T Nation

What Racism Is, and Isn't


I was reading the New Orleans post and people accusing others of being racist so I thought I would post this. I wrote to Ms. Sanchez to ask if there has been any backlash from the article but haven't heard back. I will post her response if I hear from her.

January 01, 2006

Mary Sanchez
Kansas City Star

? What racism is, and isn?t
?You?ll probably think I?m racist for asking this, but ...?
Countless e-mails begin this way. And most of the writers can assure themselves that no, they are not racists. Not by my definition. Not for just asking a question.
If ever a word has spun out of control, it is ?racist.? And yes, it is most often misused by the people who hurl it at others.

Far too often, simply posing an honest question garners this assault, questions that some in society have deemed too ?sensitive? to ask. So receiving a real reply is impossible. And having an in-depth conversation also becomes out of the question.

How convenient to keeping things status quo.
To anyone who has ever been falsely accused, racism is about power and money. People are not racist if they simply dislike you. People are not racist if they note the negatives about a group of people, but refuse to see examples that contradict their view. This could qualify as pig-headed, simplistic thinking. But it is not inherently racist.

Racism is using a race or ethnicity-based belief to hurt someone economically. Like deciding that because someone is Latino, that is cause to deny them a job, or a bank loan, or a promotion. Everything else is simply bias or prejudice. And we all do that.

Racism is economic. It is about hurting someone in a tangible, bankable way. Which is also why, in years past, white people had a far greater chance of being racist than people of color. They simply were more likely to be in positions powerful enough to leverage their hatred.

That didn?t mean people of color were any less apt to be hateful. Some of the most hateful people I?ve ever met have been black and Hispanic. And the hating they put out was toward white, non-Hispanic people. The trick was, most could only make insults. They were not the boss doing the hiring.

So maybe the saddest thing is their hatred often backfires to hurt only themselves or their own families.

This is not to argue that, ?You might find this racist, but ...? doesn?t often precede some outlandish thoughts.

I?ve stopped being surprised by the level of insipid commentary people can offer. But more often than not, the questions that follow the statement are usually the ones that sting with a bit of truth.

Like, why are so many Latinos dropping out of high school?
Why are so many minority babies born out of wedlock?
Why are domestic violence rates are so high among Latinos?
Why are blacks and Hispanics ?minorities? in the general population, but literally fill many jails and prisons?

Left unanswered, these questions take on lives of their own. Suddenly, it is race that becomes the reason for crime, dropout rates, violence. The factors of poverty, poor parenting, a lack of self esteem get left out of the understandings.

Suddenly, the ugly truths never get peeled back to find that race is sometimes a factor, but often not in the way people first perceive. Race is not the ?cause? of these social problems.
So for 2006, here?s a wish for more questions to begin: ?I hope you don?t think me racist for wondering but ...?

And a few more replies that begin, ?I?m glad you felt OK to ask that, here?s what I wish you knew ... .?

Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star


I think I know where you are going with this thread. I don?t agree when you say Racism is only economic
I recently went out with a friend who is dating a black man. She and her Boyfriend, and Ms. Pittbulll and my self all went out for drinks. The young lady said ?I was fired from my job because I was dating a black man? I was outraged.

Anyhow back to the bar. Everyone got along great with the exception of the black man. When he did speak he only spoke of his neighborhood being the deadliest part of the state. And how he was going to cap someone?s ass for dissing him at the gas station

He also sat at the table flashing hand signs out at the dance floor.
He claims he can not get a job because of so much racism in his home town

I think the only racist at our table was the black man. I think most employers would be afraid to hire some one like he.
I would like to tell my friend how I feel but I know it would be an obstacle in our relationship.


It's important, no matter where you stand politically to remember that there are racists of every color.

Be upset with all of them!


You can negatively impact people in many ways, economic effects are just one visible and significant way.


You have to ask why that even needed to be said.


I think when deciding if something or someone is racist it should be considered first if it is a cultural issue. I live in the UK and I realise that in the US things are different, but here I think we are more culturalist than racist. Also I think people can fear what they dont understand. If I look at a black guy (Im white by the way) I know that hes black cos he is of African descent and my skin is different to his because of climate differences. However if some slack-jawed red-neck sees a black guy for the first time he may feel threatened and act in a way that gets him branded racist. Is he racist or just plain stupid? Answer: both, cos racism is born of stupidity! The sad thing is that there are so many otherwise intelligent people who act with prejudice against other races. Yet at the same time it is human nature to 'stick with your own', if a Jets fan and a Giants fan turn up for a job interview and the boss is a Jets man, who will he give the job to?

