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The definition of "racism" must not be formulated based on who the perpetrators are.

Richard Stallman

February 2022

On the definition of racism -- Richard Stallman The Anti-Defamation League has corrected a race-biased definition of "racism".

The former definition was itself racist, because it made the identities of perpetrators and victims part of the definition. That violated the super-principle that principles must apply to everyone alike. In other words, a fundamental category of wrong cannot be predicated on the identity of those that commit it, or the identity of its victims.

If we want to argue that actions are wrong because they are racist, as we should, the definition of racism must be formulated in terms of what some people do to other people, not in terms of who does it or to whom.

The ADL's new definition, when persons are "persecuted, demeaned or discriminated against because of their identity," is a good choice of what to campaign against: it includes prejudice against any identity group whatsoever. But I think it is mistaken to use the word "racism" for that generality. For instance, what about sexism: do we want to describe women (or men) collectively as a "race"? What about bigotry against a religion: Buddhists, Catholics and Muslims are not "races". (Those religions will accept anyone whatsoever as a convert.)

Instead of stretching "racism" to fit this definition, we should use another term. It could be "group hatred", or "disprivileging".

Copyright (c) 2022 Richard Stallman Released under the Creative Commons Attribution Noderivatives 3.0 license