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Racism – How Definitions Often Mislead and Misrepresent

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

It appears there is always something missing within the many contradictions that white supremacism and Racism present to the nation and the world, yet hidden within the normal, neutral, and natural experiences of everyday people to the point of nonexistence. Much like the minuscule particles only recognized inside the quantum realm, the kind that exists and does not exist at the same time, such is the nature of white supremacism and Racism. For Black people who experience white supremacism daily on a spectrum of vile micro and macro aggressions, and Racism on its spectrum of denial and discrimination; and the white people who do not, this push-pull examination within the realities of each is as mesmerizing as I imagine watching tiny particles dance in and out of existence, here, there, everywhere, and then simultaneously not.

Over the generations, the subject of Racism has been diluted and rendered into abstraction oblivion so much so that the definitions provided by most dictionaries offer their readers opportunities to be Racist no matter their race. Indeed, Merriam-Webster, which touts itself as “America’s most trusted dictionary,” defines Racism as:

a belief that race is a fundamental determinant of traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” [1]

This apparent convolution of definitions takes the institutional aspects of an actual structurally based system completely out and relegates Racism to a simple belief where differences in race, as in anyone with a race, if different, can produce an inherent superiority of a particular race. If this confuses the reader, that is because it is meant to. Race by definition can be considered the fundamental determinant of traits and capacities. Stated another way, Race is any group that humans are often divided into based on physical traits, regarded as common among people of shared ancestry.[2] The other portion of the definition relates to white supremacism itself, therefore, there are two definitions within the one and neither explains Racism. So what is Racism?

Racism is fundamentally the systematic subjugation within established institutions in the U.S. through structurally designed discrimination and denial of equality, equity, opportunity, and justice built into every institution in the U.S. to control the formerly enslaved and their descendants in perpetuity.

What, then, is the overarching premise behind the Merriam-Webster definition? First, it gives agency to Race as existing, when sociologists contend Race does not exist, opening up an existential debate at the outset. Second, by relegating Racism to a mere belief, it can then be believed or not. It is also open to debate about its very existence as well. Racism can literally exist and not exist at the same time, depending on who has the experience and who does not. The idea of anyone producing the outcome of inherent superiority over a particular race is lost on the reality of white supremacy and its actual ideology of superiority over everything on the planet Earth, especially of the Black Race, a Race which incidentally was manufactured by using Race as color. The fundamental determinant of traits and capacities is a misleading notion for those who created Race as people using an assignment of color to skin pigment. Capacities notwithstanding, the opportunity for capacities other than what was defined for Black people generations ago became apparent after the subsequent overthrow of Reconstruction. Therefore, the Merriam-Webster definition is a convoluted, misleading misrepresentation of Racism using Race and white supremacism without actually defining Racism at all.

When Googled, Oxford Dictionary usually appears first as the go-to definition for words placed in the search window. It states that Racism:

is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism by individual, community, or institution against a person or people based on their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized, and the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.”[3]

At the outset, this definition grants the term “prejudiced” equivalency with Racism, which is not only misleading but a false equivalency. According to the same Oxford Dictionary, prejudice means a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.[4]

Being prejudiced is one aspect behind the ideology of white superiority, where Black people, for example, are prejudged as lazy and criminal by white people. Racism, on the other hand, is being arrested in the act of being prejudged. Racism is losing the promotion or not getting that mortgage in the act of being prejudged. This definition also includes the term, discrimination, which is misleading when used with other words in the definition since discrimination is the only term that has to do with Racism. Furthermore, the only words within this broad definition of Racism that are relevant are “discrimination” and “people.” Again, any references to systemic, structural, and institutional discrimination based on the color Black are absent. The definition also speaks more of white supremacism rather than Racism. Of particular note, pun intended, the word particular is strategically placed into this and Merriam-Webster’s definitions for a reason. They can produce specifics without being specific without naming the race they are referencing – just like the quantum particles in Physics, where particles exist without existing. In this definition, ethnicities are also included for good measure, so as not to appear overly particular in specifying just which Race is being pointed out as superior and inferior.

The University of Minnesota Sociology Department teaches that:

“…Prejudice and discrimination are often confused, but the basic difference between them is this: prejudice is the attitude, while discrimination is the behavior. More specifically, racial and ethnic prejudice refers to a set of negative attitudes, beliefs, and judgments about whole categories of people, and about individual members of those categories, because of their perceived race and/or ethnicity. A closely related concept is racism, or the belief that certain racial or ethnic groups are inferior to one’s own.[5]

Discrimination is a fundamental aspect of Racism and yet, students are taught both prejudice and discrimination are separate from Racism, where Racism is described as a closely related concept. This negates the Oxford dictionary version of Racism on its face. The definition students are taught, however, is more akin to Merriam-Webster’s brand, or a theoretical concept based on the belief that anyone can be Racist by virtue of thinking they are superior to another. Discrimination appears to be left out of the definition of Racism altogether.

It is no stretch of any imagination to understand why people are confused about Racism and what it is. Both definitions use a watered-down version of the fallacious ideology of white supremacism to support those very definitions, allowing those broad and misleading descriptions to cloud judgment and understanding of the mechanics of Racism. It is heartbreaking to think that even more confusion is created at the collegiate level.

The question becomes why these definitions of Racism would be relegated to a belief system allowing any person to be Racist and not an actual running system structured specifically for the descendants of Africans who were enslaved by them generations ago. The question becomes why these definitions of Racism would be used in the 21st century to hide the fact that Black people are still kept in an underclass caste structure based on the assignment of a color-to-skin pigment ensuring the backhanded foundation of those definitions is secure. These are the facts of the matter which should be addressed.

I wrote this as a comment to an article in Medium called “The Sound of White People Whining,” by William Spivey:

There is an extremely important fact within white Supremacism that demands there has never been and continues to be no mechanism in place to prop up the feigned ideology of their superiority over everything on the planet Earth. For there to be a system in place to ensure they are dominant means they are really *not* supreme and have needed their brand of generational Affirmative Action (for lack of a better mocking description) for centuries. They simply will not admit there has always been a foot on the scale that placed them in the state of being “white” by assignment of skin color and as a measure of human value, supposedly superior to Black people. While some may admit to Racism as simply interpersonal behavior, they will throw themselves onto the sword of their victimhood rather than admit to a system of denial and discrimination of equality, equity, opportunity, and justice aimed at Black people, which is the only thing hiding their mediocrity.[6]

Evident through definitions produced by white people over the generations and taught even at the collegiate level mean there will never be accountability for creating Racism to support their belief in their superiority. They will never admit to a system of discrimination and denial of equality, equity, opportunity, and justice against a particular group, specifically Black people, where generations ago, that group was assigned a specific color denoting and connoting evil and dirt. They will never admit to there being a system in place to ensure that the fallacy of their supremacy is based on their assignment of a color connoting and denoting purity, cleanliness, and holiness that would be specific to their own particular group. Finding out after all these generations later they are not special and not superior but simply being used to create an image of superiority for those whose ancestors created the structures for themselves must be unnerving, so the definitions must stand for those who might just wonder whether they are being lied to – those who might just wake up and realize they were conditioned to believe the biggest lie ever told in human history.

That is why as long as Black people are not the ones defining the written terms, definitions, and conditions, there will always be misinterpretations of the language of Race, Racism, whiteness, and White Supremacy. Therefore, It is incumbent on those of us who understand the language of white supremacism and Racism to provide the unbleached truth of the definitions used to mislead and misrepresent us daily.

[6] Medium – Comment C.A. Smith, Ed


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