[ rey-siz-uhm ]
See synonyms for: racismracist on Thesaurus.com

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

  2. Also called in·sti·tu·tion·al rac·ism [in-sti-too-shuh-nl rey-siz-uhm, -tyoo-], /ˌɪn stɪˈtu ʃə nl ˈreɪ sɪz əm, -ˈtyu-/, struc·tur·al rac·ism [struhk-cher-uhl rey-siz-uhm], /ˈstrʌk tʃər əl ˈreɪ sɪz əm/, sys·tem·ic rac·ism [si-stem-ik rey-siz-uhm] /sɪˈstɛm ɪk ˈreɪ sɪz əm/ . a policy, system of government, etc., that is associated with or originated in such a doctrine, and that favors members of the dominant racial or ethnic group, or has a neutral effect on their life experiences, while discriminating against or harming members of other groups, ultimately serving to preserve the social status, economic advantage, or political power of the dominant group.

  1. an individual action or behavior based upon or fostering such a doctrine; racial discrimination.

  2. racial or ethnic prejudice or intolerance.

Origin of racism

First recorded in 1900–05; from French racisme; see race2, -ism

usage alert For racism

See race2.

Other words from racism

  • rac·ist, noun, adjective
  • an·ti·ra·cism, noun

Words Nearby racism

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use racism in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for racism


racialism (ˈreɪʃəˌlɪzəm)

/ (ˈreɪsɪzəm) /

  1. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by hereditary factors and that this endows some races with an intrinsic superiority over others

  2. abusive or aggressive behaviour towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief

Derived forms of racism

  • racist or racialist, noun, adjective

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for racism


The belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. In the United States, racism, particularly by whites against blacks, has created profound racial tension and conflict in virtually all aspects of American society. Until the breakthroughs achieved by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, white domination over blacks was institutionalized and supported in all branches and levels of government, by denying blacks their civil rights and opportunities to participate in political, economic, and social communities.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.