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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], although some disagree.

As terminology, 'racialist' might be used by some speakers of English to describe the 'Jim Crow' laws of the Southern United States and the apartheid regime of South Africa.

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 focus on racial categorization, without a philosophical commitment to racial superiority or 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:

...there are many distinct doctrines that compete for the term racism, of which I shall try to articulate what I take to be the crucial three.

The first doctrine is 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.[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. Many still agree with this worldview.

Today, some psychologists point to studies that suggest racialist beliefs result from dismissal 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. Grisso wrote in the magazine Africans Unbound that:

While [Nelson] 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 [X] and Mandela, both, have to be counted racialist. I say that knowing as I do so that Mandela has called for a "non-racial" South Africa. But the sense in which he means that, I believe, is the same sense in which Malcolm would call for an end to racism: the call is for an end to race-based oppression, rather than for an end to "race first" solidarity.

—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 policy[edit]

Legislative or judicial measures expressly benefitting a particular ethnicity as opposed to all ethnic minorities or all ethnicities have generally been repealed, for, as described above, such a measure would be inherently racialist. An exception is identification of a particular ethnic minority which previously had no legal status, such as Irish Travellers which were legally recognised as such a group in the United Kingdom in 2000.[13]

One of the defenses to accusations of indirect discrimination (based on disparate impact) is the pandemic social custom (meme) that in contrast to intended or unintended racist systems which are by definition discriminatory, some visible effects of unintentional racialism are a harmless and transient by-product of the behaviours of current multicultural groups rather than an intercultural society. This could be a policy correlating loosely with the lifestyles or behaviours of those of an arbitrary national stereotype or ethnic stereotype, such as in some places, particular automobile use or taxation of particular goods. An example of indirect ethnic discrimination that is racialist but might be argued as non-racist would be a charity or public enterprise intentionally targeting a particular religious, employment/unemployed or geographical group resulting in its helping disproportionately a particular ethnic group. Balancing actions or laws following a Policy or Regulatory Impact Analysis aim to be anti-racist and anti-racialist however as to the extent these target a neglected ethnicity in particular, they may be racialist, so are less effective than accelerating interculturalism and if socially economic, a transparent policy leading towards redistribution of income and wealth.

Steers and Nardon highlight unease with all cultural stereotypes increases in societies where wealth and income inequality is wide, widening or interculturalism is increasing leading to a more nuanced view of all cultures and mixed cultures and caution against their use and publication altogether.[14]

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.[15]


  1. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6442853.stm
  2. ^ "The Invention of Africa". prelectur.stanford.edu. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
  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. ^ Grisso. "Malcolm and Mandela: Black Nationalism or Non-racialism?". TheAfrican.com. Retrieved 13 February 2015. 
  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. ^ "Irish travellers gain legal status of ethnic minority", Chris Gray, 30 August 2000, The Independent
  14. ^ Terracciano A, Abdel-Khalek AM, Adám N et al. (Oct 2005). "National character does not reflect mean personality trait levels in 49 cultures". Science 310 (5745): 96–100. doi:10.1126/science.1117199. PMC 2775052. PMID 16210536. 
  15. ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/race/