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Racialism is the unscientific[1][2][3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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[7])

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.'[8] 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. 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]

Prior to the 20th century, nearly all nations, including colonized nations with caste systems and nations where human enslavement had not yet been declared illegal, had strict laws promoting racialist framing. Due in great part to African independence movements and the African-American Civil Rights Movement, no nation today champions caste systems with stratification. What 'racialist' policies exist today around the world are usually advanced by politicians claiming to remedy inequalities and are typically referred to as 'positive discrimination'. Other terminology for such policies may include affirmative action and antidiscrimination law, which some frame as racial quotas or reverse discrimination.

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..