What Racism Is
By Bryan Caplan
Megan asks, “What is racism?”:
Part of the problem with talking about race and gender in America is the definition of racism and sexism. Most of us use a working definition of racism and sexism that is something like “Holding (bad) false beliefs about racial minorities and women”. But if that is our definition, everyone is going to fail a racism/sexism self-check: no one believes that their own beliefs are false.
Under the influence of the economics of discrimination, I distinguish between:
(1) Pure aversion/dislike/hatred of members of a group.
(2) Aversion/dislike/hatred of members of a group caused by what some members of their group did. (In short, assigning collective guilt).
(3) Having unrealistically negative beliefs about the average characteristics of a group.
(4) Having realistically negative beliefs about the average characteristics of a group.
So where do you draw the line of racism/sexism/etc.?
(1) instantly qualifies.
(2) also seems clear-cut, but don’t be hasty. It depends in large part on whether group membership is a choice. To hate all Germans for the Holocaust is racist (or chauvanist, anyway). To hate all Nazis for the Holocaust is not.
(3) is often evidence of (1) or (2); people easily rationalize pure hatred into false accusations. But by itself, (3) could just reflect a mistake, and we all make mistakes.
(4) isn’t racist/sexist at all. Constantly pointing out the shortcomings of another group could be symptom of (1); but on the other hand, it could easily be a response to unjustified accusations of (1).