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What Is The Difference Between Prejudice and Racism


Interesting Question

This came up at work recently. Interestingly enough the circle of people in this brief discussion contained a "white" guy (me), a Persian/Russian lady, an asian fellow and a black guy.

Paranoid guy I that am, I immediately wonder if listing the black guy last could be construed as racist.

And there in lies the unnecessary fears bled into our subconscious by an overly politically correct society laden with double standards and a very grey definition of what is racist and what is prejudice.

What Are You?

What is Racism

So, here is the technical definition of racism...

rac - ism

[rey-siz-uhm] –noun

1.a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

2.a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.

3.hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.


Who Are You?

What is Prejudice

Now, let's take a look at prejudice...


noun, verb, -diced, -dic·ing.[prej-uh-dis] –noun unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand orwithout knowledge, thought, or reason.

2.any preconceived opinion or feeling, either favorable orunfavorable.

3.unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of ahostile nature, regarding a racial, religious, or nationalgroup.



My Take On This (Buckle Up!)

Both of these are conditions. I refer to them as a condition in the way you would consider a developing disease like emphysema or liver cancer. Looking at racism and prejudice as a condition is helpful because it implies that it can be avoided and also alleviated.

They are also learned traits. My opinion and it seemed to be the general agreement of the melting pot that is my office is that racism is learned early and taught as a doctrine whereas prejudice tends to be based on an experience.

The KKK or Nazis have specific beliefs about Jews and African Americans on a level that is taught to children from an early age. There's Santa Claus, The Tooth Fairy, The Easter Bunny and "oh yeah, don't forget little Adolf, the Jews control the media and that dark skinned man driving your school bus... let me know if that P.O.S. ever looks at your mother."

That's racism. It's ugly and makes no sense.

Prejudice on the other hand is learned from experience.

A waiter will make certain judgments about what is a good table to wait on based on tipping habits. Is it coincidence that certain groups of people don't tip well? Is it cultural? Frankly it's beside the point. The waiter will develop an opinion based on experience. The problem will eventually emerge as that opinion then eventually carries over into other aspects of their life where they pre-judge this group in other areas based on an experience.

Will a sales person make a decision about what specific customers to approach based on past experiences? Certainly, there are certain cultural and stereotypical belief systems that develop over time and mainly experience. Mind you it doesn't make it right or appropriate, it just is. It is also, learned from experience.

So, by my definition, racism is taught and prejudice is based on experience.

Will the two ever coincide? Yes.


History Will Teach Us Nothing

In Chicago of 1919, a riot broke out that was considered a race riot because it was between black and white people. However, when you look at the story, it's clear that the "racism" was based more on sociopolitical issues rather than just based on the color of a man's skin. The Great Migration, after the Civil War, had African Americans moving out of the South and integrating into the North. This caused employment issues, neighborhood issues and territorial issues which in my opinion bread prejudice and not necessarily racism or at least the prejudice started the racism.

We, in the U.S. have a similar situation now with Latin America, especially Mexicans coming north to seek a better life. But as in 1919, there are issues that arise. Migrants work for less, they have a different culture, different traditions, and different behaviors. For many this can create resentment especially when you loose your job to cheaper labor or you have a culture move into the area that's been "yours" for so long. Humans with as much evolutionary development as we have, still find basic and primitive emotions guiding group behavior. We are still quite territorial. The difference is when you stumble into a wolf's territory, the wolf will just eat you. Human's have evolved into name calling, window breaking and cross burning. And we won't eat you either. You could get shot or beaten to death, but not eaten. Now that's Progress.

Sorry to make light of such a sensitive issue, but hopefully you'll see my point, which is a lot of prejudice and racism is in our DNA. Which brings me back to our glorious evolution. The wolf doesn't think about their behavior, they simply react. Human's have the unique ability to decide not to react and to be response-able.

Another case in point is Reginald Denny. Arguably, one of the most "famous" victims from the L.A. riot of 1992. Definitely, this riot will go down in history as a race riot. As the Great Migration moved African Americans from the South and into the North and Western United States, the country was forced to examine deeply where their morals lay. Not everyone was racist. But no matter where you go, that element is likely to rear its ugly head.

