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The belief that members of one (or more) races are inferior to members of other races.

Racism is most commonly used to describe the belief that members of one's own race are superior physically, mentally, culturally, and morally to members of other races. Racist beliefs provide the foundation for extending special rights, privileges, and opportunities to the race that is believed to be superior, and to withholding rights, privileges, and opportunities from the races believed to be inferior. No scientific evidence supports racist claims, although racism exists in all countries and cultures. The definition of racism has evolved to describe prejudice against a group of people based on the belief that human groups are unequal genetically, and that members of some racial groups are thus inferior. Sociologists distinguish between individual racism, a term describing attitudes and beliefs of individuals, and institutional racism, which denotes governmental and organizational policies that restrict minority groups or demean them by the application of stereotypes. While such policies are being corrected to eliminate institutional racism, individual racism nonetheless persists.

Scientists have acknowledged individual differences among ethnic and racial groups, citing the importance of environment in shaping performance and measurable ability. When test results appear to indicate differences in ability and performance that follow racial lines, the effect of environment must be considered in interpreting the results. In addition, tests and other instruments for evaluating ability may be biased to favor knowledge and experiences of one racial or ethnic group over others. Thus, test scores must be analyzed with great caution with regard to patterns of performance and their relationship to race.

By studying genetic patterns in humans, scientists have demonstrated that genetic differences between races are not very significant. As humans migrate from continent to continent and ethnic groups intermingle, racial categories will have less meaning, but prejudice is not likely to disappear.

Further Reading

Balibar, Etienne. "Racism and Anti-Racism." UNESCO Courier (March 1996): 14+.

Dawes, Kwame. "Clothed Against Naked Racism." World Press Review (April 1996): 32+.

Jacquard, Albert. "An Unscientific Notion." UNESCO Courier (March 1996): 22+.

Wieviorka, Michel. "The Seeds of Hate: Racism and Nationalism After World War II." UNESCO Courier (March 1996): 104+.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Perception: early Greek theories to Zombie