Racism as an ideology originated from European scientists in the 17th Century during the Atlantic slave trade. They invented it in order to differentiate themselves from those with different skin colors and darker features, creating a racial hierarchy that continues to this day. It would simply be incorrect to deny that the history of racism has been (and continues to be) one of white supremacy as the label “white” has always been an indication of superiority.
However, many of us were taught when we were little that racism is simply disliking someone based on the color of their skin. We were taught that it is a two-way street and that it can happen to anyone. We were taught that racism is simply prejudice toward any race.
This is clearly evident in the defense tactic many people use when defending racism.
As someone with a large online social justice platform, a day does not go by without someone sending me a screenshot of the “definition of racism”, followed up with a paragraph about how I am the real racist for critiquing white supremacy.
For many white people, the “definition of racism” offers them a safeguard so that they no longer feel the need to check their privilege. It acts as a last resort when backed into a corner by logic and reason. It is their final safety measure to ensure that they still win the conversation, even though this is not the type of conversation to be won.
It is for those white people that I have listed below some of the many reasons why the “definition of racism” is wrong.
Dictionaries provide a simplistic view of words.
While dictionaries are a great reference for people who have no prior knowledge on a word, concept or idea, they are not the best for conducting and controlling discussion. Racism is such a complex idea that it would be impossible to describe every aspect of it in a basic 101 way. Dictionaries should instead be used as a starting point for learning, leading to more thorough research and investigation, rather than being a final and definitive argument as to why white people can experience racism.
Dictionaries are written and edited by white men.
The majority of writers for popular and academic dictionaries have been white men. In the western world, as there are systems in place which privilege white people, it is not surprizing to see that the definition of racism put forward by white men is inaccurate. They are socialized to believe that the racism people of color experience is in any way comparable to the “racism” white people experience (i.e. being called out for perpetrating and upholding white supremacy). There is simply no credibility in white people defining racism.
Racism is systemic.
If we look at the word, ‘racism’, we see that it is made up of ‘race’ and the suffix ‘-ism’. This suffix is used to denote a system which, at least in the western world, is a system of white supremacy.
This clearly differentiates racism from prejudice. Anyone can be prejudiced toward anyone else, regardless of their race. People of color can certainly be prejudiced toward white people. However it is not racism because there is no larger system in place which oppresses white people.
These are just some of the reasons why the “dictionary definition of racism” is invalid. If you or someone you know ever feels the need to screenshot the “definition of racism” and use it in an argument, just remember that the definition of ketchup says that it is spicy.