What does racism actually mean?

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Advocates of social justice have a persistent habit of redefining words to suit their needs, in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to obfuscate the issues and bamboozle others into accepting ideas that are, put simply, naked sophistry.

While this Orwellian deformation of our dialectic is damaging to the public discourse, it can be remedied by a careful analysis of the language we are using to talk about these issues.  

If you are a regular English-speaking person, you probably use a dictionary to find the definition of racism. This is, however, not satisfactory. Dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive, which means a dictionary cannot actually tell you what the meaning of a word is, only describe how the word is used in common parlance. This is why dictionaries are constantly updating their lexicon with new and exciting definitions, such as the Oxford English Dictionary including a definition for the term ‘social justice warrior‘.  

sjw-definition

If dictionaries were prescriptive, they would require a vast bureaucracy to oversee the language which would change as dictated by this new Ministry of Language; dictionary classes would be required in school and keeping abreast of the latest linguistic updates would become like reading the news.  

Instead, the poor, beleaguered authors of dictionaries are forever struggling to keep up with how words are actually used in the real world to explain to others exactly what people mean when they use a specific word.

Let us take the word ‘racism’. In common parlance, most people use racism to mean ‘prejudice or discrimination based on race’. So to begin, we must define race:

race

The pertinent definition in the context of an accusation of racism is the distinction between categories of humans who share distinctive physical traits.  We can now attempt to define racism:

racism

Already, we have reached an impasse. By the first definition, what is the difference between a racist and a supremacist? By the second definition, what is the difference between prejudice and discrimination?

The belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits leading to inherent superiority/inferiority of the races is not the intended meaning when one person calls another a racist. The accusation of racism is not intended to spark a discussion on the scientific merits, if any, of race, but as a method of objecting to a person’s bigoted behaviour. We are concerned with the second definition of racism. We must now look at the definitions of discrimination and prejudice.

discrimination

We are certainly not defining racism as having the power to recognise distinctions and make personal decisions accordingly, even when doing so categorically. If this were the case, dating websites would be the height of racism. We do not consider this kind of racial discrimination to be racism or even wrong or unusual because it is an entirely subjective decision that has no adverse effect on the lives of those discriminated against.  

prejudice

Discrimination only takes on a negative aspect when prejudice is applied to its usage, and even then only takes on significance when applied to the treatment of others. The inclusion of prejudice to a definition of discrimination is redundant.

Prejudice necessitates discrimination in order to establish that one can be prejudiced. Without the ability to discriminate between one thing and another, a person cannot hold preconceived judgments nor exhibit irrational hostility against individuals or groups based on any discrete characteristics. We can therefore more concisely define ‘racism’ as:

“Prejudice based on race.”

We can be certain of the accuracy and specificity of this concise definition for any given instance of racism between individuals or groups. If person a’s actions towards individuals or groups in category b fit our definition of racism, we can accurately determine it to be racism.

Now we know precisely what we mean when we use the word ‘racism’, it’s time to consider the academic redefinition of that word.  The definition of the word ‘racism’ is a debate that has been raging in academia for decades and is broadly split between two positions.

In a paper called The Pedagogy of the Meaning of Racism: Reconciling a Discordant Discourse, we are given a good breakdown on the issue in sociological terms.

academia-2

This paper defines prejudice and racism in the standard terms one might find in any dictionary, but then the author sees fit to include definitions for power and oppression. ‘Racism’ even has an addendum to inform us that they are stating the “original definition” of the word. These additional vectors have no relevance to the definition of the word racism.  

principle
Racism describes a principle of being prejudiced against a person due to their race, which is context-independent. Any person could potentially be prejudiced against any other person due to their race regardless of any extraneous factors.  There may or may not be consequences for holding and acting upon these prejudices, but this is immaterial as to whether we are accurately describing whether or not a person does hold these prejudices.

‘Power’ and ‘oppression’ are non-sequiturs when dealing with racism, or any principle.  A principle is a  fundamental law that is true regardless of context. There may be circumstances where it is just to violate a principle, for example the imprisonment of criminals is a just violation of a person’s freedom of movement, but the principle itself does not change.

So why has the author included the definitions of power and oppression?

redefinition-of-racism

This is the new definition of racism that has been popularised in mainstream academic thought. The word racism no longer means prejudice based on race, but has been changed to fit a specific, simplistic formula:

Racism = prejudice + power

Each Boolean component of this formula is not a variable included to produce a calculated result, but a binary assertion that equates to the state of racism. Not only does this provide no measurement of the intensity of a person’s prejudice or a quantification of their power, but it produces an incomplete conclusion to a series of very complex social phenomena.

