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What is the Difference Between Prejudice and Racism?

Updated on February 8, 2013

I was recently participating in a forum on political issues and made a statement where I said everybody is a racist at one time or another, they are just afraid to admit it. Then I went on to give examples of what I meant. I said, have you ever been in an express checkout line and a person of another race is checking out with more than 15 items? If you get upset, then you are a racist. Or have you ever been cut off while you were driving and found out that the person is of another race and you get upset, then you are racist.

Was I Wrong?

Then I started receiving replies where people were appalled that I could feel this way and be so casual about it. So I thought there must be something wrong with my thinking. That's when I looked up the definition of prejudice and racism. Boy was I wrong. All of these years I had been using those words in the wrong context. I even called my wife a racist because of some of the situations she had been in. I had no idea I was wrong. After learning what the correct definitions were, I apologized to the members of the forum...and eventually to my wife!

My Air Force Years

When I was in the Air Force from 1956 to 1960, I spent 24 months in the deep south in Biloxi Mississippi and Valdosta Georgia. The term I heard there was prejudice, not racist. See I thought prejudice was much worse than racist. While I was there I learned by observation that a person is not born prejudice but must be taught to be prejudice. However after reading the definition of both terms, I realized it is just the opposite. A person can be prejudice, but that does not necessarily mean they are racist. A person can be prejudice to their favorite football team over another team. But a racist feels superior to another race which is much more dangerous. However, extreme prejudice to another race can lead to racism.

The Race Card

In many of the forums, I have noticed when people are referring to President Obama, they say they like him as a person, but they don't like his policies. I would reply with that's just code for you don't want a black man in the White House. Then they would say," now you have pulled the race card on me." Is that really racism or prejudice? Here the definitions of each of them.

What is Prejudice?
What is Prejudice? | Source

Definition of Prejudice

  • Injury or damage resulting from some judgment or action of another in disregard of one's rights; especially : detriment to one's legal rights or claims
  • Preconceived judgment or opinion
  • An adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge
  • An instance of such judgment or opinion
  • An irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com

Circle Hates the Triangle
Circle Hates the Triangle | Source

Definition of Racism

  • A belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race; a racial prejudice or discrimination

Examples of RACISM

  1. The racism that was the basis of apartheid
  2. Hitler's declaration of his belief in a “master race” was an indication of the inherent racism of the Nazi movement

Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com

Prejudice or Racist?

You will notice that prejudice is a relative term. In its simplest form it is just an opinion. In its most extreme form, it can lead to racism.

Racism on the other hand is not a relative term. it is an absolute term. A racists is one who believes that one race is superior over another race. Hitler was a racists because he believed in a master race. This gave him the justification for the Holocaust.

So this raises questions. When someone says that you pulled the race card on them, are they implying that you are calling them a racist; or do they see themselves as racist; or do they really mean you pulled the prejudice card on them? Is it possible that they are also using racism in the wrong context?

Stick and Stones

When I was growing up, there was a saying that goes: "Stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." But emotive words do hurt people and anger them if they are not used in the correct context.

There was another saying that followed the first one that says: "I'm rubber your glue, everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you." I have seen so many times that words like: communist, socialist, fascist, Marxist, and tyranny are not used in the proper context and angers those that it is used against who know better. It seems to me, that most people who use those terms, don't realize they could have learned it from others and has become their opinion. Therefore, by definition, they have become prejudice.

Civil Unrest in the World.

Here is an answer that I gave to a hub question on Civil Unrest in the World that I thought would be relative to this article.

I believe what creates civil unrest in the world is our differences. if an alien from another planet were to study the human race, they would see it as one race, the human race, with difference in skin coloring, features and body size. If they were to study our minds, they would find that there were many values and beliefs that were very closely related with not that many differences, but many different languages.

I grew up during World War II, when there was a direct threat against our existence. It was amazing how people banned together, set aside their differences to become patriotic and to fight off the threat. But even at that, there was still prejudice and racism. Perhaps if there was a threat against human kind, we would all come together, set aside our difference and work together as one race. We would be so preoccupied with trying to save our selves that it would eliminate civil unrest...nah, it ain't going to happen. I gave it my best shot.

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    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      Most people see no difference between racism and prejudice. It really is a fine line in most instances. The point you made about superiority applies to both. Anyone who thinks he is better than someone else regardless of why is prejudice , racist and down right wrong!