Reginald Denny, was 33 years old at the time. He was a truck driver. On the day the rioting started, Denny was attacked, pulled from his truck and brutally beaten, sustaining serious head and other injuries. As a result of the injuries he suffered during the attacks, Denny had to undergo years of rehabilitative therapy, and his speech and ability to walk were permanently damaged. All of this was caught on video.

Was this attack racist? Was it prejudice? Was he pulled from his truck and beaten nearly to death because...?

This is for you to assume. There is a certain irony in the defense attorney's argument. The defense began by challenging the video evidence and portrayed the attackers as a victim of poverty and racism.

And what then was Reginald Denny?

Vernacular: The "N" word and other verbage guaranteed to stir the pot.

SIDEBAR: Since we're opening this can of worms, racism and prejudice tend to create an entire vocabulary that will often evolve into all sorts of vernacular. And then we introduce political correctness into the equation and all hell breaks loose.

I personally blame the cloud of political correctness for people doing stupid stuff. Take the Michael Richards incident a few years back. Stupid move on his part? Oh hell yes. Did he forget his ability to respond? Big time! Was he wrong? Absolutely, positively yes. Do I believe that he boiled over? That as a comedian and human being being constantly stifled by fear of what you can say or not say based on being judged and eventually pre-judged... did he pop? I say a resounding YUP!

Why, at the beginning of this article am I worried about putting the Black guy last? Why did I subsequently wonder if that was also a good place to make a crack about why there are no Hispanics in the office? (My wife's Hispanic, so I can crack Hispanic jokes on a technicality, right? Probably not!) Can you imagine if the racial banter of The Rat Pack was even attempted today what kind of s#!% storm that would produce? Yet Dave Chapell can get away with that video! Interesting to say the least.

Words carry some serious weight. The same word can instill fear, hate, camaraderie, and laughter. It's all in how it's used. Amazing, isn't it? And who's allowed to use specific ethnic slangs? I am a cracker, gringo, honky, peckerwood, yank, mick, paddy, pogue... I'm allowed to use these words to describe myself and fellow crackers. However, the only time I can get away with using the "N" word is if I'm quoting from "Training Day" and even that is shaky. So, I opt to not use it period. I find that word disturbing because of what if represents to me. My "people" made that word up and originally it was just a noun. But now it means so much more. I find it courageous that some members of the African American community have embraced it in a way that robs it of it's former power, yet it still has some strength left in it's context or out of the mouth from which it flows.

There's no need to quote Rodney King or Martin Luther King here, but what is important is that we all recognize that we are first and foremost members of The Human Race. JFK noted that we all breath the same air and we all bleed red blood. To make a judgment on fellow human being's worth simply based on skin tone is just ignorant. It should be pitied, compassionately rehabilitated and then eventually ridiculed if the first two don't work out.

And if you become a victim of racism, defend your self for the Human race. Not the "race" you just got assigned to. I got a buddy who's last name is of Scotch-Irish decent and who has some Native American ancestry, but when look at him... well... he's black. He looks more like an Eddie Murphy than Geronimo and there is nothing about his appearance to justify his last name. And there in lies the magic and sheer beauty of the American experiment and unity of the world. We are all God's creatures and part of a wonderful world where cultures can mix, sometimes violently, and create whole new ones.

Change and growth in nature is often violent and painful. As children we have actual physical growing pains. The Earth recreates itself with the violence of a volcano or earthquake. We humans are part of this nature. We are not separate from Mother Earth, rather we are an integral part of Her and therefor we too develop with a touch of pain and violence.


And What About YOU?

Where do you fall in this lineup? Tough question right? Now you really have to examine it, don't you?

As with all social and political issues this article is meant to explore and examine. In the discussion, there is no right or wrong. There's thought and opinion. All designed to further growth and unity. If you're not talking about it, it boils over, like Chicago and Los Angeles.

