(July 8) Apropos of all the race-infused obsessions in today’s culture, please allow some old-style common sense and decency.

The word “racism” in itself has nothing to do with “power,” although racists with power obviously can do more damage than racists without it. The word itself has a simple meaning: the attitude of making assumptions about any individual or group because of the subject’s race (or, because “race” is a fluid concept, the subject’s ethnicity). In other words, it is prejudice based on race.

Racism is a form of bigotry, but not all bigotry is racism. One can be bigoted on the basis of religion, for example, or against the disabled, or about any number of other qualities.

If someone acts according to racism, the person engages in racial discrimination. Not all discrimination is racist, and not all racism leads to discrimination. But all racism is harmful at some level, racism is awful, and all racial discrimination is particularly awful. This means that racial discrimination by a less-powerful group or individual is awful, too, although it probably would effectuate a lesser degree of harm than racial discrimination by the more powerful.

The only circumstances in which it is reasonable and decent to look at the world through racial lenses are for political-science/statistical analyses and the like. Because so many people still think and act with racialist (different than racist) attitudes, it is legitimate for social scientists to analyze voting patterns and cultural behavior that way. Even then, though, it is neither fair nor right to assume that any individual will believe or behave according to average racial or ethnic characteristics. To make such an assumption is to be racist.

The law, especially, should make absolutely no distinctions based on race. The American ideal since 1776 has been one of equality; and the Constitution since the ratification of the 13th through 15th Amendments (the last of those in 1870) has clearly said, despite Southern practices to the contrary, that equality before the law is a central feature of the U.S. government. As Justice John Marshall Harlan rightly wrote in dissent in 1896, “our Constitution is color-blind,” and insofar as legal rights were concerned, Martin Luther King Jr. clearly agreed that it should be thus…. [The full column is at this link.]


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