What is racism?

What is racism - definitions

There is no generally accepted definition of racism. Much controversy about the meaning of the word “racism” can be explained by the fact that a narrow and a broad meaning of the term are used in parallel.

Classic concept of "racism" (narrow meaning)

Racist are ideologies which divide humanity into a number of biological races with genetically hereditary characteristics and which hierarchically classify the "races" understood in this way.

The classical concept was predominant in the epoch of European colonialism and imperialism until after the Second World War. This pseudo-biological ideology served to justify colonialism, slavery, the crimes of the Nazis or apartheid regimes.

Generalized concept of «racism» (broad meaning)

"Racism encompasses ideologies and forms of practice based on the construction of groups of people as communities of origin and origin, to which collective characteristics are assigned that are implicitly or explicitly assessed and interpreted as impossible or difficult to change." (Johannes Zerger, Was ist Rassismus ?, Göttingen 1997, p.81).

This definition extends the scope of the term “racism” from the biologically understood “races” to all types of descent groups that are presented as different, in particular to the “ethnic groups” or “peoples”. An explanation of this generalized definition can be found on a separate worksheet:

A definition proposal by Albert Memmi also received a lot of attention in the more recent discussion:

"Racism is the generalized and absolute valuation of actual or fictitious differences for the benefit of the accuser and to the detriment of his victim, with which his privileges or his aggressions are to be justified." (Albert Memmi, Rassismus, Frankfurt a.M. 1987, p.164)

Legal concept

In the legal sense, too, there is no uniform, formal definition of racism. Close to legal practice is the understanding of “racist discrimination” as the epitome of unequal treatment, statements or acts of violence which cause or intend that people are degraded because of their external appearance (“race”) or their affiliation with an ethnic group, nationality or religion .

Problems with the concept of “race” in legislation

If the term “race” appears in constitutional or legal texts (as for example in the StGB Art. 261bis), the use of this term creates a contradiction. Because the term “race” is now understood as a racist concept, that is, as a typical element of racist ideologies. Dealing with this terminological difficulty has only just begun in German-speaking countries:

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