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Racialism is an emphasis on race or racial considerations.

Racialism entails a belief in the existence and significance of racial categories, but not necessarily in a hierarchy between the races, or in any political or ideological position of racial supremacy.


Racialism is the basic epistemological position that not only do races exist, but also that there are significant differences between them. This is to be contrasted with racism, which also assumes that some races are superior to others; or, in an altered meaning, refers to discrimination based on the concept of race.

It is important to note, however, that this distribution of meanings between the two terms used to be precisely inverse at the time they were coined: The Oxford English Dictionary defined racialism as "belief in the superiority of a particular race" and gives a 1907 quote as the first recorded use. The term racism was defined by the OED as "[t]he theory that distinctive human characteristics and abilities are determined by race", giving 1936 as the first recorded use. Additionally, the OED records racism as a synonym of racialism: "belief in the superiority of a particular race". By the end of World War II, racism had acquired the same supremacist connotations as racialism: racism now implied racial discrimination, racial supremacism and a harmful intent.

Since the 1960s, some authors have introduced a new meaning for the less-current racialism: Black civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois introduced racialism as having the same meaning as racism had prior to WWII, i.e. the philosophical belief that differences exist between human races, be they biological, social, psychological or in the realm of the soul. He reserved the use of racism to refer to the belief that one's particular race is superior to the others (viz., precisely the inverse of the OED definitions).

Scholar Kwame Anthony Appiah criticised DuBois for this definition of racialism in 'My Father's House' (1992) where he defines racialism as "...the view…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."

Philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff has used the word racialism as a perfect synonym of scientific racism, to distinguish it from popular racism; He uses the term racialism to mean racism that claims to be scientifically founded. Arthur Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-55) is an example of such racialism. Human zoos have been an important component of both popular racism and racialism, popularizing colonialism to the masses and was a subject of curiosity for anthropology and anthropometric studies, until at least the 1930s.

The field of whiteness studies examines the idea that race is a category that only applies to groups that are perceived to be different in some way. This area of scholarship scrutinizes the ways in which white people have become the standard against which all races are marked.

Racialism and scientific racism

Current racialist positions have moved away from 19th century classifications and rely instead on genetics, studying physiological differences between groups such as race and height, but also more complex, and thus controversial, questions like race and intelligence, race and health, and race and crime.

In the mid-20th century, support for some of the classical terminology of scientific racism declined among anthropologists: scientific support for the "Caucasoid", "Negroid", "Mongoloid" terminology has fallen steadily over the past century. Whereas 78 percent of the articles in the 1931 volume of Journal of Physical Anthropology employed these or similar terms, only 36 percent did so in 1965 (see African-American Civil Rights Movement ), and just 28 percent did in 1996.

In February 2001, the editors of the medical journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine asked authors to no longer use "race" as explanatory variable, nor to use obsolescent terms. Other peer-reviewed journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the American Journal of Public Health, have done the same.

The National Institutes of Healthmarker issued a program announcement for grant applications through February 1, 2006, specifically seeking researchers to investigate and publicize the detrimental effects of using racial classifications within the healthcare field. The program announcement quoted the editors of one journal as saying that "analysis by race and ethnicity has become an analytical knee-jerk reflex."

Racialist vocabulary with inconsistent definitions is still used in medicine to a small extent, even when it has vanished from some census agencies and everyday speech. Genetics has renewed racialist perspectives, combining with the racialist perspectives of craniofacial anthropometry. Racialism in genetics is criticized as being subjective and otherwise inappropriate.

Racialism as pretext for separatism or supremacism

Alleged scientific findings of racial differences have been used to justify racial separatism. Nazi Germany had a racialist policy with its concept of "Großdeutschland" (Greater Germany), alongside its racial ideal based on the nordic race. In the United Statesmarker in the 2000s, the term racialism has been employed by white separatist groups such as Christian Identity, Aryan Nations, the American Nazi Party, and White Aryan Resistance, though it has also been used by more innocuous groups and individuals.

During the first part of the Shōwa era, the propaganda of the Empire of Japanmarker used the old concept of hakko ichiu to support the idea that the Yamato was a superior race, destined to rule Asia and the Pacific. Many documents such as Kokutai no Hongi, Shinmin no Michi and An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus referred to this concept of racial supremacy.

Racial discrimination against other Asians was habitual in Imperial Japan and the Shōwa regime thus preached racial superiority and racialist theories, based on sacred nature of the Yamato-damashii. According to historian Kurakichi Shiratori, one of emperor Shōwa's teachers: 'Therefore nothing in the world compares to the divine nature (shinsei) of the imperial house and likewise the majesty of our national polity (kokutai). Here is one great reason for Japan's superiority'.

See also


Further reading

  • Anderson, Gregory M. "Racial Identity, the Apartheid State, and the Limits of Political Mobilization and Democratic Reform in South Africa: The Case of the University of the Western." Identity 3, no. 1 (2003): 29–52. .
  • Appiah, Kwame Anthony. In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-506852-1.
  • Arter, David. "Black Faces in the Blond Crowd: Populist Racialism in Scandinavia", Parliamentary Affairs 45, no. 3 (1992): 357–372.
  • Asante, Molefi Kete. The Afrocentric Idea. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998. ISBN 1-56639-595-X.
  • Dobratz, Betty A. "White Power, White Pride!": The White Separatist Movement in the United States. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.
  • Kane, John. "Racialism and Democracy: The Legacy of White Australia." In The Politics of Identity in Australia, ed. Geoffrey Stokes, 117–131. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997. ISBN 052158356X.
  • Kennedy, Paul and Nicholls Anthony, eds. Nationalist and Racialist Movements in Britain and Germany before 1914. Saint Antony's College Press, 1981.
  • Lee, Woojin and Roemer, John. Electoral Consequences of Racialism for Redistribution in the United States: 1972–1992 (California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and social Sciences, 2002).
  • Melvern, Linda. Conspiracy to Murder: The Rwanda Genocide. London: Verso, 2004.
  • Ndebele, Nhlanhla. "The African National Congress and the Policy of Non-Racialism: A Study of the Membership Issues." Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 29, no. 2 (2002): 133–146.
  • Odocha, O. "Race and Racialism in Scientific Research and Publication in the Journal of the National Medical Association." Journal of the National Medical Association 92, no. 2 (2002): 96–98. .
  • Sanneh, Kelefa. "After the Beginning Again: The Afrocentric Ordeal." Transition 10, no. 3 (2001): 66–89.
  • Snyder, Louis L. The Idea of Racialism: Meaning and History. Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1962.
  • Taylor, Paul C. "Appiah's Uncompleted Argument: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Reality of Race." Social Theory and Practice 26, no. 1 (2000): 103–128.
  • Thompson, Walter Thomas. James Anthony Froude on Nation and Empire: A Study in Victorian Racialism. London: Taylor & Francis, 1998.
  • UNESCO General Conference. Declaration of Fundamental Principles concerning the Contribution of the Mass Media to Strengthening Peace and International Understanding, to the Promotion of Human Rights and to Countering Racialism, Apartheid and Incitement to War ( University of Hawaii, 1978).
  • Reggie White's Speech before the Wisconsin State Assembly (click 778)
  • Zubaida, Sami, ed. Race and Racialism. London: Tavistock, 1970.

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