What Is Racism? - Definition, Examples & History Video

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  • 0:00 What Is Racism?
  • 0:33 Examples and History
  • 2:53 Other Types of Racism
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: James Greaver

Jim has a master's degree in secondary Education and has taught English from middle school level to college.

In this lesson, we will consider the meaning of the word 'racism.' We will define the word and look at how it has manifested itself throughout history by considering some examples.

What is Racism?

Racism is an ugly word that has been around as long as humankind itself. Racism actually can be broken down into two distinct definitions: on the one hand it simply means that groups of people are defined by their inherent differences (skin color, culture, appearance) and that, because of these differences, one group is seen to be better than the other. The second definition of racism is the unfair treatment of others based solely on these differences. Throughout history, humankind has treated others with contempt and committed atrocities upon them just because of the color of their skin or the culture from which they come.

Examples and History

The oldest running example of racism would probably be the friction between the Jews and people of other Middle Eastern nations, such as the Arabs. All the way back in ancient times, Jews have been hated and mistreated by many of their neighbors in the Middle East. This animosity against Jews is known as Anti-Semitism, and it doesn't end at the Middle Eastern borders. Many other groups have expressed hatred towards Jews, from Hitler's Germany to groups in modern America.

Another example of racism can be seen in Australia. The Australian Aborigines are the native peoples of the Australian continent and they were seen as less than human and mistreated accordingly. In the 18th century, Britain took control of Australia and its laws did not grant full citizenship to the Aboriginal people. While a number of Aborigines have been elected to legislative positions within the Australian government, there is still arguably a bigotry that exists within part of Australian culture.

The most prominent example to most of us would be the plight of the African Americans. From the time of slavery in America, through even today, African Americans have been treated poorly just because of their different-colored skin. During the times of slavery, Africans were bought and sold like cattle. They were often separated from their loved ones, beaten, and even murdered according to the whims of their 'masters,' the slave owners. After slavery was abolished, African Americans were still seen as less than human (Africans were considered to be only 3/5 human) when it came to taxation and certain rights. In the early 20th century, African Americans began to see improvements with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement. Names such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X immediately come to mind as forerunners in this crusade for equality among African Americans.

civil rights

But, in spite of all of the great strides made in those times, racism against African Americans is still common today. Instead of obvious examples of racism, such as different water fountains for whites and blacks, now we simply see people treating others with contempt on an individual basis more than public mistreatment. We have traded the overt signage in the diner window stating, 'No Blacks Allowed,' for the more subtle, but no less painful, sneers and comments of contempt from individuals.

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