From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Racialism is the belief that there are distinct races. In British English racialism is synonymous with racism.

When used within white or black separatist identity politics, it is intended to portray an emphasis on social and cultural differences between races.

The term "racialism" is also sometimes used to describe racial policy, such as the Jim Crow laws that occurred in the Southern United States, the past apartheid of South Africa, or the "affirmative action" policies of various contemporary nations.

Definitions and differences[edit]

Racism (SOED ISBN 0-19-861126-9 ) implies a presumption of racial superiority and a harmful intent, whereas advocates of positive racial differences use the word "racialism" to indicate a strong interest in matters of race without the presumption of superiority or the desire to cause harm to others. Their focus rather is on racial pride, identity politics, and/or racial segregation. Organisations such as NAAWP insist on these distinctions, and vehemently oppose state sponsored racism.

The relationship between the two concepts is expressed at length by Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book In My Father's House:

"the view—which I shall call racialism—that there are heritable characteristics, possessed by members of our species, which allow us to divide them into a small set of races, in such a way that all the members of these races share certain traits and tendencies with each other that they do not share with members of any other race. These traits and tendencies characteristic of a race constitute, on the racialist view, a sort of racial essence; it is part of the content of racialism that the essential heritable characteristics of the "Races of Man" account for more than the visible morphological characteristics—skin color, hair type, facial features—on the basis of which we make our informal classifications. Racialism is at the heart of nineteenth-century attempts to develop a science of racial difference, but it appears to have been believed by others—like Hegel, before then, and Crummell and many Africans since—who have had no interest in developing scientific theories.

Racialism is not, in itself, a doctrine that must be dangerous, even if the racial essence is thought to entail moral and intellectual dispositions. Provided positive moral qualities are distributed across the races, each can be respected, can have its "separate but equal" place."[1]

W. E. B. Du Bois[edit]

W.E.B. Du Bois argues that racialism is the philosophical belief that differences between the races exist, be it biological, social, psychological, or in the realm of the "soul". He then goes on to argue that racism is using this belief to push forward the argument that one's particular race is superior to the others. Therefore, Du Bois separates the conditions of racism from racism itself. Kwame Anthony Appiah summarizes Du Bois' position in his book In my father's house, chapter 3. Racialism in this view is a value neutral philosophy, while racism is a value charged ideology.

Molefi Kete Asante criticises Du Bois for this very racialism in The Afrocentric Idea.[clarify][how?]

Identity politics[edit]

Within identity politics, many groups have emphasised their own race, and the importance or racial differences, whether they be cultural, economic, biological or political.

"While Mandela, like the others, is clearly not racist, he also must be counted as racialist, because his struggle against apartheid was predicated on the race-based solidarity of those who were enslaved, based on race, under the system of apartheid: you cannot fight racism without introducing race as a predicate of your action. So Malcolm and Mandela, both, have to be counted racialist." (Grisso, Africans Unbound magazine[2])

Racialism as policy legally employed by nations[edit]

Prior to the 20th century, nearly all nations had strict laws promoting racial distinctions. This became increasingly unpopular, especially after the 1960s, and no nation today admits to having a racial stratification or racialist hierarchy. However, there are wide arrays of race-based policies in place in nations today, but since the word racialism has negative connotations, the term used for these policies is racial rather than racialist. These include affirmative action, racial quotas and reverse discrimination. These policies are said to attempt to correct inequalities and are sometimes referred to as "positive discrimination".


Racialist and racialism depict an outlook or emphasis on race or racial considerations, as in determining policy or interpreting events. As such, these are neutral terms which in context can be either used negatively, as with classical racism, or used constructively, as with attempting to understand racialistic societal complexities. ‘Affirmative action’ is an example of a racialistic policy which attempts to reverse racial discrimination whether intended or not. The term racialism is far less popular.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  • Molefi Kete Asante (1998) The Afrocentric IdeaISBN 156639595X
  • Paul C. Taylor (2000) – Appiah's Uncompleted Argument: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Reality of Race. (philosopher K. Anthony Appiah): An Article from: Social Theory and Practice ISBN B0008HB770
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah (1993) – In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of CultureISBN 0195068521
  • Reggie White's Speech before the Wisconsin State Assembly (click 778)
  • Sanneh, Kelefa "After the Beginning Again: The Afrocentric Ordeal" Transition – Issue 87 (Volume 10, Number 3), 2001, pp. 66–89