In addition to being an inadequate method of explaining the power dynamics and social hierarchy of any given institution, the author points out in their paper that this new definition of the word racism often causes  cognitive dissonance in students, and with good reason. Let’s examine the component pieces of this definition.

  1. We all have prejudices and anyone can harbour prejudicial, even hateful, feelings about a race

This is objectively true. Every person has prejudices and anyone can harbour hate against other people based on their race.

  1. To be guilty of racism, one must have power of a ‘special sort’

This is objectively false.  One does not need to have power to be prejudiced against others on the basis of race, one needs only to hold certain, ill-informed opinions, and the ‘special sort’ of power is ill-defined and exceedingly malleable.

  1. Racism is prejudice plus power leveraged at an institutional level to ‘maintain the privileges’ of the ‘dominant social group’

This is objectively false. Racism is, as already established, a principle describing prejudice based on race, in the same way sexism is prejudice based on sex.

  1. In Western society, white people are the ‘dominant social group’, while black people are not

This is objectively false. “White people” are not a social group, they are a racial demographic.

Even if one were to accept the premise that there is a white social group in Western society, to claim this group are self-aware enough to act in its own interest is highly debatable, especially given the integration of non-white people into Western society.

There are many examples of white people acting against the interests of other white people, such as race-based affirmative action programmes or the increased competition caused by a ready influx of non-white immigrants into majority-white societies. Whether you agree with these programmes or not, they are exclusionary to white people and actively and deliberately erode the hegemonic power of anything that could be considered to be part of the ill-defined “white group”.

The entire concept of a “dominant social group” degenerates further when scrutinised beyond the broad, surface-level sweeps that comprise this new definition. Western societies are made up of many different social groups, with only the most bigoted and reviled fringe elements establishing their membership on the basis of race.

  1. People who do not belong to the ‘dominant social group’ do not have power and therefore cannot be racist

This is objectively false. There are many non-white people in Western society who hold power. Racism, as established, is simply a description of a principle. If there is an observable prejudice against a race, for any reason, that prejudice can accurately be described as racism.  There is no classification of person that exempts them from this principle.

  1. This leads to the ‘obvious-seeming’ conclusion that black people cannot be racist

This conclusion only seems obvious if one does not examine it. The entire line of reasoning is constructed on fuzzy logic to arrive at the implausible conclusion that racism is no longer prejudice based on race, but instead the direct effects of such prejudice.

The academic, social justice redefinition of the word racism is, by definition, sophistry.  

sophistry

Under the academic definition, the word ‘racism’ no longer refers to a metaphysical concept, but a material one. Racism is an abstraction, a description of an unquantifiable state of emotion. The social justice redefinition of racism is quantifiable, with its own pseudo-algebraic formula to calculate how victimised a person is after experiencing racism, or indeed, whether they can experience a person being prejudiced to them because of their race at all.  

Given that racism is a term dealing with an abstract, metaphysical concept, it is no wonder so many students find themselves suffering from cognitive dissonance when their lecturers attempt to impose this sophistry. The students instinctively know they are dealing with metaphysical principles and not materialistic results even if they cannot articulate this understanding, so naturally resist the attempt to confuse the two and inculcate them into a lie.

Perhaps the most obvious source of confusion over the redefinition of the word racism is that it leaves us without a word to describe racism. If racism is redefined to mean “institutional prejudice and oppression on the basis of race”, how does one describe interpersonal examples prejudice based on race? There is no longer a word for it.

Even worse is that the social justice definition of racism precludes the possibility of independent individuals from even being racist at all.  If a person is not operating as an agent of an institution then that person cannot apply the power of that institution when they are displaying their prejudice. If an individual cannot be racist under this definition, what sense does it make for an advocate of social justice to make an accusation of racism at all?  

Under the standard definition of racism, one would simply add the conditional modifier “institutional” to the word “racism” to provide the contextual definition of prejudice based on race that academics redefining this word are trying to express. In short, there is no need to redefine the word racism and the new proposed definition is not internally consistent and does not make sense.

One can only wonder why social justice academics are so enthusiastically attempting to redefine the word ‘racism’ to create oppressor and oppressed classes and exempt certain people from being punished by society for so openly exhibiting and indulging in their prejudices, but that is a topic for another video.   

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