OK rant over!


It pisses me off when people look down on southerners saying we are a bunch of slack, jawed ignorant racists. is the correct term for these people " elitist " ? Or too cool for me to hang around

Furthermore, just as much racism is around in other countries , my indian friends told me that god made the idians ( asian k,ind) first. and that he favored them, that is total bs otherwise india wouldnt be the dump that it is. All people are equal so get overself buddy.


Racism is ascribing a minor characteristic about people to be a part of their defining characteristic. The definition of human is: the animal that thinks using Reason. A racist would add a minor characteristics to this definition, such as the color 'white'. A black racist would claim that being black is an essential characteristic of being human.

The Nazis used religion in a similar fashion: if a person was of the Jewish faith, this disqualified them from the definition of human.

Interesting how Philosophy is hidden everywhere in life.


Although the problem of racism is definitely a multifaceted one, I believe that at the core of every racist, is an individual who is pathologicaly unhappy with themselves. Anger displacement. Someone who is unhappy or pissed off with themself for whatever reason, be it their station in life, drunk father/mother, abused as a child, whatever. Their pissed off and angry and all it takes is one or two bad experiences with one race and bam! Anger displacement. The situation just manifests from there as it's now very easy to direct anger in that particular direction.

I have yet to meet someone who I would call a racist that was truly happy with who they are.

O maybe I'm just overthinking the whole thing and they're all just assholes :wink:



I liked your post; I thought it was quite insightful. In essence you explain the main characteristic of any form of discrimination: Using an often unrelated characteristic of a person or group to justify a negative attitude and excluding (or downright aggressive) behaviour.

I also agree with the notion of Bigflamer, that the reason for this is often the lack of ambiguity tolerance and projection of inner conflicts on others.

That is why I believe that it is legitimate to compare a racist with a sexuality-based or discriminating religious or political worldview. The commonality lies not so much in what or who is being regarded as inferior (or the rationale used to legitimise it), but by the act of reducing people down to a group of non-desirables. Often (but not always) I would argue that this is indeed grounded in fear of otherness - and a resulting perceived threat.



The underlying reason IMHO is pathological narcissism.

People just want to be more than they are and/or "better" than other people,
i.e. have a higher social status, which is understandable in a hierarchical, status-crazy species like ours. No wonder we have psychological adaptations that make us want to climb the status-latter as high as possible.

To work out and to try to get ahead in life is a pretty healthy way of reacting to that impulse.

You can however also take a short-cut and just demean other people and find a semi-rational sounding reason for it.

If you compete over scarce resources like jobs, money, women there will allways be winners and losers and losing with grace is only possible if you don?t lose too often.

Those who do lose too often will find someone to hate, because it couldn?t possibly be that the reason that they fail is them and them alone.

To sum it up: I think racism is an outlet for pathological narcissism for people that just don?t have what it takes to succeed.


I think racism has alot to do with upbrining.

How/where people grew up and there surroundings as well as the influence from important figures such as parents.

Some people will always hold a prejudice against certain races/cultures or people.

As for what racism is, I think its simply associating anything with e.g. the coliur os someone's skin.
Or taking one persons behavious and claiming that individual represents his whole race.
Now obviously you can say Black ppl make good runners but bad swimmers etc.
But general negative stuff is generally racism.


I think you need to broaden out your definitions a little more fully. I have and do work with people who are any variety of racists e.g. I work with several chinese men and women who say things like "Women shouldn't marry Laotians, they beat their wives." or "I hate him. Why? because he's Korean." or Indians who hate the someone because he or she is Gujarati or Punjabi.

There are two things that really crystallize it for me; irrationality/irrlevance and oversimplification/generalization. Usually, it's things like nationality having an effect on things like math ability or accounting (rational? relevant?) and usually it's the one person who represents a whole demographic or vice versa (oversimplified). How irrational or how oversimple is the line that needs to be drawn in my mind.

And I agree with the idea that economics isn't the line. Otherwise, being forced to sit at the back of the bus isn't racist and I don't buy that.