What is racism?

We often use the words racism, discrimination, prejudice and stereotype interchangeably, but there are actually some key differences between them. Continue reading to find out how the United Nations defines these words.

Racism: is the belief that there are human groups with particular (usually physical) characteristics that make them superior or inferior to others. Racist behaviour can be not just overt, such as treating some people according to their race or colour, but also covert, when society systematically treats groups according to some form of discriminating judgement.

Discrimination: is an action that treats people unfairly because of their membership in a particular social group. Discriminatory behaviours take many forms, but they all involve some form of exclusion or rejection.

Institutional discrimination: is discrimination that occurs through educational systems, legal systems, or other public systems or services. Denying people the right to vote is a form of institutional discrimination.

Prejudice: is a negative attitude toward a socially defined group and toward any person perceived to be a member of the group.

Race: refers to physical differences of skin tone, hair texture, and facial features. Because people can be grouped by any number of physical differences (height, foot size, resistance to certain diseases), race is an artificial way to categorize people. Nonetheless, race remains an important concept because of the social and political issues that arise from it.

Stereotype: an exaggerated belief, image or distorted truth about a person or group – a generalization that allows for little or no individual differences or social variation.