Can you come to terms with your own personal prejudices? Because that's really all there is now. At least as far as I'm concerned. If you think someone is inferior to you because of their color, you're an idiot. Plain and simple. Each member of the human race will have unique, God given talents designed to enhance their survival rate 10,000 plus years ago as we as a global community evolved. Survival depends on adapting to the environment. So yes we're going to look different, behave different, some can run father and others faster. Some are stronger, others smarter. Who cares? We're all humans. Let's enjoy the wonder of God and Mother Natures unique design.

I've got some prejudices. All of which come from experience. I've developed a few opinions. Also based on experience. Do I find it stupid to single out an 80-year-old lady and her 12-year-old Grandson at the airport to make sure they're not suicide bombers? Yes, I do. Do I believe in racial profiling? No, I don't. Do I support common sense over political correctness? Hell yes, I do!

In Isreal, if you're 22 years old, have a bulging backpack and are reading the Koran at the airport, you may need to answer a few questions and get your bag searched. In America, that's profiling. WTH? Prejudice? Common Sense? You decide.

If you're a cop in Watts, are you a racist cop because you only give tickets to black people or is it that mostly black people live in Watts and so it's really just a numbers game. What say you good people?

If you believe that in order to work and live in a country, you should become a citizen of said country, does that make you racist against those who come to said country and work illegally? Or does that make you a patriot? And why does the word patriot have a negative connotation now thanks to overzealous right wing conservatives and bigots which are really one on the same... or is it possible to be a right wing conservative and not a bigot?

Slippery slope? It's up to you. What are your prejudices?

For Further Growth

  • The Museum of Tolerance
    Recipient of the Global Peace and Tolerance Award from the Friends of the United Nations, the Museum of Tolerance (MOT) is a human rights laboratory and educational center dedicated to challenging visitors to understand the Holocaust in both historic
  • The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change
    Established in 1968 by Coretta Scott King, The King Center is the official, living memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of Americas greatest nonviolent movement for justice, equality and peace.
  • John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
    The John F. Kennedy library and museum home page. Access the Kennedy Library Digital Archives, which includes 300,000 scanned documents, films, and audio clips with materials such as early drafts of the John F. Kennedy inaugural address. John f. kenn
    M.K.Gandhi, mahatma, Philosophy, non-violence, photographs of mahatma gandhi, Gandhi, Mahatma, Mohandas, peace, conflict resolution. Comprehensive site for Researchers Scholars Activists Students everyone. Includes a large collection of links on Gand

Educate It Away

Read Up


Brad on January 20, 2019:


Your comment disappointed me.

To simplify my answer

Racism is just one form of prejudice. And everyone has prejudice.

David R Bradley (author) from The Active Side of Infinity on June 26, 2018:

It is - was just off the site for a bit... thank you for your comments - much appreciated!

Brad on June 14, 2018:

Sorry, I thought this article was open.

Brad on June 08, 2018:

All those things that you say transcend Race, and apply to every human being.

Each person has a brain, and along with it come likes and dislikes. Political Correctness is a Pavlov conditioning by the government to lessen your ability to be yourself.

The person that calls other people Racist is actually the racist. That doesn't mean that those called racists are not racists. The result is that the caller wants to be held on the plane of righteousness.

Racism today is like the hammer and nail story. When you are a hammer everything is a nail.

For example, how does a white person voice their opinion of the performance of a black president. Any bad being said about that performance will be treated by the real racists as an act of Racism.

The black president can then hide failed performance under the umbrella of racism.

Every human being is prejudiced, and judges other human beings. That is evident, but it is only when the white person says something anything about a non white person that they become emotionally tagged as a racist.

Their should be no PC protected words, as that runs against the right to freedom of speech.

Those words could be deemed as rude or vile but they shouldn't be prevented from being uttered by anyone.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on December 16, 2017:

I know about racism. I am South African and grew up during the apartheid system. You have made prejudice more clear to me.

