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Racialism is the belief that the human species is naturally divided into distinct biological categories called 'races.' According to the Oxford English Dictionary, racialism is synonymous with racism.[1]

As terminology, 'racialist' might be used by some speakers of English to describe the 'Jim Crow' laws of the Southern United States, apartheid regime of South Africa, as well as corrective policies to racial inequity such as affirmative action, black economic empowerment and positive discrimination.[clarification needed]

Definitions and differences[edit]

Although at least one definition of racism entails a presumption of racial superiority and harmful intent, racialists claim their use of the label "racialism" entails only a fixation on racial categorization, without a philosophical commitment to racial superiority and an intent to harm. Their focus is claimed rather to be on identity politics or racial segregation. Organizations such as NAAWP insist on racial distinctions, but claim to oppose state-sponsored racism, such as American slavery and Jim Crow segregation.

The ties between the historical evolution of racialism and racism are examined 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.

According to racialists, the racial essence implied by racialism entails intellectual dispositions, a perspective that many have called racist. Despite these accusations of racism, racialists claim that, provided positive moral qualities are hypothetically distributed across the racial categories that racialists posit, each racial category can be respected by having its own "separate but equal" caste.[2]

W. E. B. Du Bois[edit]

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois claimed that racialism was the philosophical position that 'races' existed and collective differences existed between such categories. He theorized further in 1903 that racism required advancing the argument that one 'race' is superior to other 'races'. Kwame Anthony Appiah summarized Du Bois' position in his 1992 book In my father's house. According to Appiah's interpretation of DuBois' theory, racialism is value neutral and racism is value charged.

Today, some psychologists point to studies that suggest racialist beliefs result from ignorance of modern population genetics.[3][4][5][6][7][8][9]

Identity politics[edit]

Within identity politics, some advocacy groups use racial categorization as an organizing tool to achieve their political and social goals, typically to combat what they see as racist systems of oppression designed to harm individuals, such as Code Noir, Black Codes, Jim Crow segregation, South African apartheid, and present-day social stratification, stereotyping, aversive racism, and discrimination.

"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[10])

At least one scholar has noted that although 'there is no necessary correspondence between the ascribed identity of race and one's culture or personal sense of self' and 'group difference is not intrinsic to members of social groups but rather contingent o[n] the social practices of group identification,' the social practices of identity politics may coerce individuals into the 'compulsory' enactment of 'prewritten racial scripts.'[11] From this perspective, even anti-racist racialism might, by promoting the performativity of racialism, further racism and/or racist oppression.

One proposed solution to the racism embedded in anti-racist identity politics is simply to stop perpetuating racialism, including the use of racial labeling.[12] For example, in Chief Justice Roberts' plurality opinion in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, he suggested "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race."

Racialism as national policy[edit]

One of the key sources of resistance to more robust conceptions of affirmative action and anti-discrimination law (e.g., disparate impact theory) is the meme that although some present-day racism may be unintentional and harmful, some visible effects of racialism are unintentional and harmless in a free marketplace of ideas where public social critique is common.

See also[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Kwame Anthony Appiah (1993) – In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of CultureISBN 0195068521
  • Who, What, Why? "Are racism and racialism the same?" BBC News Magazine, Last updated online: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 12:25 GMT
  • Agustín Fuentes, Ph.D, "Race Is Real…But Not in the Way Many People Think, Busting the myth of biological race," in Psychology Today, Published on April 9, 2012.
  • Thomas Sowell Discussing 'Racial Quotas' with William F. Buckley, Jr. on Firing Line (1981), available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JENCxjbARFM, last checked: October 13, 2014, 1:58 a.m..
  • Race, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. [13]


  1. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6442853.stm
  2. ^ http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/appiah/excerpts.html
  3. ^ http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/busting-myths-about-human-nature/201204/race-is-real-not-in-the-way-many-people-think
  4. ^ Kuzawa and Sweet. "Epigenetics and the embodiment of race: Developmental origins of US racial disparities in cardiovascular health". American Journal of Human Biology. Retrieved December 13, 2014. We conclude that environmentally responsive phenotypic plasticity, in combination with the better-studied acute and chronic effects of social-environmental exposures, provides a more parsimonious explanation than genetics for the persistence of CVD disparities between members of socially imposed racial categories. 
  5. ^ "Genetic variation, classification and 'race'". Nature. Retrieved November 18, 2014. Ancestry, then, is a more subtle and complex description of an individual's genetic makeup than is race. This is in part a consequence of the continual mixing and migration of human populations throughout history. Because of this complex and interwoven history, many loci must be examined to derive even an approximate portrayal of individual ancestry. 
  6. ^ "The Role of Race and Genetics in Health Disparities Research". PubMed. Retrieved December 13, 2014. Genes appear to have no role in existing first-generation health disparities research, which typically relies on self-reported race (defined according to US Census Bureau categories) as collected in retrospective or prospective cohort studies or from administrative databases. Second-generation health disparities research has identified numerous patient, provider, health care system, and environmental factors that are independent of human biology as contributors to health disparities among racial minorities. 
  7. ^ Michael White. "Why Your Race Isn’t Genetic". Pacific Standard. Retrieved December 13, 2014. [O]ngoing contacts, plus the fact that we were a small, genetically homogeneous species to begin with, has resulted in relatively close genetic relationships, despite our worldwide presence. The DNA differences between humans increase with geographical distance, but boundaries between populations are, as geneticists Kenneth Weiss and Jeffrey Long put it, 'multilayered, porous, ephemeral, and difficult to identify.' Pure, geographically separated ancestral populations are an abstraction: 'There is no reason to think that there ever were isolated, homogeneous parental populations at any time in our human past.' 
  8. ^ "The Genetic Ancestry of African Americans, Latinos, and European Americans across the United States". The American Journal of Human Genetics. Retrieved December 22, 2014. The relationship between self-reported identity and genetic African ancestry, as well as the low numbers of self-reported African Americans with minor levels of African ancestry, provide insight into the complexity of genetic and social consequences of racial categorization, assortative mating, and the impact of notions of ‘‘race’’ on patterns of mating and self-identity in the US. Our results provide empirical support that, over recent centuries, many individuals with partial African and Native American ancestry have ‘‘passed’’ into the white community, with multiple lines of evidence establishing African and Native American ancestry in self-reported European Americans. 
  9. ^ Carl Zimmer. "White? Black? A Murky Distinction Grows Still Murkier". The New York Times. Retrieved December 24, 2014. On average, the scientists found, people who identified as African-American had genes that were only 73.2 percent African. European genes accounted for 24 percent of their DNA, while .8 percent came from Native Americans. Latinos, on the other hand, had genes that were on average 65.1 percent European, 18 percent Native American, and 6.2 percent African. The researchers found that European-Americans had genomes that were on average 98.6 percent European, .19 percent African, and .18 Native American. These broad estimates masked wide variation among individuals. 
  10. ^ http://www.theafrican.com/Magazine/malcolm.htm
  11. ^ Richard T. Ford, Racial Culture: A Critique, Princeton University Press, 2009, pps. 117-118, 125-128
  12. ^ Yasuko Takezawa. "Human genetic research, race, ethnicity and the labeling of populations: recommendations based on an interdisciplinary workshop in Japan". BMC Medical Ethics. Retrieved December 13, 2014. In this age of genomics, differences between populations are often reported as having genetic bases. However, misunderstanding and extended interpretation of the results might contribute to discrimination, or justify health care and socio-economic inequalities. Therefore, we need to anticipate the various potential social and ethical problems associated with population descriptors. 
  13. ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/race/