Developing A Common Vocabulary To Discuss Race Relations



·        PREJUDICE:


A negative or hostile attitude toward a person or group, formed without just grounds or sufficient knowledge--impervious to evidence and contrary to argument. Prejudice is an attitude, often the result of a perceived  threat. It may be based on stereotypes or past experiences.





Unequal treatment of people based on their membership in a group. In contrast to prejudice, discrimination is behavior. To discriminate is to treat a person, not on the basis of their intrinsic qualities, but on the basis of a prejudgment about a group. Discrimination can either be de jure (legal, as in segregation laws) or de facto (discrimination in fact, without legal sanction).



·        STEREOTYPE:


Usually negative image, belief, or assumption about a group of people without regard to their individual differences. Every stereotype contains a “grain of truth” that legitimizes it in the eyes of the person who holds it. Even positive stereotypes, such as “Asians are good at math” can have a negative impact.



·        RACIAL MYTH:


Erroneous theory or story, ostensibly based on fact, that serves to explain the conditions of a racial group. Racial myths employ grand stereotypes to diagnose inequality and rationalize unequal treatment. For example, the myth that taxes have skyrocketed because blacks are living luxuriously on welfare. Contrast this myth with reality in some states where welfare program costs amount to a very small percentage of the entire state budget.






The belief that people of color are inferior to whites because of biological traits that produce inferior intellectual, emotional and cultural qualities. This overt racism was prevalent in the past. “Old-fashioned” racists believed that racial differences were rooted in genetic differences, that “inferior genes” produced crime, poverty and racial inequality. In their view, biological inferiority justified inferior social treatment for blacks--slavery, segregation and discrimination.






Anti-black prejudice expressed through code words and symbolic issues rather than overtly bigoted language. This is “covert bigotry.” Some social scientists believe that “old-fashioned racism” has given way to “symbolic racism.” This theory maintains that many whites retain deeply embedded racist attitudes acquired in their youth. But, because of social pressures, whites feel uncomfortable publicly expressing these underlying prejudices. Instead, they profess to believe in equality while using code words such as “welfare underclass” to mean “African-Americans” as a way of venting their racial prejudices. The symbolic racism theory argues that public debates on crime and welfare issues can easily become polite ways to express racial resentment.






Those established laws, customs and practices that systematically reflect and produce racial inequalities in American society, whether or not the individuals maintaining these practices have racist intentions. Institutional racism is discrimination without prejudice. Individuals can unintentionally discriminate by applying policies that perpetuate past inequalities.


For example, some banks “redline”--refuse to make home loans in poor neighborhoods. Since many poor neighborhoods are composed of African Americans, redlining effectively denies loans to qualified African Americans. While the bankers’ attitude is unbiased, their behavior has the same effect as deliberate racism. For African Americans, white behavior can be more damaging that white attitudes.



·        RACISM:


Combining the above concepts we can broadly define racism as: Racial prejudices exercised against a racial group by individuals and institutions in a position of power intentionally or unintentionally. Power distinguishes mere prejudice from racism. Prejudice (an attitude) combines with power (a behavior) to produce racism (a system). Prejudice becomes racism when it is practiced by the economically, socially or politically powerful (business, government, political majorities.)