What is "Racist"?

The current Pit thread about the Africa thread in GD had me thinking. What exactly is “racist” as a concept? It seems that we have a great deal of interpretation upon that term here on the SD so maybe this poll will help to see how we break it down. Check as many as are applicable.

For my part, I voted for “Only those concepts that are designed to show inferiority of a race or ethnic group.” I favor a strict interpretation of the term because I feel that it is a serious charge to throw around. Moreover, I feel that honest discourse is often stifled in the name of political discourse.

But is it not racist to some degree to say “All Asians are good at math?”

I have not voted because I’m not sure myself…but what happens when you are the Asian who is not good at math?

Why can’t it just be wrong?

That is what I am asking. I guess it could be, but it is a statement about the entire race as a whole. And people do defend it as being just as racist as the other…I hope some of those people come in and give their justification.

I’m not certain myself. On the surface it “feels” like a racist thing to say, but it’s really more a harmless ignorant sort of trope rather than something used to run Asians down.

Everyone’s a little bit racist.

I’m sure someone will. I was told on this board that if I returned from a trip to Mexico speaking of how friendly everyone was, I would be a racist.

To be racism is any statement or feeling that comes out of malice.

If you have a genuine question you want to know the answer to it’s not racist. For instance, suppose you never lived around black people, and you were to ask, “Do black people get suntans”? If the question is legit no one is gonna care. And FYI yes they do get suntan and even sunburned but it takes longer.

Even among minority goups there is no agreement.

For instance, I know a woman who is in her late 40s and she’s black. She wears her hair in an Afro style that was popular in the 70s. She thinks the younger generation of black women trying to straighten their hair, either through actual processes or the use of wigs and weaves, means they’re trying to “look white.”

Then begins the debate, is it a matter of racism or is it simply a matter of style? After all the early 90s had white women with curly hair, by the late 90s they were straightening it.

If one says “All Asians are good at math,” invokes a number of things, as Asian is such a broad term. But a lot of people the term is idiomatic, Asian = Oriental (East Asian).

And in any case it’s not true. But then again is this racist or merely an overstatement.

For example: From The Honeymooners

See what I mean? Is it an overstatement similar to what Alice said, or is it a racist remark.

My view is that it depends on context. If the remark is born from malice, as opposed to ignorance or over generalization then it’s not.

You forgot something…

To me, racism is any belief that is based on the idea that race is a meaningful concept outside of the social context. In other words, it’s any belief coming from the idea that “race” has some kind of scientific validity.

If you are going to say Chinese culture is conducive to the kinds of rote memorization that leads to good math skills, that’s one thing. If you are going to tell me that Chinese people are biologically better at math, that’s another.

I don’t see how that’s racist, personally. But I do think that even positive things can be racist at time. Or at the very least patronizing, especially when the person thinks they’re being so awesome by giving that race/culture a pat on the back. I had a teacher who used to talk about people from African cultures just being so gorgeous and having such beautiful skin and such colorful garments and it always made me cringe.

I understand patronizing, if that was her tone, but I don’t get racist, I really don’t.

Not so much racist in that they’re inferior…but I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe it’s just that people don’t usually go overboard like that to describe white cultures? It’s like because they don’t expect as much out of non white cultures, that they have to be nicer or more…over the top about it? There’s also a real vibe of, “Ooh, exotic and strange!” It definitely feels like race is a component and always gives me the heebie jeebies when I hear it.

I would take that to be a comment on the Mexican culture (or a subculture thereof), not anyone’s race.

Talking about culture is fine. Culture is real, but fluid, and fuzzy around the edges. Cultures usually have some genetic commonality because of proximity, but culture is not determined by genes. Culture is what we make of our place in the world, not what biology makes for us.

This is the only definition that makes sense.

Ever heard anyone talk about how hot the babes are in Sweden?

Look, I agree that your example probably was of a racist person. It’s sort of damning with faint praise, especially if she, as a teacher, found more substantial things to praise in other races. But absent intent, I find nothing racist in it per se.

I think positive statements can be racist, but they aren’t inherently so, like negative ones are. I also don’t think that stereotypes are inherently racist. To me, for something to be racist, there must be something disparaging about it, and it must be directed towards an individual or group of individuals.

However, I did choose to say ethnocentrism is racist–but that’s more by observation. I’ve never met anyone with such beliefs that did not disparage individuals.

I understand. I don’t think it’s prejudiced to point out negative traits about certain races or ethnicities that are true, for example someone saying (based on some evidence) that Pygmies are at a disadvantage playing basketball because it has been observed that taller people tend to have better basketball stats. It becomes prejudiced when what you are attempting to bash a race by making up stuff or using unverified or questionable sources, or using statements that you know are false.

Of course, positive remarks can be racist. Say you’re a young black scientist who gives a talk at a professional meeting. Afterwards, someone pulls you to the side and says, “You spoke so clearly up there. You’re very articulate. I can tell you’ve been to good schools.”

Now you’ll probably just say thank you and walk away, but the encounter will probably leave you feeling just a little weirded out. FWIW, something similar happened to me, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Racism doesn’t have to be malicious or evil. It can just “be”. One day a coworker, knowing I was in the room, casually commented on how a certain neighborhood couldn’t be all that bad, since all the residents were white. She was always nice to me and listened to hip hop and seemed otherwise “cool”, but how is what she said not a racist statement?

I’ve said it before, but it’s true so I’ll say it again. We never have a hard time identifying anti-Semitism or homophobia. We often debate about whether or not something is sexist, but rarely does anyone bring out the Websters dictionary to start off the debate. But for some reason things are different when it comes to racism. We need to remove the “ookiness” factor to that word and just talk about it like rational adults, instead of making it into some difficult calculus equation.

I’m not so sure about that. Why would you assume a subtext in a compliment? Most of the time a duck is a duck.

As you your point about it being easy to point out Anti-Semitism or Homophobia, I’ll have to disagree. I’ve been accused of taking an anti-semitic stance on this board simply because I do not support Israel, and disapprove of the way it was founded. I don’t wish the Jews any ill will, nor hold any negative beliefs about them as a group. I can hold that belief and the above points simultaneously without any contradiction, and yet I had to defend myself at length against posters who simply took a broad brush position.

Racism is the same sort of thing. I’m not at all certain that “positive” or patronizing but harmless tropes should be lumped in with the bad stuff.