      I found your hub very interesting. Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      tillsontitan: It is nuanced, except racism is about thinking that one race is inferior or superior to other races, depending on which side of the fence you are on. Thanks for the comments and votes.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago from Texas

      Most Interesting and a bit confusing. to me racist and prejudice is almost the same, except racist always applies to people and prejudice can include groups (as in a football team from a different state).

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 4 years ago from Placentia California

      Shyron E Shenko: That's right, a person can be prejudice but no racists. However, if a person is racist, that means they value one race above another one. So we have to be careful how we use the these words and it what context. Thanks for dropping by.

    • Anna Sternfeldt profile image

      Anna Sternfeldt 4 years ago from Svenljunga, Sweden

      What a great hub! Voted up for sure, It is so important to know this difference. I have so many prejudices of different reasons, that suddenly may just jump up when I don't expect it. But I am no racist which I pretty sure of, so I was very glad to read this clarification as that put words on how I have felt on this matter myself.

    • Credence2 profile image

      Credence2 2 years ago from Florida (Space Coast)

      Greetings, Peoplepower, in line with the current forum dialogue, I wanted to get a sense of your underlying values.

      Great article, I can say that it is possible to not be prejudiced nor racist and not approve of President Obama solely on the basis of his policies.

      I think that we all are capable of prejudiced as being human we often make evaluations on subjective basis, ie. beauty verses ugliness, the last of our fundamental and primal biases. Who is really free of that? Racism is a deliberate and conscious stand or position.The civilized and educated individual has to put forth effort to be objective in evaluation of people and situations and not surrender to opinions and beliefs that cannot be substantiated.

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 2 years ago from Placentia California

      Credence2: I had to think about what you said about Obama. But you are right, i don't agree with all of his policies, but I don't consider myself a racist because of it. It does take work to be objective and not surrender to opinions and beliefs that cannot be substantiated. Is that how you remain quite in the forums and then come up "zingers?" Thanks for dropping by and reading my hub. I appreciate it.

    • profile image

      veggiechick 16 months ago

      Interesting article. You are right, technically, and by definition there is a difference, but keep in mind that even the definition " a racial prejudice or discrimination" is in the definition of prejudice. What it amounts to is that when a word is used in the populace as something relative, even if not completely specific, it becomes the meaning it is interpreted to be. The word "gay" in the 1930's surely meant something different than it did today. (smile). I think we have used the terminology to express the way we feel about a very specific behavior. In reality, we could even come up with a new word, which has been done in the past, and will even be used in the dictionary that we hold so very dear.

      bling–bling

      noun \ˈbliŋ-ˌbliŋ\

      Definition of BLING-BLING: flashy jewelry worn especially as an indication of wealth; broadly : expensive and ostentatious possessions

      Variants of BLING-BLING

      I think your article was fabulous, and maybe made some people think about the way they may look or judge others who are not their race, and how they may be prejudiced, and perhaps racist without being altogether aware of this fact. I wrote an article in college once about implicit racial bias and after reading many many articles, and studies from 30 years ago, through today, it showed that as a society, there is clear implicit racial bias and the only difference is how much people will insist that they are clearly not racist, nor prejudice. On the other hand, having been born of a bi-racial mother, white and hispanic, who married my father who is African American when I was two, my view of life was clearly biased in itself. I have had people look at my blond hair and green eyes, and make racist comments when they assume I am "one of them", in which I clearly mean racist. I do believe that when making the comments, they believe that their race is better, therefore they are better people because they are white. I believe that they know what they are saying is wrong, because when a black person is around, they don't say the same things. When they are confronted, usually by me, they are at first confused, then go to lengths to describe a black person that they like, so they are clearly not racist. I think the issue is in a long history in this country, starting with slavery, going into civil rights, and ending with a country who isn't just divided by political views, but by a more clear racial bias than I have ever seen. Some are pure racists (in my own humble opinion), and many listen to the rhetoric, and become the sheep they were meant to be. With young people enjoying the use of smartphones with even smarter cameras, I think the issue i becoming more clear, even down to the police being open to criticism they haven't had to take without a clear picture of what really happens when a black child is unarmed and shot in the back. We are coming to a place where what we do, and what we say can be recorded, and help up on cable news forever for us all to enjoy, or make very sad. I enjoy your articles, and appreciate the detail. I hope you didn't take this as a negative, in fact it is quite the opposite. Sometimes I just go on, and this may clearly be one of those times. (smile)

    • peoplepower73 profile image
      Author

      Mike Russo 16 months ago from Placentia California

      veggiechick: I don't take any offense what so ever. I totally agree with what you are saying.. Thanks for you comments.

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