RE: Definition of Racism (without rent-a-riot)

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Thu Aug 09 2001 - 18:32:38 MDT

Jerry Mitchell wrote,
[A lot of good stuff that I won't respond to individually]
> I think its crystal clear that he trying to convince the blacks that were
> actually committing the crimes to stop. If you see anything in here about
> him being upset for his own mental processes AND how they were in error,
> please point them out.

I concede this point. I assumed that Jesse Jackson would want to be able to
see people without reference to color. I assumed that he was both wishing
blacks would stop committing crimes and wishing he didn't feel that way.
But I can't prove this from his words alone. I am reading more into his
words based on what I think he would mean. You are right on this one.

> > I don't know that racism requires genetic root causes.
> > Most people
> > haven't decided if they believe behavior is more caused by genetics or
> > culture. It probably is a mixture of both. If you insist
> > that racism be
> > limited to genetic causes, then I think hardly anything would ever be
> > considered racist.
> Those things considered racist are the things that fit the definition. To
> not want to release your grip on the word because your left with some
> linguistic void isn't an issue. Besides, like I said, frequent and
> fraudulent use of the term just dilutes it to meaninglessness.

Good point. The fact that the restrictive definition of the word eliminates
it use is not a good reason to dispute the definition. My concern was that
the restrictive definition excludes most common usage of the word. Maybe
this is your point, that there are almost no current examples of racism if
you define the word so strictly. I don't know how to argue the "true"
meaning of the word if people don't agree on the dictionary definitions. I
don't have a good way to define this word, but I always thought racisms was
an attitude or action for against people based on race. I think the
requirement for a genetic cause is too restrictive and borders on redefining
the word differently than previous usage.

> > Therefore, I don't really care if we call these attitudes
> > racist, prejudice
> > or discrimination. To link unrelated traits to race is
> > racist.
> I'm afraid I don't understand this, how are prejudice, bigotry, and
> discriminations NOT related to racism? And how is linking them together
> racists. If I state that a true racist is prejudice, that makes
> me a racist
> according to the above. I just linked one of these "unrelated" concepts
> (prejudice) to racism.

You misunderstood my point. I wasn't referring to these words when I said
"unrelated traits". I meant linking race to unrelated trades like honesty,
job performance or other assumptions that might be made on race rather than
actual individual performance.

For these words, my point is that they *are* very related. I think it is
splitting hairs to try to determine whether some negative attitude or
actions is racist, prejudice or discrimination. Some people seem to want to
distinguish these concepts, with some good and some bad, but I think they
are too intertwined to distinguish them. Arguing that someone isn't racist,
but they are merely prejudiced or discriminatory seems to be avoiding the
R-word without maintaining the same behavior under another name.
> > I don't see much value in arguing whether something is racist, racially
> > prejudiced or racially discriminatory. Let's just say that
> > it is just plain
> > scientifically invalid, and leave it at that.
> I think statistics very much play a role, delimiting this role is the hard
> part.

I don't want to eliminate statistics. Statistics are wonderful for
describing whole groups of people. However, it is useless in describing
individuals. Performing any action toward one individual based on their
group membership instead of their individual merits is prejudice. One is
assuming that the individual has a trait that is actually unlikely.

Even if blacks commit more crimes than whites per capita, this is no
justification for stopping a particular black person on suspicion while
skipping a particular white person who is acting the exact same way. The
law should not allow a lower threshold for search and seizure against blacks
than for whites. People deserve equal protection under the law. The group
statistics do not have any predictive value on any individual. This is
basic probability theory. The chance of flipping coins is 50% heads and 50%
tails, but does not predict the outcome of any particular coin flip.

> >
> > Is there any good reason to split hairs with these terms,
> > except to be able
> > to practice prejudice and discrimination while claiming not
> > to be racist?
> >
> A little jab with an argument through intimidation there? I'm not
> biting. My
> desire to split hairs on this is I think it is required to sort out this
> problem where the term racism is used for everything from describing Mark
> Furman to describing a cheeseburger.

OK, fair enough. Let me explain my understanding of the definitions, and
why they cannot be split apart.

- Racism is a belief system that non-physical attributes derive from race.
- Prejudice is pre-judging an individual before evaluating their individual
- Racial Prejudice is prejudice based on an individual's membership in a
racial group.
- Discrimination is making choices between different options.
- Racial Discrimination is making choices between different options based on

I don't see how someone can racially pre-judge someone without having the
belief system of racism. I don't see how someone can racially discriminate
against someone without having the belief system of racism. These terms are
inextricably intertwined thusly:

Step 1: Racism - holding certain beliefs about races
Step 2: Racial Prejudice - applying those beliefs to individuals based on
step 1
Step 3: Racial Discrimination - taking actions against those individuals
based on step 2

As I understand these terms, I don't see how someone could discriminate
without pre-judging first. I don't see how someone could pre-judge without
having pre-existing beliefs first. I could see someone admitting that they
were racist, but tried not to act on it. I don't see how someone can claim
to be prejudiced or discriminatory while also claiming not to be racist.

Harvey Newstrom <> <>

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