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Bella Souza

Definitional Argument: Racism

Arizona State University



This paper will explore the multiple definitions of racism and how minority groups tend to define

racism differently than majority groups. Typically, minority groups such as African Americans

believe that they are not capable of being racist because they don’t hold institutional power but

many majority groups, such as White Americans, believe that not all majority groups are racist

and determining whether someone is racist or not is determined by their actions. This

presentation will explore why people have such different definitions of what racism, as well as

explaining what the different types of racism are.


Racism is among one of the most controversial topics in the United States. Like most

other controversial things, with every new law or bill put into place regarding racism there is

guaranteed to be disagreement. All the disagreement occurs because not every individual has the

same definition of what racism is. In fact, almost every person has their own definition of what

racism means to them. The biggest discrepancy among those definitions is how minority groups

define racism and how majority groups define racism. Of course, not all members of the minority

or majority group would agree with these definitions but most typically do. Most members of the

majority group would say that any individual is capable of being racist and in order to be

considered racist one must say or do something discriminatory towards a race different than their

own simply because they believe their own race is superior. Members of the minority group

would most likely agree with this, but they would also say that racism is prejudice combined

with power, and since the majority group has the power they are the only ones who can be racist.

This major discrepancy among the definitions is why there still are problems in the United States

regarding racism.

Before defining what racism is and how different groups define racism it is important to

understand the difference between a minority group and a majority group. Essentially, a minority

group is a subordinate group whose members have significantly less control or power over their

lives than members of a dominant or majority group. The majority group is the group that has the

largest population in society and holds significant power and privilege. It is important to

understand the difference between majority and minority groups because that’s where the major

difference in definitions comes from.


When one looks racism up in the dictionary thousands of definitions come up, they all

revolve around the idea of being prejudice but whether someone or something is prejudice is a

matter of opinion. A CNN article talking about how whites and blacks see racism differently

stated, “How you see race in the United States can depend a lot on your own background.”

(Struyk, 2017). In the U.S. African Americans experience racial discrimination much more often

than White Americans do which also influences their views on it. In the past few years there

have been various cases of unarmed black men shot and killed by police officers but there have

been very few, if any, cases of white unarmed males who were shot and killed. In each of these

cases the victims were shot because the cops genuinely thought they were doing something bad.

Many people argue that that is racism but the cops didn’t shoot any of the people simply based

off of the fact that they were black, the cops shot them based off of the assumption they were

armed which is a result of racial stereotypes in the U.S. Events like these greatly contribute to the

reason why whites and blacks define racism differently, it’s not done on purpose but cases like

this explain why blacks and whites come from different backgrounds.

Another reason why minority groups tend to define racism differently than majority

groups is because there are multiple types of racism. There are two main types of racism with

subcategories. The two main groups are systemic racism, racism based in historical inequities

that has ongoing wide-reaching effects, and individual racism, belief that one’s own race is

superior to others. Within systemic racism there is institutional racism and structural racism.

Institutional racism occurs within institutions or systems of power and is the unfair policies or

practices within the system. (Oppression Monitor, 2014). Examples of this would be racial

profiling within the law enforcement system. Structural racism, another type of systemic racism,

is racial bias among institutions and across society that involves many other factors such as

history and culture. (Oppression Monitor, 2014). All the cases of police officers shooting

unarmed black men because they assumed they were committing a crime would be considered

structural racism. When it comes to individual racism there are two main types, internalized

racism and interpersonal racism. Internalized racism is people’s private beliefs and biases about

race. (Oppression Monitor, 2014). Although this type of racism can’t be seen it is still considered

racism because the individual believes their race is superior to all others. Interpersonal racism

occurs between individuals when individuals interact with others and their racial beliefs affect

their interactions. (Oppression Monitor, 2014). An example of this would be hate crimes or

people making racial slurs to one another.

The way in which minority groups and majority groups define racism is very different

from one another. A member of a minority group would most likely say that racism is prejudice

combined with power, therefore in order to be racist one must have power. Currently, white

Americans are backed by institutional power in the United States in terms of wealth and

educational attainment. (Mohdin, 2017). Since white Americans hold this power many minority

groups argue that white people are the only ones capable of being racist. Although prejudice plus

power is a way of being racist it only takes systemic racism into account without considering

individual racism. When a member of the majority group is asked to define racism they would

most likely say that anyone is capable of being racist and in order to be racist one must say or do

something prejudice to someone of a different race. This definition of racism focuses much more

on individual racism than systemic racism because most members of the majority group believe

system racism no longer occurs in the United States.

Clearly, there is a lot of disagreement on what counts as racism and what the true

definition of racism is. Everyone knows what racism is but minority groups tend to define it

much differently than majority groups which is a direct result of the background they come from.

Members of minority groups experience racism much more than members of the majority group

which is why they might have a different perception of it. Everyone who defines racism does

define it correctly but there is such a big disagreement because most people only define one type

of racism instead of taking all types of racism into account.



Everett, M. (2016, October). Response to “black people cannot be racist and here’s why.” The

University Star. Retrieved from


Mohdi, A. (2017, September). What people mean when they say all white people are racist.

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Oppression Monitor. (2014, January). Four types of racism. Oppression Monitor daily. Retrieved


Race forward. (2015, April 22). What is systemic racism?- Wealth gap [Video File]. Retrieved


Shaefer, R. (n.d.). What is a minority group. Race, Racism, and the Law. Retrieved from


Struyk, R. (2017, August). Blacks and whites see racism in the United States very, very

differently. CNN. Retrieved from