Racial Justice Circle
‘Racist’ and ‘racism’ are public terms that have largely replaced the traditional social science concepts of prejudice and discrimination. The terms prejudice and ‘racist’ mostly refer to persons’ attitudes; whereas, discrimination and ‘racism’ mostly refer to persons’ actions and to the practices of organizations, albeit carried out by its participants. What we have learned over the past 50 years is that many persons’ discriminatory actions are not so much driven by their own attitudes as that they reflect the norms, rules and laws in organizations: the practices of racism.
‘Racist’ mostly refers to persons’ prejudicial attitudes; ‘Racism’ is mostly used to describe something unfair about social situations and organizations. That unfairness is about ways that the practices of organizations in which we live are favoring the (pre)dominate people.
‘Systemic racism’ refers to the idea that some form of these practices have spread throughout all the social institutions of our society: economy, politics, religion, education, health, law enforcement, recreation/leisure, military and family. Some of the resultant disfavoring of ‘minorities’ may be personal discrimination; however, more of it is historical discrimination that has been built (through norms, rules and laws) into the practices of social institutions and organizations.
We may be non-racist persons, or more likely working to become non-racists, yet still foster and benefit from the practices of racism within various organizations. Becoming aware of this personal and social reality may be one of the most important steps toward helping to build a more fair and just society.
Kay Clifton, PhD