Racism, also called racialism, the belief that humans may be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races”; that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural and behavioural features; and that some races are innately superior to others. The term is also applied to political, economic, or legal institutions and systems that engage in or perpetuate discrimination based on race or otherwise reinforce racial inequalities in wealth and income, education, health care, civil rights, and other areas. Such institutional, structural, or systemic racism became a particular focus of scholarly investigation in the 1980s with the emergence of critical race theory, an offshoot of the critical legal studies movement. Since the late 20th century the notion of biological race has been recognized as a cultural invention, entirely without scientific basis.
Racism takes many forms and can happen in many places. It includes prejudice, discrimination or hatred directed at someone because of their colour, ethnicity or national origin.
People often associate racism with acts of abuse or harassment. However, it doesn’t need to involve violent or intimidating behaviour. Take racial name-calling and jokes. Or consider situations when people may be excluded from groups or activities because of where they come from.
Racism can be revealed through people’s actions as well as their attitudes. It can also be reflected in systems and institutions. But sometimes it may not be revealed at all. Not all racism is obvious. For example, someone may look through a list of job applicants and decide not to interview people with certain surnames.
Racism is more than just words, beliefs and actions. It includes all the barriers that prevent people from enjoying dignity and equality because of their race.
The police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have galvanized anti-racism protests throughout the United States, Canada and elsewhere. As a result, lawmakers have made pledges to divest from
police and school districts have cut ties with law enforcement. The organizing of the Black
Lives Matter (BLM) movement and their provocative protest tactics have played a significant role in this shifting public discourse.
BLM has been resisting dominant narratives in new ways. The movement amplifies knowledge and counter-discourses that affirm the identities and needs of Black communities. The BLM movement can be seen as a “subaltern counterpublic,” defined by critical theorist Nancy Fraser as a space dedicated to centring marginalized voices.
The dominant public often expects marginalized groups to use persuasion to educate them about their grievances. However, some have argued that persuasion alone cannot facilitate substantive systemic change. Dominant society will generally tolerate only those transformations in public discourse that leave
distributions of power and privilege untouched. For instance, white Americans may support calls for incremental police reform, but once activists utter the phrase “abolish the police,” the discourse is deemed too radical.
Counterpublics, like BLM, have successfully cultivated their power and drawn attention to their messaging by forcing their narratives onto the public.
That painful past is still present today — not only in the form of violence, but in the everyday experience of deeply rooted discrimination. We see it in our criminal justice system, in the disproportionate toll of the disease on Black and Brown communities, in the inequalities in neighbourhood services and the educations our children receive.
While our laws have changed, the reality is that their protections are still not universally applied. We’ve seen progress since the America I grew up in, but it is similarly true that communities of colour continue to endure discrimination and trauma.