Race and Racism. Is there a topic we struggle with more in the United States relative to public policy and education? I recently had an extended discussion with a long-time friend on Facebook regarding race, and what i perceived as a “racist” statement. We debated how racism should be defined… So what is exactly racism? The word conjures images of the Klu Klux Klan, lynchings, “Whites only” signs— even perhaps the Texas social studies standards. Clearly, the undeniable expert on everything is Wikipedia, so lets look there first. Racism is defined as:
Racism is usually defined as views, practices and actions reflecting the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races and that members of a certain race share certain attributes which make that group as a whole less desirable, more desirable, inferior or superior. The exact definition of racism is controversial both because there is little scholarly agreement about the meaning of the concept “race”, and because there is also little agreement about what does and doesn’t constitute discrimination. Some definitions would have it that any assumption that a person’s behavior would be influenced by their racial categorization is racist, regardless of whether the action is intentionally harmful or pejorative. Other definitions only include consciously malignant forms of discrimination. Among the questions about how to define racism are the question of whether to include forms of discrimination that are unintentional, such as making assumptions about preferences or abilities of others based on racial stereotypes, whether to include symbolic or institutionalized forms of discrimination such as the circulation of ethnic stereotypes through the media, and whether to include the socio-political dynamics of social stratification that sometimes have a racial component.
How about the dictionary? The World English Dictionary states:
racism or racialism (ˈreɪsɪzəm, ˈreɪʃəˌlɪzəm) — n
1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others
Fortunately we live in a society that affords us freedom of speech. Individuals are free to express themselves on blogs, behind closed doors, in the media etc. So recently (and also not so recently), Lino Graglia, a UT-Austin Law School professor, made disparaging comments about African American and Latina/o students. Gawker reported:
Controversial University of Texas at Austin law professor gave an interview to the BBC in which he claims, among other things, that blacks and Latinos can’t compete with white students, particularly because of the fact that so many of them are raised in single-parent households. Graglia’s interview was related to the fact, as we’ve told you, UT is currently in a battle with a white student it rejected who claims that the school’s affirmative action program is to blame for her having to go to a second-rate college.
In 1997, Graglia came under fire again for telling a conservative UT student group that the black and Mexican-American cultures set children up for failure. “They have a culture that seems not to encourage achievement,” he said. “Failure is not looked upon with disgrace.”
So what do you think?