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What is Racist

September 23, 2019

It was big news.  Prime minister Justin Trudeau was wearing blackface or brownface.  The pictures were from an Arabian Nights party in 2001 or earlier.  The election campaign faltered.  Trudeau apologized.  Some people were shocked.  Others were unconcerned.

Was it the return of the colonial attitude of white people towards people with black or brown skins?  In those days, white Europeans saw the natives of Africa, Asia, and the Americas as savage people.  They were uncivilized and inferior.  They had a savage language and savage religion.  Of course, we see now that this was a generalization and a stereotype.

We all have a fear of people who are different from ourselves.  This attitude comes from a need to predict quickly who might be a friend and who might be an enemy.  It’s quite natural, a first impression.  It’s something that most people learn to suppress or to overcome through exposure to other people and respect for them.  This feeling couldn’t be racism.

What then is racism?  The obvious example is discrimination because of apparent differences.

There are many borderline cases.  They might be just a milder form of racism.  In this specific instance, it was a prime minister wearing blackface.  Dressing up like a person of another race would be similar.  This behavior may not be explicitly racist.  It is, however, symbolic of past injustices.  It’s a racist act if non-white people are offended by it.  Some were and some were not.

What then is racism?  We need a definition that works.  It’s usually expressed by overt actions or words, but it could be anything that promotes hatred towards or discrimination against other groups of people.


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