Section 1, Part 1
Language/Definititions: Racism

Key Definitions


A social construct of human beings which assigns human worth and social status based on predominantly inherited physical characteristics such as skin color, hair or facial features.



A host of practices, beliefs, social relations and phenomena based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin that work to reproduce a racial hierarchy and social structure that yields superiority and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others. A component of racism is that it is supported by societal and institutional power and authority.  


Cultural Racism

Societal beliefs and customs that promote the assumption that the elements of a given culture, including the language and traditions of that culture are superior to those of other cultures because of the race of those involved. Cultural racism exists when there is a widespread acceptance of stereotypes concerning different ethnic or racial groups.

The process of cultural racism is both historical and contemporary. From slavery, colonization and the forced removal of Indigenous people to conditioning from modern media segregating groups that are non-dominant, dominant cultural values are the imposed norm and do not allow for other forms of knowing, communicating, understanding and being in the world to exist legitimately.


Institutional Racism

Institutional/Structural racism is racial bias that occurs within and across institutions and social structures that work to reproduce advantages for white people. It is the impact of any organizational or social structure in which laws, policies, practices, cultural assumptions and socio-political and economic norms work in various and often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial inequity and discrimination against people of color. (Ewuare Osayande, American Friends Service Committee Chief Diversity Officer, Implicit Bias: Developing Critical Consciousness in Service of Intercultural Advancement PowerPoint Presentation (2016)).



If you have five minutes...

Watch one or more of the videos below.

Australian comedian Aamer Rahman breaks down colonization, enslavement, imperialism, systemic inequity, war, internalized racism and reverse racism–all in less than three minutes. (3 minutes) 

Riley J. Dennis discusses "reverse racism" and the phrase "not all white people."  I'm not saying that white people need to hate themselves or have guilt over this, I just think we need to recognize our role as people who have benefitted from racism and who are a part of a group that has oppressed and continues to oppress black people.  And then we need to work to fight against that.  (7 minutes)

Paul Rucker shares artifacts from the slave trade to explore systemic racism and what it looks like today. (7 minutes)

If you have twenty minutes...

Read this essay about the Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement by Alicia Garza

And, perhaps more importantly, when Black people cry out in defense of our lives, which are uniquely, systematically, and savagely targeted by the state, we are asking you, our family, to stand with us in affirming Black lives.  Not just all lives. Black lives.  Please do not change the conversation by talking about how your life matters, too. It does, but we need less watered down unity and a more active solidarities with us, Black people, unwaveringly, in defense of our humanity. Our collective futures depend on it.


Or watch this series of nine short videos about Systemic Racism, produced by Race Forward and featuring Jay Smooth.  The videos touch on systemic racism in housing, infant mortality, the wealth gap, drug arrests, employment, and immigration policy.  Each video is about 1 minute long.


If you have an hour...

Listen to the Code Switch podcast episode: Location, Location, Location (35 minutes), April 11, 2018.  When we talk about race in America, we're also talking about place in America... When we're talking about racial disparities and family wealth, when we're talking about health outcomes, when we're talking about schools closing, when we're talking about policing, we're really talking about where we live. And in America, we live apart, and none of that is accidental.

(You can listen to the audio on the website or read the transcript.  You can also listen to the episode on your phone or tablet using a podcast app and looking for the Code Switch podcast).


Questions for Conversation or Journaling

Do any of these definitions challenge your understanding of these terms? Do any of these definitions make you feel uncomfortable?

Has your understanding of race and racism changed over the years? In what ways?