Racism Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

If you’re wondering what racism means, we can help. Read on as we uncover the definition of this term, explore its origin, and more.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

Although the term racism is commonly used in English vocabulary, it’s often poorly understood. 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, racism can be defined as prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against an individual of a different race or ethnicity based on the belief that one’s own race or ethnicity is superior to other races or ethnicities. This, however, is a simplified explanation of a convoluted issue. 

Interested in learning more? We can help. 

Read on as we explore the word racism to uncover its true meaning, origin, and more. 

What Is the Definition of Racism?

Also called racialism, racism is a noun that can refer either to the general belief that different races have different abilities — and that some races are inherently inferior to others — or to the actual practice of discriminating against certain people and groups because of their race. 

What Is Race?

Simply put, race refers to the categories into which society places people on the basis of physical characteristics, such as:

  • Skin color
  • Facial form
  • Eye shape
  • Hair type

For quite some time, many people believed that race is determined by biology. However, it’s now widely accepted that this absurd classification system was, in fact, created solely for oppressive political and social systems. There are actually more biological differences in genetics within the racial groups defined by society than between different groups.   

What Is the Term Racism’s Origin?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first time the word racism was ever uttered was back in 1902 when a man named Richard Henry Pratt was railing against the evils of racial segregation. Pratt used the word to criticize how the federal government treated indigenous people and Indian nations. 

Words Associated With the Term Racism

To better understand what racism means, it can be helpful to learn the terminology that is commonly associated with the term. That said, here is a list of like-words and their definitions that we’ve compiled for you to review below:

Important Terms to Know

  • Systemic Racism or institutional racism can be defined as practices and policies that exist throughout a whole organization or society. These practices result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair treatment of other people based on race. 
  • Prejudice or xenophobia is a noun that refers to an unfavorable feeling or opinion formed beforehand or without thought, knowledge, or reason. 
  • Black Lives Matter is the name of a movement addressing the systemic violence against black people serving as an affirmation of black people’s humanity, their contributions to society, and their resilience in the face of oppression. 
  • Oppression can be defined as the systemic and institutional abuse of power by one group of people at the expense of other groups of people and the use of force to maintain this power dynamic. 
  • White Supremacy is the ridiculous belief that all races are inferior to the white race and that white people should have total control over people of other races.  
  • White Privilege describes the unearned set of advantages, benefits, entitlements, and choices bestowed on people solely because they are white. 
  • Anti-Racist is a term used to describe someone who supports actions and policies that express the idea that racial groups are equal and eliminate racial inequity.  
  • Discrimination can be defined as the unequal treatment of those in various groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation, social class, religion, physical ability, and other categories. Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it’s a crime to discriminate against someone because of their race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), age, national origin, disability, or genetic information.   
  • Diversity includes the many ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make a group or person unique. 

Examples of Racism Used in a Sentence

Now that you understand what racism means, it’s time to apply what you’ve learned and practice using the term in a sentence. To help, we’ve put together some examples below:

“Unfortunately, racism still exists to varying degrees.”

“We oppose racism in all its many forms.”

“Racism has played the key role in genocides such as the genocide of Jewish people during World War II, otherwise known as the Holocaust.”

“Indigenous peoples from South Africa are often subject to racist attitudes and hostility from those who believe in racism.”

“Thanks to widespread racism and resentment, the United States enforced racial segregation in the 19th century and early 20th century.” 

“Did you know that racism during the Jim Crow era led to Black Americans being banned from public places?”


So, what does racism mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, racism can be defined as 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. 

Although racial discrimination is a crime, the battle for racial equality among human beings around the nation is ongoing. Say no to racism, stand up for equal human rights, and be an ally!

We hope this guide has provided you with a better understanding of the word racism. If you would like to broaden your vocabulary and discover the meaning of more words, feel free to explore our website.  


  1. Prohibited Employment Policies Practices | EEOC
  2. Understanding Racial Terms and Differences | Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
  3. (PDF) Reconsidering Richard Henry Pratt: Cultural Genocide and Native Liberation in an Era of Racial Oppression | Research Gate
  4. Race & Ethnicity | Gendered Innovations
  5. RACISM | Meaning & Definition for UK English | Lexico.com