legitimate basis for the unequal treatment, there is injustice, but until the motivation for that unjust treatment is determined to be a belief in the superiority or inferiority of races, the mistreatment cannot reasonably be labeled as racist.

There are, unfortunately, many factors that can derail reason and lead to irrational unjust behavior (personal enmity, fear of the unfamiliar, the perception of threat, social conditioning, any of the isms listed earlier). When the flaw is a belief in race as a legitimate reason to discriminate, it is racism. When racism is enacted to subjugate or disenfranchise others, it is oppression; when the source of the power is systemic, structural, or institutional, it is race-based institutional oppression.”

I highly recommend reading the paper in its entirety as Hoyt Jr lays out the arguments for the redefinition versus the original meaning of racism.