Paul R, Lehman, Racism an Oxymoron

February 22, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Posted in American Racism | 3 Comments

                The term racism has been used for many years as the whipping boy for people who are ignorant of its meaning and application, reluctant to correct it usage, or stupid to ignore the problems its currant use presents. Racism presents several major problems with its present usage. First, it underscores the myth of there being more then one human race; second, it underscores the myth of one race being superior or inferior to other races; third, it hides the real reason for its use.

                The word racism comes from the Latin word radix, or as we know it, race. As human being, we are in a constant learning mode with reference to ourselves and our world. In an earlier blog I explained the difference between race and ethnicity—they are not the same nor interchangeable. What we do when we use the word race is underscore our acceptance of the idea of there being many races with qualifying biological differences that can render them being labeled as inferior or superior to other so-called races. The word ethnicity is an inclusive term that allows for differences within the human family. If biologically different human races did exist, then the word race would be perfectly acceptable to discern their differences. However, scientists have concluded that the human family consists of one race—Homo sapiens. Therefore, to use the word race in reference to other human beings is incorrect. That being the case, the use of the word racism is an oxymoron. The use of the word racism connotes individuals who believe they are members of a biologically unique race that is superior to all other so-called races. An individual from such a group is referred to as a racist. An individual racist cannot exist in isolation from the group. The individual operates only as a representative of the group. The point in question is that different races of human beings do not exist. So, when the word racism is used it only serves to promote the myth.

                Were it not for the belief that one so-called race is inferior or superior to another, the word racism would not be used. The primary use of the word is to underscore the so-called biological differences among the so-called races in order to gain some advantage real or imagined. The actual differences among all peoples reside in their cultural, geographical, social, economic, and religious identity. For example, the Engels did not want to be associated with the Brits who looked just like them, generally, so they referred to them as being of a different race. Of course, there were cultural differences that made each group unique, but not biologically inferior or superior to each other. The idea was to discern one group from the other. So, racism between the Engels and the Brits was based on cultural differences. Obviously, racism was not the correct word to denote the groups’ differences since they were members of the same race.

                Racism is used as a “catch-all” word; that is, when someone differs with another person for whatever reason and that person looks different from the other, the most common and available word to use with the intent of inflicting a mental blow is racist. Generally, the word racism is used to try and denigrate the other person because of an attitude difference. If thought is given to the situation a more appropriate word could be found to better describe the problem. For example, the incident between the professor and the policeman was not a matter of race; it was a matter of values and expectations. Some comments tried to characterize both the professor and the office racist without considering what each individual expected from the other generally. Each person valued his position and expected the other to respect those values. Unfortunately, neither of their expectations was met, so a disagreement resulted. The ethnicity of each individual would not have been a factor if both the professor and the policeman looked alike and the word racism would have never been used. The incident would differ based on the expectations of each individual.             Sometime the appropriate word might be one of several like bias, bigotry, discrimination, prejudice. Some people go quickly to the word racism as a label when a more appropriate word should describe the individual or the action. Too often the word racism conceals the real reason and thus adds to the confusion and illusions of race.



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  1. You explained the problems in terminology about ethnicity very well.

  2. Morning from Downunder Dr Lehman :-),
    I love your clear explanation of this wrongly used word. I was “educated” in this wrong idea a few years ago on a Australia science show which explained there are no races but one human race. I think it is the responsibility of journalist, newsreaders & editors to start using another word in place of this incorrect term if we are ever going to change people’s view.
    Pete, Sydney

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