Today when we talk about the racial issues that citizens in this country face, a couple words that are thrown into the mix are “discrimination” and “racist”. These words came about with great prevalence starting back when African slaves were taken from their country and sold here in America. Since then, they have been used to talk about injustices people of color face in our country. Unfortunately, these words are also used interchangeably even though their meanings are not the same.
To start from the beginning, the use of the two words stem from the word “prejudice”. Prejudice is defined as a preconceived bias that is not based on experience (Google Dictionary). Most commonly, it is used in regards to a race/ethnic group and manifest in actions taken to set these group apart from the rest. It is used to describe beliefs against people of minority social groups that disrespect the “undesirable” qualities about them. Prejudice has several terms under its umbrella that describe the disdain towards the various differences we all have as people. Examples of those include sexism, homophobia, and nationalism. When a person’s prejudice is used in action, it is referred to as discrimination.
Discrimination, the unjust treatment of different categories of people, is very much rooted in actions. The Jim Crow era of not allowing blacks and whites to use the same water fountains or bathrooms was an age full of discriminatory acts in the form of segregation. Similarly, separating Hispanic workers from the rest and making them go through special drug tests without cause is a form of discrimination. The word describes the way a person acts within their prejudice.
Racism is much more about what a person believes. In simple terms, racism is believing that one race has qualities that defines it as inferior or superior to other races. So a person can be thought of as racist if they think that it is okay to call a Muslim person a terrorist without any cause or prior knowledge of this person. Within the history of the US, racism has been directed towards citizens that identify as the minority races in the country. And the specifics toward the injustice being directed towards minority groups is why the use of the term “reverse racism” is incorrect. A person in an “inferior” group cannot be racist towards a majority group if they are perceived to have insignificant power.
“Discrimination” and “racism” are often used interchangeably because of their similarities. Although it is true that they fall under the category of prejudice, the ideas have significant differences. Discrimination is a much broader term. It can be used to describe the unjust actions of minority groups in general rather than being specific to race. A person can discriminate against people in the LGBTQ+ community without being racist towards them. Additionally, the word “stereotype” that have been thrown into the conversations about oppression and unfair treatment towards minority social groups and used as a synonym to “discrimination” and “racism”.
It is important for everyone who decides to engage in conversation about race and inequalities between social groups to have a clear understanding of what each of these terms means. It is unfair of one to remain ignorant to the power that “discrimination,” “racism,” and even “stereotype” can have over a person who has felt the true weight of these words. Everyone should be taking the steps to learn about the inequalities that do exist in our countries, especially persons in the millennial generation.Through the improvement of the conversations we are having and should have, we can make a change rather than contribute to the strong divides already present between the people of our great nation.
Picture Credits: Trade News