DanTheMan on April 24, 2016:

How can one possibly say that racism is taught? Well I guess to some degree it could be considered "self taught" based on negative experiences a person has had with a particular race. I'm often called a racist due to the fact that I don't sugar coat the truth when it's pertaining to racial issues within our society. I've recently came to the conclusion that speaking outwardly on my perception of racial based issues, has automatically awarded me the label of "RACIST"... (Lucky Me huh?) Honestly I'd prefer to be considered a REALIST with that being said please allow me to elaborate... I'd first like to say that humans as a whole are not technically considered a human race. We are characterized by our cultural and physical differences and categorized as a race. In other words the lion and the jaguar are basically different races of the feline species. Every species living on earth that I personally can think of has another subspecies that holds a very similar DNA structure but yet VERY different. The king cobra, the rattlesnake... The bluejay, the eagle... The alligator, the crocodile,... The horse fly, the house fly.... and so on and so on Etc. By now I'm Pretty positive you get my drift so there's really no need for any further explanation on that matter and I'll get on with an attempt at making my point. By my personal observations, combined with a slight touch of simple logic I've determined that races are soley determined by differences. Differences? Really? How can that be? I mean aren't we humans all the same regardless of our race or gender? I'm pretty sure that's what I've had repeatedly pounded in my head throughout all my life!! Ok well then which one is it? Are we different or are we equal? That's really a no brainer, We can obviously make that determination with a visual observation. Ok well then... Why are so many humans screaming EQUALITY? Is my vision much better, or are they blinded by a propaganda feed society that's continuously failing at the unattainable concept of equality? Unattainable, because in order to make something equal they must be the same... Right? Well science and logic unmistakably has shown that not one person is the same, but we're somehow just supposed to miraculously transform an entire species of different races into an equal form? It seems that the one's I personally hear screaming "EQUALITY" are the one's that don't even remotely have a chance to become equal to me unless of course one of us make some major alterations... I'm happy with me... Why can't others just be happy with themselves and be who they are? I guess if I was a bluejay I might consider having the equality of an eagle when it's time to eat, or if I was the grass snake I might want to be equal to the python but just not in the green grass I couldn't disguise myself as well... hmmm I bet the lion wants to run just as fast as the cheetah to hunt their prey... Yep and the cheetah wants the physical strength and size of the lion... NOT GONNA HAPPEN!! Wait it could.... maybe the chettah could mate with the lion? No the lion would most likely just kill the cheetah... hmmmm oh I know maybe the laws of nature wasn't designed for multiple races of species to coexist in the same habitat? I'm certain no other spieces interbreeds with its other races... nope just us silly humans that can't figure out this equality concept, but we'll just continue trying until we transform ourselves into one big mutant human... I'm excited!!.... Said no species ever!! Sorry for the over abundance of sarcasm, but I often feel like this should be a simple problem to solve!! Stop trying to imply that all races of the human specie are equal or even remotely alike in many different aspects. Instead of preaching EQUALITY we should be preaching induvidullality! I promise you if Michael Jordan became equal to Me, well let's just say his career would have not went nearly as well. Juss sayin!

Marcos Maiken from Louisville, Kentucky on November 26, 2014:

There are two major focal points when dealing with the stupidity of racist/racism.

First off; racism is a religion; as is Nazism is, as is any cult. It is not based on facts, or science. Racism like all religions - attempts to control society while claiming it is the only solution to whatever ridiculous problem society faces. It has no merits, only ideologies that appeal to emotional people.

Be it poverty, war, famine, mental illness; racism will attempt to exploit it.

The second focal point is disease. "White" people in general (this is very general) - carry a higher rate of diseases and such in their DNA; but on the flip side - also carry a higher rate of immunities to such diseases.

After researching; I can not come to any conclusions as to whether the benefits outweigh the setbacks. From what I can tell; it is a constant interplay between all human beings to strive for the best genetic combinations to adapt. However, when a group withholds DNA strains from the pool; people are essentially slowly collapsing the entire human race into extinction; for selfish ideologies.

The chances of being born today in America alone - without a single defect is not good. And in 100 years - it will be even worse. In a 1000?..We may not make it that far at this rate. Even with the best in medical technology - we can not compensate for long the generations of alcoholism, inbreeding, nuclear radiation, various forms of pollution and all the other things that delineate the DNA of every human on earth.

