If you want to damage a political opponent, call him or her a racist. But when I use the word it may mean something quite different from what you understand by it. I like to be precise, so let’s look at the Concise Oxford Dictionary’s definition:


  1. the belief that there are characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to each race.
  2. discrimination against or antagonism towards other races.

So we have two quite different definitions, both with a respected stamp of approval. Am I a racist if I say that many Jews are clever, musical and entrepreneurial? Am I a racist if I point out that black Africans commonly excel at physically demanding sports? Am I a racist if I mention that the Vikings had a hugely disproportionate influence on European history?

Under the COD’s first definition I suppose I am. But under the second definition, unless I go further and believe that the innate qualities that I have observed should be the basis for either promoting or subjugating one race in relation to another, I am not.

Please notice that I used the word ‘believe’ in that last paragraph. Racism is a state of mind, an attitude, a belief. Hitler would have been a racist even if he had never breathed a word of what he thought about Jews, Africans or Gypsies, or taken action against any of them. Conversely, a political leader might have no racist beliefs but find it expedient to adopt racially discriminatory policies.

What about you? Are you a racist?

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