The only real solution to all our problems is to be as diversified as possible; not racist.

Vernon Bradley from Yucaipa, California on August 21, 2014:

A good time to resurrect a well written and informative hub! It's also a sad time. Sometimes we just don't understand the impact of what people experience historically and how that shapes future experiences both positive and negative.

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on June 27, 2013:

You are exactly correct! It is the human race, I wish more people understood. We are a part of the human race.

David R Bradley (author) from The Active Side of Infinity on June 27, 2013:

Thank you Michele for reading and chiming in - we have to continue the discussion and looking for the solution. I believe we are improving every day and more and more people come to acknowledge that there is really only one race and that is the human race!

Michele Travis from U.S.A. Ohio on June 27, 2013:

Hi David, you wrote an excellent hub. It is very true. Many people will tell you that racism is gone, or there is so much less of it, but that is not true. It is real. Maybe I am crazy, but I think it is evil. After all, racism is taught. After people learn to be racist, then they change they way they behave towards other people. That is when prejudice comes into action. Your hub is excellent.

Thanks for writing it.

David R Bradley (author) from The Active Side of Infinity on May 19, 2013:

Hi tiffany, thank you your input - really appreciate your feed back - where are you from?

tiffany on May 19, 2013:

having prejudices is ind indicitive to a society crammed with a with people vastly diffferent. Sucks about a free society take the good with the bad, it isn't for people to push acceptance on those rightfully feel as they do , aderance to tolerating and respectfully allowing the same freedoms to live peacefully well should be the only cause to push not formoh some phony hands across america bs seems to infringe on that basic human freedom . GET OVER it

tiffany on May 19, 2013:

Simple people

Prejudice - preconceived bias or prejudgement against a particular subgroup or groups of a society

could be size ,orientation ,gender,age etc

Racism- type of prejudice involving a racial group can be same or separate

connotations aside... ism english conjugation "to be"

David R Bradley (author) from The Active Side of Infinity on June 06, 2011:

Thanks for chiming in VRBMFT, feel free to put this on your Facebook wall and encourage comments!

Vernon Bradley from Yucaipa, California on June 06, 2011:


Surprised not more comments. Well written and very personal.

There is a wonderful song from the Broadway musical, Avenue Q, "Everyone Is A Little Bit Prejudice." Funny and poignant.

And yes, I catch myself being both prejudice and racist. I am always surprised because I consider myself neither, altho I eat breakfast several days a week at a restaurant with the letters KKK in it. So maybe I am more prejucided than I realize.

And it pains me, all the political and talk radio hype about illegal aliens. Unless you are Native American, we are all alients and the original settlers were as illegal and unethical as can be. Just stole the land outright, just assumed it was their's for the discovery! How naïve!

THANKS FOR A GREAT HUB AND GREAT INSIGHTS. I've been last a lot and I am white, so go figure!


David R Bradley (author) from The Active Side of Infinity on June 04, 2011:

FishAreFriends, I gave this a lot of thought and consideration. I appreciate you taking the time to read it!

FishAreFriends from Colorado on June 04, 2011:

That's really long, you must have worked hard. I agree so much with keeping an open mind.

David R Bradley (author) from The Active Side of Infinity on June 04, 2011:

HSchneider, thank you for chiming in. Having an open mind is so important in today's shrinking world. Keeping the dialog open and curious is crucial to eliminating the problems that arise from lack of communication and ignorance.

Howard Schneider from Parsippany, New Jersey on June 04, 2011:

Awesome Hub David. Everyone growing up is prejudiced against certain things through experience. The key is to keep an open mind and recognize it in oneself. Knowledge is power and its healing. Otherwise this prejudice can easily develop into racism. I wrote a Hub also on this subject. It was in response to the Shirley Sherrod controversy several months ago. My take was that these incidents blow up into huge controversies then quickly are swept under the rug. My feeling is the more we talk about them as a society, the more we understand and stop them from growing into racism or worse. Thanks for writing this excellent article and keeping the discussion going.

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